Schon Mao, the founder of the People’s Republic of China, considered it “necessary to put the past at the service of the present”. In 1945 he passed a resolution “on certain questions in the history of our party” in which one word occurs particularly frequently: error. What was meant were the mistakes of his internal party opponents. About Mao himself, the more than 50-page long document said that his line had always been “perfectly correct”.
This week, China’s state and party leader Xi Jinping wants to perpetuate his view of the party’s history as a joint decision. It is only the third such resolution since the Chinese Communist Party was founded a hundred years ago. The Central Committee meets in Beijing this Monday. It includes the nearly 350 most powerful men and 30 most influential women in the country. Ministers, military leaders, governors, the party leaders of the provinces, the chairmen of the main party organs. They are all supposed to testify that Xi Jinping’s rule marked an epoch of its own, the “new era” that he proclaimed in 2017. It is less about a worthy place in the Chinese history books than a justification for why Xi Jinping should be granted a third term next fall, despite the fact that it contradicts the unwritten laws of the party.
Power struggles or paranoia?
Unlike Mao Tse-tung back then, as far as we know, Xi Jinping does not have to assert himself against a specific rival. But he “seems to see the need to unite the party even more strongly,” says the Freiburg historian Daniel Leese. Perhaps this is a reaction to “an uneasiness in larger parts of the party with this person focus”, ie with the personality cult around Xi Jinping, which is expressed, for example, in the fact that a large part of the main news program is devoted to him every evening.
If everything were as harmonious as outwardly presented, the current cleansing campaign in the judiciary and police apparatus would probably not be necessary. Former secret police chief Sun Lijun was formally arrested on Friday. He has been in the custody of the security apparatus for a long time. He is not only accused of corruption, but worse: disloyalty to the party leadership. In October, an investigation began against former Justice Minister Fu Zhenghua for “serious violations of party discipline and the law.” Recently, the semi-official websites NetEase and Sohu rumored that some figures in the police and judicial system had planned an “insidious conspiracy”.
One can only speculate whether this is an indication of power struggles behind the scenes or just an expression of paranoia in the leadership. In any case, this mixed situation is probably one of the reasons why Xi Jinping did not take part in the G20 meeting in Rome and the climate summit in Glasgow in the past few days, which American President Joe Biden interpreted as a “big mistake”. In this context, some people in Beijing feel reminded of the former general secretary of the party Zhao Ziyang, whose opponent instigated his overthrow in 1989 while he was on a trip abroad in North Korea. In view of Xi Jinping’s abundance of power, this comparison is daring. Above all, it shows: Whenever the party elite meets behind closed doors in Beijing, the rumor mill simmers.
The resolution, which will be passed this week, will officially cover “achievements and historical experiences” of the past hundred years. But you can be sure that the nine years since Xi Jinping took office have taken up a disproportionately large amount of space. “A good third,” estimates the historian Leese. He assumes that two main lines will play a role in the new interpretation of history. The building of a socialist society by 2049 and the resurgence of the Chinese nation after the so-called “Century of Shame” (1840–1949). Xi Jinping used to divide the party’s history into three sections: under Mao, China rose, under Deng Xiaoping it became rich, and under himself it will grow strong. His predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin do not even appear in this story.