The Arithmetic of Party-Speak
The 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party is just around the corner — and that means the machine of political discourse is humming away at high speed.
As anyone whose profession it is to parse the language of Chinese Communist Party can tell you, reading Chinese discourse is a frustrating and bewildering exercise, full of rigid and ritualistic formulations that come and go, ebb and flow. Sum up Party-speak with a jingle and it might go something like this:
Deng Xiaoping had Four Basic Principles,
Jiang Zemin, Three Represents
Xi Jinping has Two Undeniables.
And nothing at all makes sense.
Given the opaque nature of Chinese politics, however, the official language of the CCP is one of the best clues we have to the internal dynamics of the leadership. Which people, or which ideas, can we see being advanced or elevated in official-speak?
Whether or not Xi Jinping is referred to a “the core” may seem trivial to your average news reader — but it can be a very real reflection of the power he commands internally, as is the question of whether or not he will get a “banner term” (旗帜语) that includes his name, something that has not happened since the days of Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory.
With the 19th National Congress of the CCP just around the corner — though we still don’t know how far around the corner — it is prime time for China’s official discourse. In the coming weeks at CMP, we will be watching the discourse closely for any possible signs.
But let’s start first with the language coming out of President Xi’s “important speech” (a label familiar to discourse watchers) on July 26, 2017, just before top leaders headed off to the seaside resort of Beidaihe to consult, confabulate and contrive — in what more than one Western media outlet referred to as China’s “game of thrones.”
That speech, made at a two-day gathering in Beijing, was all about preparations for the 19th National Congress. And the official Xinhua News Agency reported that General Secretary Xi Jinping had “pointed out that socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new development phase,” and that he “profoundly laid out a series of major theories and practical questions in adhering to and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics under new historical conditions.”
Zzzzzz . . . Are you asleep yet?
Well, suffering students of Chinese discourse, I’m here to tell you that there are CliffsNotes versions of these befuddling speech acts. China’s official state media understand that official-speak is here to stay — despite official pledges , even by Xi himself, to tone it down — and that it is a dialect of Chinese that few, even well-read, Chinese can understand. Enter state media products like “Xi Speak in Pictures” (习语图解), which set out to demystify (sort of) official speeches like that Xi Jinping made on July 26.
In this case, the magic numbers are: 2, 3, 5, 9, 8, 3, 2. And here is what they add up to, according to Xinhua News Agency.
The 2 Tight Grasps
1. Tightly grasping the special characteristics of our country’s development
2. Tightly grasping the yearning of the masses for a good life
The 3 Concerns (Profoundly Describing the Important Meaning of the 19th National Congress)
The 19th National Congress that will soon open is an important and major meeting held during a stage of the building of a moderately well-off society that will determine victory, and a critical period in the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Whether or not a plan of action that is comprehensive, strategic and forward-looking:
1. Concerns the historical transitioning of the undertakings of the Party and the government
2. Concerns the fate of socialism with Chinese characteristics
3. Concerns the fundamental interests of the greatest number of people.
The 5 Whats (profoundly showing the basic nature of the Party)
Our Party must make a clear pledge as to:
1. What banner it raises [ideologically]
2. What road it travels
3. What spirit it upholds
4. What historical mission is bears
5. What objective it struggles toward
The 9 We’s (Profoundly outlining the historic changes to the undertakings of the Party and the government over the last 5 years)
Over the last 5 years, the Central Committee of the CCP has scientifically grasped the development trends in the world today and in contemporary China, has resolved many difficulties that had long been awaiting resolution but had not been resolved, and has done a number of major things that were intended but not accomplished in the past.
1. We have comprehensively strengthened the leadership of the CCP, greatly enhancing the Party’s cohesiveness, fighting strength, leadership power and rallying power.
2. We have resolutely implemented a new development concept, strongly promoting higher quality, more efficient, more equal and more sustainable development for our country.
3. We have resolutely and fully deepened reforms, shown full force in promoting reforms, making many breakthroughs, and pushing deep advancement of a new dimension [in China’s development].
4. We have resolutely and fully advanced governance of the nation in accord with the law, clearly enhancing our Party’s capacity to use of legal methods to lead and govern the country.
5. We have enhanced the Party’s leadership of ideology, firming up the unity and solidarity of the entire Party and the entire society.
6. We have resolutely promoted the building of an ecological civilization, making important strides in promoting the building of a beautiful China.
7. We have firmly and resolutely advanced the modernization of defense and the armed forces, promoting historic breakthroughs for national defense and the military.
8. We have firmly and resolutely promoted major power diplomacy (大国外交), creating a peaceful international environment and a favorable regional environment for our country’s development.
9. We have firmly and resolutely promoted full disciplined governance of the Party, working hard to resolve the most salient problems voiced by the people, that are most threatening to the Party’s foundation of power.
The 8 Mores (The desires of the people are the objective of the Party’s struggles)
[The people desire:]
1. More quality education
2. More stable employment
3. More acceptable incomes
4. More dependable social security
5. More quality healthcare and sanitation
6. More comfortable living conditions
7. A more beautiful environment
8. A more abundant spiritual and cultural life.
The 3 Mean That’s (A high assessment of the great achievements made by socialism with Chinese characteristics)
[The great achievements of socialism with Chinese characteristics . . . ]
1. Mean that the Chinese, who in modern times have endured great suffering, have now made an historic flying leap from standing up, to becoming prosperous, to becoming strong.
2. Mean that socialism in China has shone strong vitality and has constantly opened new horizons of development.
3. Mean that socialism with Chinese characteristics has expanded the path through which developing nations can move toward modernization, offering China’s knowledge, and providing Chinese proposals, for the resolution of problems facing humanity.
The 2 Musts and 2 Needs (Profoundly describing how to adhere to the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics under new historical conditions)
More accurately grasping the nature of the constant changes in our country in the primary stage of socialism,
Adhering to the Party’s basic line,
As we continue to promote economic development,
better resolving various societal problems emerging in our country,
better achieving the comprehensive development of various undertakings,
better promoting the comprehensive development of the people, and comprehensive social progress.
Place great emphasis on the utility of theories, raising our theoretical self-confidence and strategic focus.
To grasp the priorities, address the shortcomings and strengthen the weak points in various demands for building a comprehensively well-off society as raised at the 16th, 17th and 18th national congresses.
Unshakably uphold and improve the leadership of the Party, unshakably promoting new projects in the building of the Party.
To adhere to the guidance of issues, maintaining strategic focus, promoting the deep development of comprehensive and strict Party governance, making our ideas and actions on comprehensive and strict Party governance more scientific, more rigorous, and more effective, ensuring that the Party stands with the people in thoughts and in actions throughout.
I think everyone would agree that none of the formulas above get us down to the specifics of the upcoming 19th National Congress. But they do offer us a snapshot of what the leadership 1) believes the Party must stand for (the 5 whats); 2) sees itself as having accomplished in the past 5 years (the 9 we’s); 3) ascertains as its contribution historically to China and to the world by virtue of its guiding ideology, “socialism with Chinese characteristics” (the 3 means that’s); and 4) what it understands its chief obligations toward the people to be (the 8 mores).
When it comes to CCP discourse, we need CliffsNotes for the CliffsNotes. But at least we have a start.