By all available official accounts, The Remarks of Xi Jinping (习近平用典), the latest addition to the Chinese president’s bookshelf of personal writings, is making big waves. Shortly after its release on the last day of February, the book — in which the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party applies to present-day governance the principles of the Chinese ancients — was called an exemplary work of “cultural soft power” in the official People’s Daily.
Speaking recently to the China Youth Daily, Hao Zhen (郝振), the director of the China Editors Society (中国编辑学会), said that “the topic [of the book] is right on the mark.” “We can more deeply understand the general secretary’s ideas, and much better implement his strategy of the ‘four comprehensives,’ from a cultural angle,” he said. “We can see that the general secretary’s views on governing the country stem not only from Marxism-Leninism, and from the scientific view of development, but are also closely tied to Chinese traditional culture.”
So is the book hot? Or is it just . . . not?
With such things in China, of course, we generally guess but never know for sure — until the facade of propaganda crumbles. The 2010 film “Confucius,”a state-supported biopic that, not unlike Xi Jinping’s latest book, sought to shore up Party-state legitimacy with emotional and selective portrayals of Chinese tradition, was loudly touted as a success in China’s state media. But the illusion unraveled as Chinese internet users widely panned the film, revealing also that government offices, schools and state-owned enterprises had been block-buying tickets and handing them out in a desperate bid to drum up interest. Ultimately, the film was trounced by James Cameron’s “Avatar,” an embarrassment for China’s ambition to mix nationalistic propaganda with commercial viability.
Xi Jinping’s book is probably hot stuff in exactly the way “Confucius” was a blockbuster. As long-time China watcher Geremie Barme said recently: “The leader’s works never sell. They always have to give them away.”
Xi Jinping’s previous blockbuster book, The Governance of China, which Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg famously plugged back in December 2014 when he was host to China’s internet czar, Lu Wei, sold three million copies in its first three months — that according to China’s official news agency, Xinhua. The book’s international sales hardly suggest such a high level of appeal when the bottom-line is choice, however. A button labeled “How to Buy” on the special page for The Governance of China at China.org.cn — the Chinese government portal site — takes readers to Amazon.com, where as of today the book’s sellers rank is #284,418. By comparison, Age of Ambition, by Evan Osnos (who was The New Yorker‘s correspondent in China from 2008 to 2013), is currently ranked #6,335.
The overwrought coverage of The Remarks of Xi Jinping in official Party media, generously seasoned with servile remarks from various ministerial officials, hardly suggests bestselling confidence in the work’s broader appeal.
But whatever the case, I heartily recommend The Remarks of Xi Jinping. The book offers important insight into the way the Chinese Communist Party has in recent years progressively turned to traditional Chinese culture — or in fact, a myopic reading of traditional culture — to shore up its own legitimacy. A must-read. Five stars.
But don’t take my word for it. Here is the People’s Daily.
“Delegates Hotly Discuss ‘The Quotations of Xi Jinping‘: Positive Energy Flooding Between the Lines” (代表委员热议《习近平用典》: 字里行间充满正能量)
March 15, 2015
During the two meetings [of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference] the book The Quotations of Xi Jinping (习近平用典), compiled by the People’s Daily Publishing House, has garnered widespread attention from various quarters of society. At Xinhua-operated book selling stations situated at the NPC Conference Center, the Beijing Conference Center, the Jianyin Hotel, the [People’s Liberation Army’s] Xizhimen Hotel, the Yuanwanglou Hotel and many other NPC locations, this journalist saw a few delegates pausing to purchase and read them.
On the afternoon of March 7, after small group discussions ended, Li Dongdong (李东东), Wu Shulin (邬书林) and five other CPPCC delegates from news and publishing engaged an intense discussion of the book in the conference room of the hotel where they were staying. Everyone said that when they read The Sayings of Xi Jinping it felt very cordial, and that, as a work describing and transmitting the governance ideas of the General Secretary from a cultural angle, the book should be promoted to readers.
Delegate Wu Shulin (邬书林), deputy director of the Publishers Association of China, hit the nail on the head. “This is cultural soft power,” he said. “This book is very profound in its ideas, and its publication is timely. We’ve seen our leader inheriting from and carrying forward the ideas, culture and traditions of our people and employing these in [his own] classic [formulations], and finding wisdom and sustenance in the words of the ancients as he faces head on serious issues that await resolution.”
Delegate Li Dongdong (李东东), director of the China Media Culture Promotion Association (中国新闻文化促进会) said that reading the book she felt it was cordial, down-to-earth and profound. The general secretary, [she said], drew wisdom about national governance from traditional Chinese culture, and at the same time raised demands intimately linked to current economic reform and opening. The promotion of this book will have a good effect on the continued reform of work style [within the Party, she said].
[NOTE: The China Media Culture Promotion Association is an ostensible “non-profit social organization” devoted to media research and training, but Li Dongdong, its head, is also a senior press official in China, as former director of the General Administration of Press and Publications and former propaganda chief of Ningxia.
On the 10th, an employee at the Xinhua Bookstore sales station at the Beijing Conference Center said the book was selling well, and that quite a number of delegates at various hotels where NPC groups were staying were giving the book a great deal of attention. Yan Aoshuang (闫傲霜), director of the Beijing Science and Technology Center (北京市科学技术委员会), said as she read the book: “This is what it means to be confident about Chinese culture! This book systematically lays out cases showing how the general secretary has used [traditional] phrases, from ‘respect for the people‘ (敬民) to weizheng (为政) [a portion of the Analects of Confucius], to the ‘cultivation of character’ (修身) and ‘appointment by virtue’ (任贤), etcetera. This demonstrates the profound reverence the general secretary has for the greatness and profundity of traditional Chinese culture, and his confidence in the deep foundations of our civilization and the knowledge it offers about social governance. It tells all of us, each and every son and daughter of China, that only by having respect for and passing on traditional culture can we develop into the future!”
Wu Zhengxian (吴正宪), director of Mathematics Education Office of the Basic Education Research Center, Beijing Academy of Educational Sciences, said: “What we see here is the leader of a great nation uniting in feeling with the ordinary people, every word and every sentence dealing with the fate of the nation and linking closely with the hearts of the people. It’s down-to-earth, it deals with the actual situation, and positive energy floods between the lines.” [Wu said] that The Quotations of Xi Jinping is profound, incisive and full of feeling, with a philosophical bent — a good book that deserves engaged enjoyment by all. The book, [he said], isn’t at all ‘preachy’ or ‘full of hot air.'”
. . .
The reporter noticed that The Quotations of Xi Jinping had been placed in the most prominent position at the book sale kiosk. The employee [on duty there] said that this was because, first of all, the hope was that delegates would prioritize attention to this book, so it had been put in a clear position so the delegates would purchase and study it, and secondly because this book was selling best.