Hu bows to the left in 30th anniversary speech

By David Bandurski — When Chinese President Hu Jintao delivered a speech Thursday morning in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People to honor the thirtieth anniversary of economic reforms in the country, his words pointed to a leftward shift in Chinese politics — a possible reaction in part against the recent Charter 08, a manifesto signed by prominent Chinese intellectuals calling for broad political reform.

According to our preliminary analysis of Hu’s speech, more left-trending keywords like “socialism”, “Marx” and the “Four Basic Principles” were prominent in Thursday’s speech — noticeably more so than in Hu’s 17th Congress address last year.

Here are a few keywords whose overall use Thursday surpassed that of Hu’s 17th National Congress speech, which was in fact 10,000 words longer than Thursday’s 18,000 words.


[SWCC = “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”]

More moderate terms, such as “democratic politics” and “intraparty democracy” were less prominent.

Perhaps more importantly, a number of erstwhile Jiang Zemin terms made an unexpected return.

Toward the beginning of his speech, Hu Jintao resurrected the Jiang-era notion of “westernization and separatism”, the idea that hostile Western forces aim to co-opt Chinese and weaken China by exploiting territorial tensions (Taiwan, Tibet, etc.).

In another section of his speech, dealing with institutional reforms as a guarantee for further development, Hu Jintao resurrected the xenophobic Jiang-era phrase “[We must] never copy,” referring to the political and economic models of the West.

Terms we were on the lookout for ahead of last year’s 17th National Congress but which never materialized, including “constitutionalism”, “civil society” and “citizen’s rights”, were absent from Thursday’s speech as well.

Wuyouzhixiang PK Wen Jiabao,” ESWN, December 21, 2008

[Posted by David Bandurski, December 20, 2008, 1:09am HK]

11 Comments to “Hu bows to the left in 30th anniversary speech”

  1. admin says:


    Perhaps you’re not reading OUR words correctly. When we say the language in Hu’s speech is a “leftward shift” or, as we said in the headline, a “bow” to the left, we are not saying that China is making a dramatic policy shift to the left, or that Hu is trying to “turn the clock back on reform.”

    Of course Hu is making the case for continuing reforms, but his language clearly reflects the fact that the present climate within the party makes real advancements on reform difficult. The increase in use of key terms like “socialism” and the “four basic principles” is dramatic in Hu’s speech, and that can only mean that ideological divisions within the party are deep.

    “Hat-tips” you called them, and that’s perfectly accurate. But if you minimize the importance of “hat-tips” in China you miss a great deal.

    Hu’s six-second silence? Begging your pardon, but I think you’re expecting too much of us.

    Ah, Wang Yang. That does clear things up — I thought for a moment that you were talking about bold reform moves in Inner Mongolia that none of us knew about.

    Of course we’ve followed Wang Yang’s language. But what has concerned us more in Guangdong are moves in the opposite direction — specifically, the reshuffling of editors, the dissolving of NFDB’s weekend commentary section, etc.

    If you must be optimistic, I suggest extreme caution.


  2. dylan says:

    While (as always) it is possible to read the language on political reform in different ways, I think you are fundamentally wrong in reading Hu’s speech as a ‘leftward shift’. Rather, it represents a clear rebuttal of those seeking to turn the clock back on reform and opening up. Hat-tips to leftist cause celebs do not mask the heart of the message, which is that in the face of the economic crisis only further reform will do. Hu clearly warns against wavering (bu dongyao).

    Also, no mention of Hu’s 6 second silence after referring to one centre?

    Brain freeze meant I mangled Wang Yang’s name! Wang Yang has said in recent speeches that Guangdong will indeed be a pioneer province in scientific development. When he isn’t clashing with Wen Jiabao over the correct economic policy for the province, Wang is pushing political structural reform for Guangdong. At a conference in November he announced that Guangzhou would take the lead in democracy and government transparency, while Shenzhen will pioneer changes in the division of work amongst government (careful avoidance of separation of powers noted here). Nanfang Dushi Bao reported on 17 December that it was Wang who made the document “Decisions on Deepening Reform and Opening-up and Carrying out Scientific Development Concept” focus on political reform in the SEZs.

