Only two men in the Communist Party’s history have ever written a so-called historical resolution. China is waiting to see whether President Xi Jinping (習近平) becomes the third.
The first official declaration on Chinese history in 40 years is set to top the agenda when the ruling party huddles this week in the last major meeting before a twice-a-decade congress next year, where Xi’s expected to break precedent and secure a third term to extend his indefinite rule.
Mao Zedong (毛澤東) and Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) historical resolutions came at critical junctures in the nation’s trajectory and enabled their authors to dominate party politics until their dying breaths. Issuing his own magnum opus would not only put Xi on par with those party titans, but could signal big changes afoot in the world’s second-largest economy.
The meeting, which began yesterday and runs until Thursday, called the sixth plenum, kicks off the closest thing China has to a campaign season. Getting the party to back his take on China’s history — and its future — would be the biggest sign yet that Xi has the power base to potentially rule for life after almost a decade of purging enemies and pushing to foster national pride.
WHAT IS THE SIXTH PLENUM?
Between each party congress, the Communist Party’s Central Committee meets seven times in meetings called plenums that cover different topics. About 400 men (and a handful of women), including state leaders, military chiefs, provincial bosses and top academics, convene at a heavily guarded military hotel in Beijing. Like most things in elite Chinese politics, the agenda is top secret and only revealed in a communique afterward — with any squabbling and infighting edited out.
As the last big meeting in China’s five-year political cycle, the sixth plenum is in some ways more important than others: It’s the final chance for horse trading before big decisions are made at the following year’s congress. In preparation, the party’s Poltiburo last month reviewed a draft resolution on “the major achievements and historical experiences of the party’s 100 years,” the official Xinhua News Agency said, without elaborating.
The wording raised eyebrows. At the sixth plenum in 1981, Deng famously passed his historical resolution denouncing the missteps of Mao, whose Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution crusades caused famine and death. At a similar summit in 2016, the party named Xi a “core” leader, a term previously reserved for Deng, Mao and Jiang Zemin (江澤民) that confers de facto veto powers over key decisions.
WHAT ARE HISTORICAL RESOLUTIONS?
At face value, they’re long, dry accounts written in unwieldy party-speak. In reality, they’re the ultimate power play.
When Mao published his historical resolution in 1945, the People’s Republic was four years away from being a country and still tangled in leadership wars. The document, titled Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party, ended all that uncertainty. It declared that only Mao had the “correct political line” to lead the CCP, clearing the way for decades of his personality-driven rule.
By the time Deng delivered his document in 1981, the party was facing another leadership tussle in the wake of Mao’s death four years earlier. Weaving a narrative that condemned the chaos of Mao’s Cultural Revolution without totally discrediting him, and thus undermining the party, Deng secured his position as the man with the right vision to take China forward.
That platform allowed Deng to liberalize China’s economy and ban another “cult of personality” without ever being the president. The resolutions carry such weight because the party revolves around what Wu Guoguang, professor of history at the University of Victoria in Canada, calls “documentary politics” — a system where elite decisions are ratified in documents, not laws.
“The writing process of a CCP document is a process of consensus building within the party elite,” Wu said, making such a publication the biggest available show of collective approval. Deng canvassed more than 4,000 cadres’ opinions on his resolution, and state media has reported that Xi is currently presenting his to key people outside the party.
Still, Wu said the leader always controls the final narrative.
“Xi definitely dominates the process of the shaping of this third historical resolution,” Wu said. “He is imposing his viewpoints to become the framework within which party elites make their consensus.”
WHAT WILL XI SAY?
Unlike his predecessors who criticized party missteps, Xi’s likely to spin a victorious tale of a century of success, glossing over failures and outlining his vision for a modern Marxist society, according to signs from state media. The Politburo meeting last month declared the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation a “historical inevitability” under Xi, the party’s People’s Daily newspaper said, offering clues at the resolution’s content.
Crafting a story of continuous success requires Xi to embrace the contradictory policies of Mao and Deng, ignore the scars of events such as the Great Leap Forward and the Tiananmen Square massacre, and present his own ideology as the natural next path — despite critics’ claims he’s reviving the personality cult Deng despised.
“Blending Mao and Deng together seems illogical, but that is the political trick in playing CCP politics,” said Wu, who in the 1980s worked for the reform-minded premier Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽), later ousted for his liberal views. “Xi is changing many policies of Deng’s, but he definitely follows both Mao and Deng in one way: to defend the CCP’s monopoly of power in China.”
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
As the leader of one-fifth of the world’s people, Xi’s potential to rule for life has huge ramifications. China’s most important man is already on a mission to redistribute the nation’s wealth to build a fairer Marxist society. That “common prosperity” campaign wiped about US$1 trillion off the value of Chinese stocks globally in July, and impacted the business of everyone from delivery drivers and after-school teachers to tech giants and celebrities, with major fallout for global investors.
With a historical resolution under his belt, Xi would head into next year’s politicking emboldened to execute more economic reforms and push back against the US on trade, coronavirus probes and, of course, Taiwan, which Beijing considers a breakaway province. Xi in July called it a “historic mission” to bring the democratic nation under the party’s control, a move that could actually send Washington and Beijing to war if done by force.
In Taiwan’s rural lowlands, it’s a common sight at this time of year. Having cleared and plowed their fields, farmers intending to grow pineapples, strawberries or certain other crops, roll lengths of thin black plastic across the ground. To keep the film in place, soil is piled over the edges. Plastic sheeting — or plastic mulch, as it’s often called — makes farmers’ lives easier by suppressing unwanted foliage that might otherwise crowd out their crops. As an inexpensive labor-saving technique, its appeal is obvious. Taiwan’s farmers are getting old (in 2014, their mean age was 62 years), and finding
Foreign viewers at the Cannes premiere of Moneyboys (金錢男孩) may not have noticed the glaring incongruities that persist through the movie, but Taiwanese viewers certainly will. They’re apparent to the point that it’s difficult to enjoy the movie. First of all, the entire film is obviously shot in Taiwan, but the plot is set in fictional locales in southern China, with most secondary characters, passersby and television announcers speaking in Beijing-accented Mandarin. This melancholy tale revolves around gay sex workers in China and the unique challenges they face, especially regarding traditional expectations, including marriage, and the large-scale rural-to-urban migration of
My goals were straightforward. I’d ride my motorcycle from my home in Tainan along back-country roads into Kaohsiung’s Tianliao (田寮) and Cishan (旗山) districts, then loop back through Yanchao (燕巢). I had a short list of places I wanted to visit along the way, and I was confident I’d stumble across a few more points of interest. Turning off Provincial Highway 19A (19甲), I veered northeast on Tainan Local Road 163 (南163) until I saw a sign for Daping (大坪). Like 163, this second (and apparently unnumbered) road turned out to be a gently undulating rural delight. I passed a few
Ten years ago, the psychologist Steven Pinker published The Better Angels of Our Nature, in which he argued that violence in almost all its forms — including war — was declining. The book was ecstatically received in many quarters, but then came the backlash, which shows no signs of abating. In September, 17 historians published a riposte to Pinker, suitably entitled The Darker Angels of Our Nature, in which they attacked his “fake history” to “debunk the myth of non-violent modernity.” Some may see this as a storm in an intellectual teacup, but the central question — can we learn