During the past few months the concept of the “Chinese dream” has been discussed with increasing frequency, both in China and overseas. Reportedly, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), who is also Chinese Communist Party (CCP) general secretary, has used the phrase on a number of occasions to illustrate his vision for the country.
Where did the idea come from, and what does it mean? The concept reportedly originated in the environmental policy non-governmental organization Joint US-China Collaboration on Clean Energy, which coined it to introduce the concept of sustainability to the Chinese.
It became more widely known when US commentator Thomas Friedman wrote about it in a New York Times article in October last year, just before the CCP’s 18th National Congress in November, at which Xi was officially elected party chief. However, since then the concept has taken on new meaning far beyond the environmental realm.
In a speech on Nov. 29 last year, Xi used the term for the first time, and described it as the “realization of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
At the National People’s Congress on March 17, Xi again referred to the “Chinese dream,” and stated that “we must push forward the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and strive to achieve the Chinese dream of great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
This shows that the idea has become a catchall for the efforts to transform China into a “great nation.”
However, as noted by academic Minxin Pei (裴敏欣) in an opinion piece in the Taipei Times (“China’s rule by slogan is faltering,” April 19, page 8), China’s general public is tired of such slogans, and want substance, especially as the economy slows.
There is an international angle, and that is where Taiwan comes into the picture: The “Chinese dream” as it is evolving in the minds of many in the Chinese leadership, in the bureaucracy and not in the least in the military is a “unified China.”
Beijing’s People’s Daily even stated so specifically in a major front-page editorial on the “Chinese dream” on April 1.
In other words, it means a continued thrust toward incorporation of Taiwan into the fold. So, in addition to being an appeal to the middle classes to dream of a better life — very much like the “American dream,” where one can make it from rags to riches by working hard — it also represents a statement of increasing assertiveness vis-a-vis surrounding countries.
Domestically it means an increasing emphasis on socialism with Chinese characteristics. It recently became even more clear what this encompasses: Early last month, the Xi government issued a secret memo, which was subsequently leaked, urging Chinese officials to be “relentless in their opposition to Western ideas,” and calling on officials to adopt “battlefield tactics” against liberalism and internal dissent.
In the middle of last month, Beijing issued regulations to Chinese universities about “seven banned subjects” which should not be discussed: universal values, freedom of the press, civil society, civic rights, historical mistakes by the CCP, crony networks and judicial independence.
Taiwanese have worked hard for their freedom and democracy. They will not give up the “Taiwanese dream” — remaining a free and democratic nation — in exchange for a vague “Chinese dream” that does not respect the shared values that Taiwan and the US cherish so dearly.