維基小霸王, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

On July 1, the leader of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Xi Jinping gave a speech before a crowd of 70,000 in Tiananmen Square in Beijing to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Xi laid out a totalitarian vision for the country, depicting the CCP and the Chinese nation as a unit, and erasing from society and Chinese history anyone who did or does not act and think in accordance with the wishes of the party.

Totalitarian regimes share similar propaganda strategies. In a 1983 book, British historian Ian Kershaw described the core elements of propaganda in National Socialist Germany.

Although the PRC and the Third Reich differ in many respects, some of their methods of propaganda

and brainwashing can be compared, as we shall see.

Kershaw argued that the Nazi leadership attached great importance to propaganda “as the indispensable means of mobilising, manipulating, controlling, directing and (re-)educating the population” (Ian Kershaw (1983). How Effective Was Nazi Propaganda?, in: Welch, D. (ed.) (1983). Nazi Propaganda. The Power and the Limitations, chapter 10).

The objectives of Nazi propaganda were not identical to those of the CCP. In particular, Hitler’s rabid antisemitism is not found in CCP ideology. We shall therefore here list only the three main objectives that both regimes have in common:

(1) “the need to remove class, sectional, regional, denominational and party political loyalties and replace them by the ideal of selfless service to a united national community.'” We should point out that removing party loyalty in this context means creating loyalty to the ruling party as the political embodiment of the nation.

(2) “The need to instil in the population the hatred both of internal enemies … and of foreign enemies through a madly heightened chauvinism”.

(3) “Cementing all this together was the need for a trust in the leadership going way beyond conventional respect for the authority of the head of a government and demanding unthinking adulation and obedience towards a leader wrapped up in a cult of almost deified infallibility who would unquestionably do what was right for people and nation.”

It is important to note that the CCP has undergone a fundamental shift since the Mao Zedong era. As explained in a previous article, in the late 1970s the regime reintroduced the market economy and abandoned the Soviet-style planned economy. Under the leadership of Mao’s successor Deng Xiaoping, the PRC’s ideology focused more on nationalism than on Marxism. As a result, the CCP’s propaganda strategy has changed accordingly. Even Xi Jinping, who emphasizes the importance of Marxism more than any leader since Mao, must recognize the primacy of nationalism, as we will soon see.

Ian Kershaw further explained that there were various “areas” of German public opinion with which Nazi propaganda interacted in different ways. These “areas” can be defined as:

(a) “areas where propaganda could readily build upon already generally accepted values, ideological predisposition and dominant opinion;”

(b) “areas where propaganda encountered no preexistent consensus and had to try to manufacture one;”

(c) “areas of heavy prejudice premised on widespread ignorance, where propaganda largely functioned in a vacuum;”

(d) “areas where propaganda ran up against strong counter-opinion and disbelief.”

Kershaw’s analysis is useful to understand the rhetoric of Xi Jinping’s speech.

Characteristically, Xi chose to begin his speech with a narration of China’s invasion and humiliation at the hands of foreigners in the 19th century. Never mind that the United States and the United Kingdom fought alongside China’s then-ruling Guomindang regime to defeat Japan; and that China, by the CCP’s own admission, was freed from foreign encroachment in 1949. The rhetoric of national humiliation and of victimhood is central to the CCP’s effort to craft a nationalist discourse of encirclement, national crisis and foreign threat. Nationalism is indeed the linchpin of Xi’s message, providing the emotional justification for the CCP’s claim to power.

Second, Xi made an economic argument. China used to be poor, and now it is the world’s second largest economy. This argument is likely to resonate as much as the first. These are areas where propaganda can “readily build upon already generally accepted values, ideological predisposition and dominant opinion.”

Third, Xi depicted the CCP and the nation as inseparable. The CCP is portrayed as the only force that can guide China. He did not mention those who oppose the CCP or are critical of it, though we know that they exist. The CCP erases dissent and crafts a propaganda of absolute unity between the rulers and the ruled, a message aimed both at foreign and domestic audiences.

Fourth, Xi mentioned Marxism, but he abstained from detailing Marxist policies that the CCP implemented or wants to implement. He did not discuss central tenets of Marxism such as class struggle, the abolition of private property, or workers owning the means of production. Paradoxically, Marxism may be one of the least popular elements of CCP ideology. It is not clear what Xi’s goal is in this respect, whether he is a true Marxist biding his time or whether he simply uses the Communist “brand” to avoid admitting the failure of Mao’s Communist experiment. But it is telling that when Xi talks about Marxism, he uses it as a hollow slogan rather than as a specific set of policies.

In light of what we have explained, let us now look at some salient passages from Xi’s speech:

The Chinese nation is a great nation. With a history of more than 5,000 years, China has made indelible contributions to the progress of human civilization. After the Opium War of 1840, however, China was gradually reduced to a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society and suffered greater ravages than ever before. The country endured intense humiliation, the people were subjected to great pain, and the Chinese civilization was plunged into darkness. Since that time, national rejuvenation has been the greatest dream of the Chinese people and the Chinese nation.

To save the nation from peril, the Chinese people put up a courageous fight. As noble-minded patriots sought to pull the nation together, the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Movement, the Reform Movement of 1898, the Yihetuan Movement [the Boxer Rebellion], and the Revolution of 1911 rose one after the other, and a variety of plans were devised to ensure national survival, but all of these ended in failure. China was in urgent need of new ideas to lead the movement to save the nation and a new organization to rally revolutionary forces.

With the salvoes of Russia’s October Revolution in 1917, Marxism-Leninism was brought to China. Then in 1921, as the Chinese people and the Chinese nation were undergoing a great awakening and Marxism-Leninism was becoming closely integrated with the Chinese workers’ movement, the Communist Party of China was born. The founding of a communist party in China was an epoch-making event, which profoundly changed the course of Chinese history in modern times, transformed the future of the Chinese people and nation, and altered the landscape of world development …

To realize national rejuvenation, the Party united and led the Chinese people in freeing the mind and forging ahead, achieving great success in reform, opening up, and socialist modernization.

