China Is Most Likely Spared from a Second Cultural Revolution
Hello, everyone. Welcome to Zooming In China Tea Time. I’m Simone Gao.
Last week, the Sixth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China formally adopted the Party’s third historical resolution. It is a landmark document that the CCP is using to project the “great glories and victories” of China in the past and to come and most importantly, Xi Jinping is using it as a launchpad for his third term in office.
What this 27,000-word document doesn’t cover is notable. As the Taipei Times mentioned in their November 21st coverage of this resolution, “While a crisis at China Evergrande Group—which many call the bedrock of the Chinese economy—affects millions of Chinese invested in and dependent on the company, the sixth plenary session…declared in a landmark resolution…that these very people are enjoying the best years of their lives.
Meanwhile, the coal industry that once powered the country has dwindled in capacity, leading to widespread power outages…None of these major domestic issues that affect ordinary Chinese—not to speak of the sheer number of international issues the country is facing—are mentioned in the resolution. The CCP under Chinese President Xi Jinping seems oblivious to the things that directly affect the people it governs.”
Given that glaring oversight of anything that seems deeply relevant to the Chinese people, it would be easy to assume that this was a document to glorify Xi Jinping, one simply rubber-stamped by the Party. While this document does praise Xi exceedingly, it is not a full win for the dictator. A close reading of this resolution proves that it is a compromise reached between Xi Jinping and the Central Committee, with Xi gaining what he most wanted while still allowing for some compromises to influential Party members.
Clearly, the core purpose of Xi Jinping's third historical resolution is to lay the foundation for his third term in office. As I previously reported, in March of 2018, the National People’s Congress passed a constitutional amendment removing presidential term limits. While this removed constitutional barriers to Xi remaining in office for life, social barriers still exist. To continue his reign, Xi must convince Party leadership, and the Chinese people, that his is the vision that will carry them into a prosperous future. That he is the leader who will keep them from harm. To do so, Xi Jinping sets himself not just side-by-side with but above other storied Chinese leaders, including Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.
This resolution divides the history of the CCP into three major stages. The first stage contains the “new democratic revolution” before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China as well as the socialist revolution and construction stage after the PRC’s founding, both overseen by Mao Zedong. The second stage is one of so-called reform and opening up, a stage of socialist modernization that is overseen by leaders Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao. In marking the second stage as one involving three distinct leaders, this resolution weakens the position of Deng Xiaoping and leaves only Xi Jinping standing on par with Mao Zedong.
The third stage features Xi’s self-described new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics. The intent of this section is to enhance the status of Xi Jinping and position him alongside Mao Zedong, each leading a critical stage of Chinese history alone.
It is important to note that the plenary communique shared just after the Sixth Plenary Session of the Central Committee had five stages, not three. In that earlier draft, each of these leaders was highlighted as an equally important figure in a key historical moment. It is only in the post-session revisions that Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao are condensed in importance and Xi Jinping is raised to be an equal to Mao Zedong.
But even a status equal to Mao is not enough for Xi. While the resolution highlights each as overseeing a core historical moment in China, the description of Mao over two historical periods contained only 5600 words. Xi’s self-proclaimed political achievements, on the other hand, included a 13-item list that totaled 19, 382 words. All three of the other leaders accounted for only 4142 words.
In essence, then, this new resolution has lifted Xi Jinping to a status higher than Mao Zedong, leaving the sense that his re-election is a done deal. Who among the CCP leadership would dare vote against a leader envisioned as greater than Mao?
However, not everyone in China agrees with the role Xi Jinping carved for himself in this resolution. A side note offered in state-run People’s Daily makes clear that there were fierce disputes and even quarrels at the Sixth Plenary Session, saying “For three full days, there were heated and contentious debates between the 348 people at the top of the Chinese power pyramid about this resolution, and they refused to give in. Before one had finished speaking, the others were standing up and preparing to talk. Even at the conclusion of the meeting, the participants were walking in twos and threes to discuss this in more depth. What was the focus of their debate?
The People’s Daily report claimed that the debates arose because of the difficulty in defining a party history, and the range of issues within it, for a full century. Of key importance, though, was the question of how to properly handle the relationship between the new historical resolution and the prior two historical resolutions, an issue of great concern to the leaders attending the meeting. Many strongly opposed the idea that the first two resolutions should be negated.
It is only the second historical resolution that deals with current policies in China. That resolution denied the Cultural Revolution, banned the cult of personality, had a seven-thirds evaluation of Mao Zedong, established a policy of reform and opening up and, importantly, abolished the lifelong system of leadership.
According to the rules of the Communist Party, when a resolution is voted on, it must be passed by all. Should anyone dare to vote against it, his political career would end immediately. However, knowing there may be some dissent and wanting to avoid antagonizing a large part of the Party leadership, Xi left space for a three-day discussion period before the vote. This is an internal discussion, protected by security guards at the Jingxi Hotel in order to ensure that none of the discussions are disclosed.
