A gathering of hundreds of members of China’s political elite has begun in Beijing, with the goal of consolidating President Xi Jinping’s authority.
The sixth plenum, a closed-door four-day gathering of China’s governing Communist Party’s central committee, is anticipated to issue a resolution on the party’s history, which observers believe will impact domestic politics and society for decades.
According to state news agency Xinhua, Xi launched the plenum on Monday with “explanations on a draft resolution on the important achievements and historical experience” of the party in its 100-year existence.
The historical resolution will be the party’s third since its formation, following in the footsteps of Mao Zedong, who established the party’s goals in 1945 with himself as the only genuine leader, and Deng Xiaoping, who blasted Mao’s failings while saving the party in 1981.
“The 1945 resolution reinforced Mao’s leadership in the CCP, and the 1981 resolution was about turning a new page after Mao’s decade-long catastrophic chaos,” said Dali Yang, a China scholar at the University of Chicago. “This year’s resolve will fall midway between the past of the party and the future of Xi.”
The resolution will govern how Chinese history is taught and presented, as well as how Xi’s power and programs are perceived as accomplishments. The paper is released on the CCP’s centennial anniversary, which is a pivotal juncture for Xi’s future leadership. According to analysts, Xi aspires to join Mao and Deng in history as a pivotal Chinese leader.
The sixth plenum is the final key gathering in China’s five-year political cycle, and it prepares the ground for next year’s party Congress, when Xi is anticipated to seek an unprecedented third term as CCP leader after abolishing term limits before.
The meeting’s agenda is top secret, and when it’s over, a communiqué summarizing the talks and resolutions will be disseminated. The CCP bestowed the title of “core” leader on Xi during the 2016 plenum, putting him on par with Mao and Deng but simultaneously emphasizing the need of collegial leadership.
As China’s relations with the West worsen, many in Western capitals are beginning to wonder what kind of force China will become in the future. In July, Xi said that his party had fulfilled its first centennial objective of creating a moderately prosperous society for all people and eliminating severe poverty. He also promised Taiwan’s “unification” as an unavoidable and important element of China’s “national rejuvenation.” Xi has led broad anti-corruption campaigns that have resulted in the expulsion of numerous political opponents, harsh crackdowns on minority groups, the introduction of his own political ideology – “Xi Jinping Thought” – to school pupils, and an increasingly expansionist foreign policy.
Xinhua has been on a propaganda rampage in the run-up to this week’s conference, emphasizing Xi’s important involvement in many elements of China’s success. One tweet said, “Xi Jinping frequently visits fields, farmers’ residences… and even inspects pigsties and toilets to acquire first-hand knowledge about people’s livelihood.” “President Xi places a high value on the promotion of morality and ethics across society,” one person wrote.
In assessing this week’s events, John Delury, a historian at Yonsei University in Seoul and co-author of Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the 21st Century, cautioned against placing too much emphasis on Xi.
“I’m afraid we’re going to over-read Xi Jinping across the board and fall prey to Chinese propaganda,” Delury added. “If we start with the 1981 resolution, it was a concerted effort to draw a line between Deng’s party and Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Since then, the CCP-led China’s story has mostly been one of economic prosperity and Beijing’s rising participation in international affairs, making the past more easily resolved.
“Of course, there has been the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and a big corruption scandal involving then-Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai since 1981, but my prediction is that they would try to avoid these as much as possible, or incorporate them into a more victorious narrative.”