We established the Party’s basic line for the primary stage of socialism, resolutely advanced reform and opening up, overcame risks and challenges from every direction, and founded, upheld, safeguarded, and developed socialism with Chinese characteristics, thus bringing about a major turn with far-reaching significance in the history of the Party since the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

This enabled China to transform itself from a highly centralized planned economy to a socialist market economy brimming with vitality, and from a country that was largely isolated to one that is open to the outside world across the board. It also enabled China to achieve the historic leap from a country with relatively backward productive forces to the world’s second largest economy, and to make the historic transformation of raising the living standards of its people from bare subsistence to an overall level of moderate prosperity, and then ultimately to moderate prosperity in all respects. These achievements fueled the push toward national rejuvenation by providing institutional guarantees imbued with new energy as well as the material conditions for rapid development …

We must uphold the firm leadership of the Party. China’s success hinges on the Party. The more than 180-year-long modern history of the Chinese nation, the 100-year-long history of the Party, and the more than 70-year-long history of the People’s Republic of China all provide ample evidence that without the Communist Party of China, there would be no new China and no national rejuvenation. The Party was chosen by history and the people. The leadership of the Party is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics and constitutes the greatest strength of this system. It is the foundation and lifeblood of the Party and the country, and the crux upon which the interests and wellbeing of all Chinese people depend.

On the journey ahead, we must uphold the Party’s overall leadership and continue to enhance its leadership. We must be deeply conscious of the need to maintain political integrity, think in big-picture terms, follow the leadership core, and keep in alignment with the central Party leadership. We must stay confident in the path, theory, system, and culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics. We must uphold the core position of the General Secretary on the Party Central Committee and in the Party as a whole, and uphold the Central Committee’s authority and its centralized, unified leadership. Bearing in mind the country’s most fundamental interests, we must enhance the Party’s capacity to conduct sound, democratic, and law-based governance, and ensure that it fully exerts its core role in providing overall leadership and coordinating the efforts of all sides.

We must unite and lead the Chinese people in working ceaselessly for a better life. This country is its people; the people are the country. As we have fought to establish and consolidate our leadership over the country, we have in fact been fighting to earn and keep the people’s support. The Party has in the people its roots, its lifeblood, and its source of strength. The Party has always represented the fundamental interests of all Chinese people; it stands with them through thick and thin and shares a common fate with them. The Party has no special interests of its own-it has never represented any individual interest group, power group, or privileged stratum. Any attempt to divide the Party from the Chinese people or to set the people against the Party is bound to fail. The more than 95 million Party members and the more than 1.4 billion Chinese people will never allow such a scenario to come to pass

We must accelerate the modernization of national defense and the armed forces. A strong country must have a strong military, as only then can it guarantee the security of the nation. At the point that it was engaged in violent struggle, the Party came to recognize the irrefutable truth that it must command the gun and build a people’s military of its own … [read: Militarism in China’s Political System – The Emergence of Warlords in Late Imperial China and Its Influence on the Chinese Communist Party and the Guomindang].

We will take comprehensive measures to enhance the political loyalty of the armed forces, to strengthen them through reform and technology and the training of competent personnel, and to run them in accordance with the law. We will elevate our people’s armed forces to world-class standards so that we are equipped with greater capacity and more reliable means for safeguarding our national sovereignty, security, and development interests …

We Chinese are a people who uphold justice and are not intimidated by threats of force. As a nation, we have a strong sense of pride and confidence. We have never bullied, oppressed, or subjugated the people of any other country, and we never will [this is a false statement]. By the same token, we will never allow any foreign force to bully, oppress, or subjugate us. Anyone who would attempt to do so will find themselves on a collision course with a great wall of steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people [literally: “Anyone who should vainly attempt to do so will break their heads and their blood will flow as they ram into a Great Wall of steel erected with the flesh and blood of 1.4 billion Chinese people,” 妄想这样干,必将在14亿多中国人民用血肉筑成的钢铁长城面前碰得头破血流!] …

We must strengthen the great unity of the Chinese people. In the course of our struggles over the past century, the Party has always placed the united front in a position of importance. We have constantly consolidated and developed the broadest possible united front, united all the forces that can be united, mobilized all positive factors that can be mobilized, and pooled as much strength as possible for collective endeavors. The patriotic united front is an important means for the Party to unite all the sons and daughters of the Chinese nation, both at home and abroad, behind the goal of national rejuvenation …

We will stay true to the letter and spirit of the principle of One Country, Two Systems, under which the people of Hong Kong administer Hong Kong, and the people of Macao administer Macao, both with a high degree of autonomy [this is a false statement]. We will ensure that the central government exercises overall jurisdiction over Hong Kong and Macao, and implement the legal systems and enforcement mechanisms for the two special administrative regions to safeguard national security. While protecting China’s sovereignty, security, and development interests, we will ensure social stability in Hong Kong and Macao, and maintain lasting prosperity and stability in the two special administrative regions.

Resolving the Taiwan question and realizing China’s complete reunification is a historic mission and an unshakable commitment of the Communist Party of China. It is also a shared aspiration of all the sons and daughters of the Chinese nation [this is a false statement]. We will uphold the one-China principle and the 1992 Consensus, and advance peaceful national reunification. All of us, compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, must come together and move forward in unison. We must take resolute action to utterly defeat any attempt toward “Taiwan independence,” and work together to create a bright future for national rejuvenation. No one should underestimate the resolve, the will, and the ability of the Chinese people to defend their national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

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