Xi Jinping, at the recent party summit, joined, from the point of view of symbolic importance, communist leaders Mao Tse-tung and Deng Xiaoping, to set himself up as helmsman of the third phase of the contemporary CP project: lead to China has once again become a global power, as has been seen in most of its millenary history.
The gigantic party, with about 95 million members, divided the narrative of the trajectory begun in 1949, the year it came to power, into three chapters. And from the second stage onwards, he redesigned the historical task.
In the initial period, of Maoist orthodoxy, the project corresponded to the “construction of the proletarian paradise”. The model’s failure, with increasing poverty and international isolation, paved the way for changes launched in 1978 by Deng Xiaoping. Then came the second phase.
Post-Mao, Deng inaugurated “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, a rhetorical gymnastics to describe the maintenance of the monopoly of power in the hands of the CP, while market economy mechanisms created an increasingly prosperous society – evidenced in the emergence of a robust middle class , but also with growing income inequalities.
Between 1978 and 2021, China moved from a model based on cheap exports and abundant labor to an economy increasingly supported by the expansion of the domestic market and investment in technology and innovation.
There was a need to fit the Maoist era into the path of transformation. The CP narrative assigns Mao the task of interrupting “200 years of humiliation and shame”—definition of official historiographies—imposed by the decay of the Chinese empire, by atrocities perpetrated by European and Japanese invaders, and by civil war against nationalists and communists .
If Mao was responsible for restoring a strong and centralized power in Beijing, Deng, according to the official narrative, has reserved the role of opening the floodgates for the “productive forces of society”, with the arrival, in a few decades, of unprecedented prosperity .
On the PC flight map, after the centralized power planned by Mao and the prosperity of the Deng era, the consolidation stage of China as a global power begins, which starts in 2012, with the arrival of Xi to power. The new helmsman signals that he is at the level of historical communist leaders and not that of his immediate predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, the country’s rulers between 1989 and 2012 and authors also of brands in the Chinese political scene.
Jiang Zemin, for example, sponsored the formal acceptance of entrepreneurs as members of the CP, described since then as “part of the productive forces of society”. They are no longer labeled as “explorers of the proletariat”. Hu Jintao coined jargon such as “harmonious society” to criticize escalating social inequality and “peaceful rise” designed to describe China’s role on the global stage as conflict-averse.
Xi Jinping believes he is leading a decisive phase in the history of the PC and considers that he faces greater challenges than his immediate predecessors. Externally, the US resistance to a new global power. And, in the domestic scenario, to manage to maintain the monopoly of power in a country with an increasingly complex society, the result of growing urbanization and the expansion of the middle class.
With such challenges, Xi justifies the need to accumulate powers à la Mao and Deng, in order to be the undisputed helmsman of the most challenging phase for the PC’s permanence in power since 1949.
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