Party report suggests old guard is strong

Ahead of the 18th National Congress, which opened in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People today, I focused on 10 important terms in the Party’s political lexicon in my WATCHWORDS series (English and Chinese). Those terms were:

1. The “Four Basic Principles,” including Mao Zedong Thought (四项基本原则/毛泽东思想)
2. “Stability preservation” (维稳)
3. “Political reform” (政治体制改革)
4. “Cultural Revolution” (文革)
5. “Power is given by the people” (权为民所赋)
6. “Power of decision-making, power of administration and power of monitoring” (决策权,执行权,监督权)
7. “Intraparty democracy” (党内民主)
8. “Social construction” (社会建设)
9. “Scientific view of development” (科学发展观)
10. “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” (中国特色社会主义).

In the series, I looked at the origins of these political watchwords, their development through time (as seen in Chinese media and in past political reports), and explained how they can give us clues to how the Party is thinking or trending on various critical issues.

I have not yet had time to go carefully through the entire 64-page report delivered by President Hu Jintao earlier today, but I have studied a number of the key points. Here is the situation in Hu’s political report to the 18th National Congress with respect to the 10 terms I focused on in my series.

1. The “Four Basic Principles” (including “Mao Zedong Thought”). I have said before that this term, as a banner for the Maoist left in China, can be seen as a strong political indicator. In my series, I said that if both of these terms were abandoned, this would signify the leadership’s intention to push ahead with political reforms. But if the phrase Four Basic Principles is used to the extent that we saw in 2007, or its frequency is reduced only slightly, this signals a perpetuation of the status quo, with no substantive progress on political reform. Any increase in the frequency of use of either term would suggest a political turnabout.

In this political report, both the “Four Basic Principles” and “Mao Zedong Thought” continue to appear.

2. “stability preservation”. As I pointed out in my series, the appearance of this term in the political report to the 18th National Congress would mark a serious turnabout for China politically.

In this political report, the term “stability preservation” does not appear in the main points (要点).

3. “Cultural Revolution”. We want to look for any signs of soul-searching about the Cultural Revolution in the political report, which would be a positive sign pointing to possible political reform. This would mean emphasis of the term, but not simply in the context of praise for China’s progress (which would not be significant).

In the main topics of this political report, “Cultural Revolution” does not appear, in either its full or shortened forms (文革/文化大革命).

4. “Political reform”. As I pointed out, a positive sign would be the appearance of this term in a section header (章节标题) of the political report. The term did appear in a section header in every political report from the 13th National Congress to the 16th National Congress, but this did not happen in Hu Jintao’s 2007 political report. We also want to look at the term’s frequency — has it gone up? And have related negative signals gone down in frequency? The appearance of the phrase “protecting rights, checking power” would be a positive sign. The appearance, on the other hand, of hard-line language such as “opposing Westernization” or the “Five Will Nots” would be a negative sign.

In this political report, “political reform” is written into a section header. The header of the fifth section is: “Continuing on the Political Development Road of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics and Promoting Political Reform” (坚持走中国特色社会主义政治发展道路和推进政治体制改革). I will look later at the frequency of use of the term “political reform” in the report. We do not see terms in the report like “opposing Westernization” or the “Five Will Nots”. But we do see the appearance of “[we will] resolutely not follow Western political systems” (绝不照搬西方政治制度模式), which did not appear in the 2007 political report. We also see a new term: “[We will] not take the wicked [or "heretical"] way of changing our banner” (不走改旗易帜邪路).

5. “Intraparty power separation” or the “Power of Decision-Making, Power of Administration and Power of Monitoring”. I said before that full 2007 phrase to look for in this report was: “[The Party] must build and improve power structures for mutual conditioning and mutual coordination of the powers of decision-making, administration and monitoring, improving oversight mechanisms” (要建立健全决策权、执行权、监督权既相互制约又相互协调的权力结构,完善监督机制). If we did not see this phrase repeated in this year’s political report, I said, this would be a negative sign. On the other hand, if the phrase was altered to include the idea of these powers operating independently of one another, this would be a positive sign.

In this political report, the 2007 does appear, but there is no further language to suggest powers operating independently of one another.