  3. admin says:


    Of course we recognize that our mini-analysis above does not represent in its entirety the ongoing debate about “political reform” in China. That should go without saying. Nor does the above analysis make any such claim.

    Point three in Hu’s speech mentions nothing about “supervision by public opinion,” or the public’s monitoring of the government. Yes, it speaks superficially about the “support” and “satisfaction” of the people as the starting point for policy-making, “serving the people” etc. But the language in fact suggests a unification and overlapping of priorities, a syncing of the wishes and desires of the public with those of the party.

    Fostering the people’s “trust,” “cohering powerful forces and providing a fundamental political guarantee for reform and opening and the building of socialism” means SHAPING and “guiding” the views of the people as much or more than listening to the views of the people. Again, there is no mention whatseover here of “supervision by public opinion” (舆论监督).

    The only direct language about public participation comes under point five, where we see Hu’s characteristic 17th Congress language about “the right to know, participate and monitor.” We wrote about that at some length in October 2007, so we invite you to visit our archives. Qian Gang has written rather extensively about the “political reform” language you refer to.

    And please do tell us more about this important Yang Gang speech.


  4. dylan says:

    And, despite the analysis above by CMP, Hu still includes political reform with Chinese characteristics as his number five point of ten things to be done, and the whole of point three can be read as an exhortation the CPC to heed the views of public opinion more closely. Note also, that the attempts at some sort of political reform in Guangdong continue despite stiff opposition. Yang Gang made an important speech only last week. Perhaps CMP could look at translating and analysing it in juxtuposition to Hu’s speech.

  5. […] further parsing of the words that Hu did say shows a left-leaning trend in the official language. [China Media […]

  6. Uln says:

    Very interesting analysis. But I undestand the leftward shift is not necessarily an effort to halt reforms or to revert to a more authoritarian regime as a reaction to Charter 08. It might just be a statement to support the new leftist policies of developing the rural areas and fighting (economic) inequality.

    From a purely economical point of view this is not opposed to the Charter’s stated fundamental principle of equality.

    OK, I know this is wishful thinking. But it is not unreasonable to imagine, in this time when economic policy is a central point, that Hu is speaking for balanced development and economic reform as opposed to the ruthless “get rich first” policies of the last 30 years.

  7. […] and “harmonious society”.  (For a good synopsis of this see David Bandurski’s article from the China Media Project) Most fascinating to me what the artful wordplay of tying Marxism in […]

  8. conycatcher says:

    Hu Jintao is so anal.

  9. David says:

    Li Ren:

    Your point is a basically valid one. But our point isn’t necessarily about Hu Jintao himself — it is precisely about “his WORLD.” The language in official speeches like this one is chosen very conscientiously, never carelessly, and the terminology in this recent speech reflects something about the political climate in which Hu is making his remarks.

    The point is not whether Hu Jintao believes in his heart of hearts in this or that party phrase, but rather that he feels the need to use certain terms that carry specific political messages. So your point about men and ghosts in fact supports our assumption quite well — that is, that one can read clues about political circumstances in the patterns of political language. The question is: what ghosts, or what men, are shaping these circumstances in China right now?


  10. Li Ren says:

    It’s not a sound evidence to draw the conclusion — Hu bows to the left — by only counting the left- or right-trending words. Don’t forget that in China an old saying goes that to speak human words while meeting a man, and to speak devil words while meeting ghost. To Hu, he just speaks in a language and style which are popular in his WORLD — which runs only to senior officials in a public speech. However, it neither proves he is a reformer if he uses right-trending terms.

  11. 杨佳 says:

    Hu is an idiot! The hell with the CCP dictatorship!!

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