This is different from the National People's Congress and CPPCC meetings. Many deputies to the National People's Congress and members of the CPPCC are simply figureheads whose opinions have no weight. But the Central Committee is the core of China’s power. They are princes from all sides, and no opinion they share is trivial. That does not necessarily make them free to express them at will or free from the consequences of doing so.
Despite being princes from all sides, they are not necessarily protected from a purge by Xi Jinping after the meeting. It's just like Stalin purging a group of members every time he held a meeting of the Central Committee. If that risk still exists, then, why would these committee members be willing to strongly speak out on or challenge this resolution? Because Xi Jinping has spent many years breaking the unspoken rules of the Communist Party’s game, namely the rules that give the leadership enormous privilege. If he is re-elected for a third term, they will lose these privileges and have to play a new game dictated by Xi Jinping.
Recently, it came to my attention that the sons and daughters of CCP officials who have gone abroad have sought to stay in the United States. Before, CCP officials used the United States as a spare tire but kept their base in China. Now, they see that China is faltering and are seeking to stay in the U.S. permanently. They know that with Xi Jinping in charge, their property, privileges, and even personal safety are at stake.
In the end, Xi got what he cared most about. He confirmed his supremacy in the Party and his position on par with Mao Zedong, laying the foundation for his third political term. This is a victory for him.
Meanwhile, he did make concessions on the direction the Communist Party will go in the future.
His first concession was a denial of any positive outcomes from the Cultural Revolution. The resolution declared that Mao Zedong and the Party made a huge mistake that resulted in Ten years of civil turmoil which caused the party, country, and people to suffer the most serious setbacks and losses since the founding of New China, and the lessons were extremely painful.
By doing so, the road that Xi Jinping wanted to build toward a second Cultural Revolution will now be left unfinished. I believe this is a manifestation of the will of a large number of people in the party, including the political elders, such as Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao, and those in power, such as Li Keqiang, Wang Yang, and others who are firmly opposed to the Cultural Revolution.
Xi’s second concession was to continue to adhere to reform and opening up. A couple of paragraphs pulled from different sections of the resolution help to showcase this concession.
One of them is Article 4 of Xi Jinping’s 13 major achievements in power, which is called the comprehensive deepening of reform and opening up. There, he stressed that reform and opening up represented a great awakening for the Party and a great revolution in the history of the Chinese nation’s development, and he called for continued efforts to see this process through.”
He kept on saying: “Reform can only be carried out and not completed. There is no way out for stagnation and retreat. It must be advanced with greater political courage and wisdom.
“The Party Central Committee is deeply aware that opening up brings progress, and closure will inevitably lag behind; if my country's development is to gain advantages, win initiative, and win the future, it must conform to economic globalization, rely on my country's ultra-large-scale market advantages, and implement a more proactive opening strategy.”
One thing is worth noting. The communiqué issued at the end of the Sixth Plenary Session of the Central Committee did not mention the need to continue the reform and opening up, leaving the impression that Xi Jinping was about to end that practice. However, the resolution issued five days later clearly stated that the reform and opening up should continue. Is this just the difference between the summary and the full text? Or was it added after the days-long game between the various factions of the Chinese Communist Party? I think the second possibility cannot be ruled out, because it says in the explanation of the resolution that more than 500 amendments were made from the draft to the final version, and the amendments are very large. That also shows the intensity of the debate about this resolution, in spite of potential backlash the participants may have faced.
The resolution also addresses Taiwan, though in a way that is neither too prominent nor too sensational. It repeats the wording we have been hearing from the party for years: “peaceful reunification” and “one country, two systems.” There are mentions of the 1992 consensus and an ongoing opposition to Taiwan’s independence. The most powerful sentence is this: “Solving the Taiwan issue and realizing the complete reunification of the motherland are the unswerving historical tasks of the party, the common aspiration of all Chinese sons and daughters, and the inevitable requirement for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” The resolution also states that they “firmly grasp the dominance and initiative in cross-strait relations meaning it is the party who decides when and how to complete reunification of the country.”
That sentiment was emphasized by Xi Jinping again in his comment to President Biden at their recent virtual meeting. He said they are patient and willing to use their utmost sincerity and do their utmost to strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification. "But if the ‘Taiwan independence' separatist forces break through the red line, we will have to take decisive measures."
This clearly indicates that if Taiwan dares to seek independence, China is prepared to rule them by force.
Why is Xi Jinping so persistent on the Taiwan issue? I will offer a detailed explanation in the documentary I am making. That documentary will be published by the end of the year. For now, what is most important to know is that the Taiwan issue is what Xi Jinping truly believes is his greatest political legacy. His so-called great achievements in the third historical resolution are exaggerated, and he knows it. But were he to win Taiwan, it would establish his unshakable historical position in the Party. Then, re-election or tenure would not be in question. So, to solidify his own political power and role, he must win the battle over Taiwan. This is a critical fact that the U.S. and Taiwanese governments must understand.
That’s all for today. Please like, share, subscribe and donate to this program if you like my content. Thanks again and I will see you next time.