BEIJING – For the Chinese Communist Party, celebrating its 100th anniversary on Thursday is not just glorifying its past. It is also about cementing its future and that of its leader, Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Ahead of the July 1 anniversary, Xi and the party urged its members and the nation to remember the early days of the struggle in the hills of inner city Yan’an, where Mao Zedong settled. as party leader in the 1930s.
Carved out of earthen cliffs, the primitive houses where Mao and his followers lived are now tourist spots for worshipers and teachers encouraged to spread the word. The cave-like halls seem far removed from Beijing, the modern capital where national festivities take place, and from the skyscrapers of Shenzhen and other high-tech hubs on the coast that are more easily associated with China’s today.
Yet, in marking its centenary, the Communist Party is using this past – selectively – to try to secure its future and that of Xi, who may be considering, as Mao did, to rule for life.
“By linking the party to all of China’s achievements over the past century, and none of its failures, Xi is trying to build support for his vision, his right to lead the party, and the party’s right to rule the country. Said Elizabeth Economy, senior researcher at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
This week’s celebrations focus on two distinct eras – the earliest struggles and recent achievements – spanning nearly three decades under Mao from the 1950s to the 1970s, when mostly dire social and economic policies claimed millions of lives. and the impoverished country.
To that end, a spectacular open-air gala that Xi attended in Beijing on Monday night revived the 1930s long march – a retreat to Yan’an that has become a festive tradition – before moving on to the chanting of the holding men. giant keys and women with bushels of wheat. But he also focused on the present, with depictions of special forces climbing a mountain and medical workers battling COVID-19 in protective gear.
The party has long used its history to justify its right to rule, said Joseph Fewsmith, professor of Chinese politics at Boston University.
It is essential to consolidate its legitimacy since the party has ruled China on its own for more than 70 years – through the chaotic years under Mao, through the collapse of the Soviet Union and through the unexpected passage of reforms. market type which, over time, have built economic power, although millions of people remain in poverty.
Many Western policymakers and analysts believed that capitalism would transform China into a democracy as its people prospered, following the model of former dictatorships such as South Korea and Taiwan.
The Communist Party confused this thinking, taking a decisive turn against democracy when it quelled large-scale protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 and quashed any challenges to the one-party rule in the decades that followed – most recently, anything but the extinction of dissent in Hong Kong after anti-government protests rocked the city in 2019.
Its leaders learned a lesson from the Soviet Union, where the Communists lost power after opening the door to pluralism, said Zhang Shiyi of the Party’s Institute of History and Literature.
Instead, China’s new wealth has empowered the party to build a high-speed rail network and other infrastructure to modernize at home and project its power abroad with a strong army and a program. space that landed on the Moon and Mars. China is still a middle-income country, but its sheer size makes it the world’s second-largest economy and puts it on a course to compete with the United States as a superpower.
In the meantime, it has redoubled its repressive tactics, rooting out dissent from critics of its policies and pushing the assimilation of ethnic minorities seeking to preserve their customs and languages ââin areas such as Tibet and the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang. While it is difficult to gauge public support for the party, it was likely boosted at least in some neighborhoods by China’s relative success in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic and its resistance to criticism from states -Unis and others.
“We have never been so confident in our future,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying told reporters during a recent trip to the party’s historic sites in Yan’an.
Tiananmen Square, where Mao proclaimed the founding of Communist China in 1949, is no longer a hotbed for student protesters with democratic dreams. On Thursday, Beijing’s central square will host the great national celebration of the party regime. While most details remain under wraps, authorities have said Xi will deliver an important speech.
The anniversary marks a meeting of a dozen people in Shanghai in 1921 that is considered the first congress of the Chinese Communist Party – although it actually started in late July. The festivities will likely send the message that the party has brought China this far, and that only it can lift the nation to greatness – essentially arguing that it must stay in power.
Xi also appears to be considering a third five-year term that would begin in 2022, after the party removed term limits.
The centenary is both a benchmark for measuring how far the country has come and a moment for Xi and the party to move forward towards their goals for 2049, which would mark the 100th anniversary of the communist regime, said Alexander Huang, professor at the ‘Tamkang University. In Taiwan. Until then, Xi said, the goal is basic prosperity for the entire population and for China to be a world leader with national strength and international influence.
âWhether they can achieve this goal is the biggest challenge for China’s leadership today,â he said, noting the growing tensions with other countries, an aging population and a younger generation who, like elsewhere , rejects the frantic race for traditional markers. of success.
Yet the party’s ability to evolve and rule for so long, albeit in part by suppressing dissent, suggests that it may retain control for much of its second century. The party insists it has no plans to export its model to other countries, but if China continues to grow, it may well challenge the Western democratic model that won the Cold War and dominated the post-WWII era.
âIn the United States, you just talk, talk, talk,â Foreign Department Hua said. “You are trying to win votes. But after four years, others can overturn your policies. How can you guarantee people’s standard of living, that their demands can be met?”