China’s Communist Party issued a report lauding the successes achieved over its 100-year history at the conclusion of the Sixth Plenum of the CCP’s 19th Central Committee on November 11. The report extolled a “glorious journey over the past 100 years” and called on party members to rally around Xi Jinping as “the core.”
The four-day meeting was the final plenary session of the current Central Committee, which is made up of 205 full members and 171 alternate members, before a new one is formed at the 20th Party Congress, slated for the second half of 2022.
China’s current leader, Xi Jinping, is expected to remain in power at the 20th Party Congress. Whereas Deng Xiaoping had institutionalized the process of term limits, and previous leaders Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao served in the top spot for a decade – two five-year terms – each, Xi is poised to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with Mao Zedong as a lifetime ruler, according to independent journalist Deng Yuwen. He already succeeded in rewriting China’s constitution to remove term limits on the position of president.
The Sixth Plenum report urged partywide and countrywide unity around Xi.
“The Central Committee calls upon the entire Party, the military, and all Chinese people to rally more closely around the Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core, to fully implement Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” the report stated.
The meeting passed a “Resolution on History,” a formal statement on the party’s history. There have been two resolutions on history issued by the CCP before. The full text of this third one has not yet been released to the public.
The Sixth Plenum report indicates that this resolution has not substantially revised its 1981 predecessor, which condemned the Cultural Revolution, but emphasizes the party’s continuity and unity rather than its internal conflicts.
“The announcement of the Sixth Plenum reconfirmed the legacies of the previous administrations of Mao, Deng, Jiang and Hu,” Professor Hua Shiping, a specialist in Chinese politics at the University of Louisville, told The Diplomat. “This is an attempt to create a sense of unity within the party and therefore pave the way for the 20th Party Congress in late 2022.”
“To create this sense of ‘unity’ is necessary because inconsistencies were found in recent years in the official interpretations of some important historical events, including in the treatment of the Cultural Revolution in textbooks for schools,” Hua continued.
“In 1978, the party’s interpretation of the Cultural Revolution was that it was a ‘disaster.’ But in recent years, the Cultural Revolution has sometimes been treated as an ‘exploration of the socialist path,’ thus raising questions concerning the current administration’s attitudes towards the Deng legacy.”
In 2018 the South China Morning Post reported on changes to a middle-school history textbook in which the wording on the Cultural Revolution was watered down, with the new version describing the actions of Mao Zedong as less blameworthy than the old version. The textbook was issued by People’s Education Press, which is controlled by the Ministry of Education.
“The [Sixth Plenum] announcement reconfirmed Deng’s contribution to the party,” Hua said.
The Sixth Plenum report acknowledged the actions of each of China’s leaders in turn. It stated that under Mao “the party and the people showed the world that the Chinese people had stood up.” Under Deng, Chinese communists “formulated a development strategy for achieving socialist modernization,” and the successes of recent decades were tied to Jiang Zemin’s “Three Represents” theory and Hu Jintao’s “Scientific Outlook on Development”.
According to Diana Fu, a fellow at the John L. Thornton China Center in the Brookings Institution, “The emphasis on the CCP’s history is a part of getting the narrative right about the party’s role in China’s development. It claims that without the ideological and pragmatic leadership of the Party in the past 100 years, the country would not have become strong enough to stand up to Western powers.”
Fu added, “This narrative also serves to legitimize ongoing campaigns, such as common prosperity and patriotic education.
“The gist is: the CCP’s track record for the past 100 years is solid, so trust the Party’s leadership. The closing of one chapter in history paves the way for another chapter – that of a Xi era 3.0,” referring to a third term for Xi.