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What’s in a dream?

HONG KONG (SE): A spirit of reform and innovation has become the mantra of China’s president and general secretary of the Communist Party, Xi Jinping, but eight months into the job, how he wants to get there is not clear, Peter Ford writes in the July 26 issue of The Christian Science Monitor.

What Ford sees as confusing is that Xi seems to act in a contradictory manner, encouraging reform with the one hand, but with the other rounding up human rights lawyers and social advocates in an unusually harsh manner.

Ford also points to his use of propaganda to keep sticky questions out of the public debate.

However, exactly what Xi means by reform may not be what international observers presume it may be.

Ford says that Xi believes in the Communist Party, whose leadership he has inherited and unchallenged right to rule he does not dispute.

But he also sees that it has lost touch with ordinary people and finding a remedy for that may be what is paramount in his mind.

Liu Shangying, from the China Academy of Social Sciences, believes, “Winning or losing public support is an issue that concerns the Communist Party’s survival or extinction.”

Hence, Ford concludes, it may amount to little more than a drive for a cleanup of the image.

Part of Xi’s campaign is the buildup of the China Dream, a convenient line, because as a dream, it can left as an undefined illusion with the blanks to be filled in any way people wish, capturing it in the imagination and away from any measurable results.

In May, Xi described it as “economic prosperity, national rejuvenation and people’s wellbeing—all sufficiently vague catch calls to prompt a rush of speculative newspaper articles, workplace lectures and advertising.

Ford quotes Zheng Yongnian, from the Nationalist University of Singapore, as saying, “The party’s legitimacy is in trouble, so the China Dream is meant to inspire people and give them some hope.”

However, Zheng believes that the motive is to restore the power of the Communist Party and not much else, as there is no sign that Xi intends to loosen the party’s grip on the political debate.

While dreaming may be acceptable, discussion is certainly off the menu.

In December last year, Xi spoke of the rule of law on the 30th anniversary of the Chinese Constitution.

But soon after, the media launched a bitter attack branding intellectuals urging respect for the constitution as western-influenced traitors.

Also a directive was sent to all party officials in universities banning discussion of judicial independence and press freedom.

On the other hand, Xi does show concern for the party’s image. In May he launched a high-end campaign among party officials ordering them to clean up their act.

They were told, “Eradicate formalism, bureaucratism, hedonism and extravagance (and) look in the mirror, groom yourselves, take a bath and seek remedies.”

Gone too are flash banquets and, in a major move, a blanket ban was placed on the construction of official buildings, which ordinary people see as officials’ palaces.

However, Ford quotes Russell Leigh Moses, from the Beijing Centre for China Studies, as saying that while this may be party reform, it is not political reform.

Ford points out that this is not the first campaign launched by a Chinese leader to clean up the party’s image, but it may be fiercer than some of its predecessors, as Xi consolidated his authority within the party quickly.

But He Bing, from the China University Political Science and Law in Beijing, believes that basically Xi is treating the symptoms and not the problem. “We have seen no sign of large scale institutional reform,” he comments.

In all events, Ford notes that no one outside the Communist Party is being invited to take part in this massive cleanup. He points out that people demonstrating for the rule of law or for officials to come clean about their assets have been arrested.

Moses agrees. “The public is invited to be part of the audience, but they are not allowed on stage,” he observes.

He maintains that unless the party can control the speed and scope of any clampdown on dishonest members, it is in big trouble.


But control and reform are at opposite ends of the political spectrum.

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