6. “Power is given by the people”. As I explained in my fifth article in the series, Xi Jinping introduced this phrase after the 17th National Congress. I argued that any appearance of this term at all in this year’s political report would be a positive sign.

In this political report, the term does not appear.

7. “social construction”. I noted in my series that the critical thing to watch was whether the phrase “expanding the scope for self-governance at the grassroots,” which appeared in 2007, reappeared in this year’s report. If it disappears (and is not replaced by “social self-governance”) that would be a negative sign, I argued.

In this political report, the term does disappear, and it is not replaced by “social self-governance.” The term used instead is “self-governance according to the law” (依法自治), and this appears in the following context: “. . . improving [our] mechanisms for strategy and work on national security, remaining highly vigilant against and resolutely on guard against separatism, infiltration and subversive activities by hostile forces, ensuring national security.” This is a term from the politics and law committee to talk about “social management,” and marks a very hardline position.

8. “Intraparty democracy”. This term appeared five times in the political report to the 17th National Congress, a relatively high frequency. As I wrote before, we want to look at how often this term appears in this year’s political report as well as at whether or not it is accompanied by language about more concrete measures, such as “open nomination and direct election,” “differential election” and “fixed tenure.”

Judging from the main points (要点) of this year’s report, it seems that “intraparty democracy” appears less frequently than in the report to the 17th National Congress. There is no mention of “open nomination and direct election,” and as for “differential election” and “fixed tenure” no concrete measures are raised.

9. Scientific View of Development”. The term, President Hu Jintao’s “banner term,” or qihao, appeared 21 times in the 2007 political report. I said in my series that if the term appears the same number of times or marginally less often in this year’s report, this will be normal. Appearance with greater frequency, however, would signal that Hu intends to extend the influence of his banner term beyond the 18th National Congress. Also worth looking at is whether the meaning of the Scientific View of Development changes in any way in the political report. Is there any stress, for example, on “people-based” governance? Is there mention of civil and political rights along the lines of what we saw in China’s National Human Rights Action Plan (2012-2015)? Any changes like this to the content of Scientific View of Development would be positive.

In this political report, the Scientific View of Development makes a strong showing. Most importantly, this term’s rank has been elevated. Along with “Deng Xiaoping Theory” and the “Three Represents,” it has become a guiding ideology (指导思想) of the Party. There is no mention at all in the political report of the term “civil rights.”.

10. “Socialism with Chinese characteristics”. In my analysis of the political report five years ago, I found that this watchword appeared 51 times. A hypothesized on the basis of Hu Jintao’s speech on July 23, 2012, that this watchword, actually a changing medley of political terms, would at this year’s congress become a term representing the banner terms for the last three generations of Chinese leaders — Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. As I pointed out in my series, it is important to look at how socialism with Chinese characteristics is defined in this year’s political report. Specifically, does the term still include the “Four Basic Principles” or “one core, two basic points” (一个中心, 两个基本点) — this second term being a phrase that includes the “Four Basic Principles.” If socialism with Chinese characteristics continues to includes these ideas, I said, that could be read as a discouraging sign.

This year’s political report does show us that “socialism with Chinese characteristics” has indeed become a common banner term including three generations of leaders — Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. Moreover, the Four Basic Principles is still included in the definition of the phrase.

My preliminary conclusion: conservative forces within the Party are still very powerful. According to the line marked out by the political report to the 18th National Congress, there is very little prospect that substantive moves will be made on political reform.



18大召开前,笔者曾在CMP网站和纽约时报中文网撰文,分析了中共的10个关键词语:1,“四项基本原则”(含毛泽东思想);2, “维稳”;3, “政治体制改革”;4, “文革”;5, “权为民所赋”;6, “决策权,执行权,监督权”;7, “党内民主”;8, “社会建设”;9, “科学发展观”;10, “中国特色社会主义”;比较它们在历次党代大会、特别是文革后7次党代大会政治报告中的表现;分析17大以来5年间这些提法在党报和其他媒体传播中的最新变化;试图通过话语体系,对18大后的政治走向作模式识别。











初步结论: 保守势力依然强大,按照18大报告所确定的路线,中国政治体制改革难有实质推进。

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