No Time to Lose: the CCP’s Cultural Design

First of all, this isn’t really news. It’s what Chinese party and state chairman Hu Jintao (胡锦涛) told the 17th central committee’s sixth plenary session – not a recently-written piece for QiuShi (求是), a paper for CCP theory, as one might believe when getting started with this article by The Telegraph. Hu only set the tune for, or summarized a series of ideological work which has been going on on all levels in China for more than two months now, ever since the end of the central committee’s sixth plenary session. But the alarmist fashion chosen by the Telegraph has reverberated through the press, anyway:

President Hu Jintao has said China must strengthen its cultural production to defend against the West’s assault on the country’s culture and ideology, according to an essay in a Communist Party policy magazine published this week,

the New York Times‘s Edward Wong suggested on January 3. Yes, sure he did – months ago. But Hu’s address was only a summary of a very big document which in turn doesn’t suggest that this is a new major policy initiative announced in October which would continue well into 2012 only. Given that there are people on their way out of power in the incumbent politbureau and the central committee, and people on their way into power as well, this initiative is likely to live for the better part of the coming decade.

But then, who reads central committee documents. Boring, huh?

The Central Committee meeting in October established the ideological foundation for a tightening of the cultural sphere that is only now beginning to unfold,

the NY Times proceeds. Tell that to your colleagues of the Chinese press, or any party cell member in any bigger Chinese organization who has been inundated with the central committee document and its implementation for some eight weeks, Mr. Wong. Some of them actually notified the public of their ideological work, on their company websites.

There seems to be a notworthy aspect in Hu’s speech though which doesn’t appear in the first half of the central committee’s document (haven’t finished translation of its second half yet):

At the same time [that we develop our cultural industries and gain international advantage thereby], we must see with utmost clarity that hostile international forces are currently stepping up the implementation of Westernization in China, attempting to do so via in a variety of strategies; their long-term focus is on infiltration [渗透/shentou] in the ideological and cultural fields. We should thoroughly understand the seriousness and complexity of this ideological struggle, remaining vigilant (lit. “always keep the bell ringing“), ever alert, and taking effective measures to prevent and respond to [the challenge of cultural infiltration]

同时,我们必须清醒地看到,国际敌对势力正在加紧对我国实施西化、分化战略图谋,思想文化领域是他们进行长期渗透的重点领域。我们要深刻认识意识形态领域斗争的严重性和复杂性,警钟长鸣、警惕长存,采取有力措施加以防范和应对.  –

translated by Adam Cathcart.

With this westernization aspect, the QiuShi publication doesn’t only insist on continued ideological struggles on all levels, but it also aims for further mobilization. If you are a local party cell member who has so far read this document as yet another boring piece from the central committee’s paper mill (most potential foreign readers appear to have done so anyway), you must now understand that this is a matter of life and death for the Chinese nation. The implications of your passive attitude should be clear enough.

When Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao et al relinquish much or most of their power – probably later this year when Hu steps down as party chairman -, Hu will have left a mark on the CCP’s long-term policies. In the end, everything is “cultural”, under the CCP’s rule.

Hu Jintao hasn’t changed his mind for the past quarter of a century, as Adam pointed out two and a half years ago. The CCP isn’t going to change its mind for another ten years. The central committee’s cultural decision is a collective  agreement, between outgoing and incoming dictators.

Xi Jinping sharing Chinese know-how with Angela Merkel - click picture for more details about this meeting

Cultural development [in our country] has undergone profound changes, and achieved great successes, but all in all, cultural development hasn’t quite kept up with economic and social development and with the growing spiritual and cultural demands of the people, and the problems which shackle the organizational mechanisms of cultural productivity haven’t been fundamentally solved. As a  factor in  guiding style, the people’s education, social services, and the promotion of development, culture hasn’t been brought into full play yet. Our country’s comprehensive cultural strength [or power – 我国文化整体实力] and international influence don’t match our international position yet, and a global culture and global opinion marked by “a strong West, and a weak China” hasn’t been fundamentally reversed.

[…..] 文化领域正在发生广泛而深刻的变革,文化发展取得了巨大成就,但总体而言,文化发展同经济社会发展和人民日益增长的精神文化需求还不完全适应,束缚文化生产力发展的体制机制问题尚未根本解决,文化在引领风尚、教育人民、服务社会、推动发展等方面的作用还没有得到充分发挥,我国文化整体实力和国际影响力与我国国际地位还不相称,“西强我弱”的国际文化和舆论格局尚未根本扭转。

That’s the nice thing about the cultural document. It spells out homework for the coming ten years – and arguably far beyond.

And the nicest thing of all: the whole crackdown cultural development will need to start at home, right away. There’s no time to lose.



» Big Daddy’s Latest Workings, Oct 16, 2009

10 Responses to “No Time to Lose: the CCP’s Cultural Design”

  1. Serious new paradigm stuff which, sometime in the future will be regretted, I suspect.


  2. JR, you’re absolutely right. “cultural development” is the euphemism du jour for the CCP’s grip on power.


  3. The cultural document as I read about is on this website is very far away from having any chance of being influential in the next decade. The universal turing machine called computer and its periphery called the internet is a funny thing. The Chinese mentality and its disposition to ignore rules is in some respects even funnier. Culture is digital these days. All over the world. Many politicians hope that there is a way back to something less vibrant but that is virtually impossible. In China they are going to find out sooner or later that the Beijing Consensus is a lot more about cultural freedom than they thought. GDP was yesterday. To gain this insight will most probably not take a decade. A couple of years maybe.


  4. Yeah, but who will regret it, KT? I agree that it’s a euphemism, Cheung, but I do also believe that it is a pretty elaborate concept, and in certain ways – when it comes to the party’s jurisdiction over the old classics, for example -, it is also a rather traditional one. Might be a showcase for innovative history recordings, but that should be a topic for a master thesis (or something worse). 😉

    I expect this process to evolve pretty much the other way round, Neru. This rejuvenated grip on power will develop slowly, not within a couple of years – not within two years, anyway. The CCP is as flexible as you describe the Chinese mentality in general – ignoring rules included -, but if flexibility alone doesn’t cut it, it will add as much terror as need be to enforce those rules which it sees as vital for its survival in power. It’s been done before, and I see no reason why it shouldn’t happen again. No practical reason, that is – and that’s all that counts in Beijing.

    Obviously, the CCP isn’t keen on big clashes which would only stir (to some extent avoidable) resentment. Stéphane Courtois once described the Khrushchev thaw and the following Brezhnev era this way:

    Unfortunately, what happened, was that people internalized their fear – and when people start fearing, there is no more room left for democracy. Because the basic principle of democracy is precisely freedom of expression.

    The art of totalitarianism is not to let people experience the effects knowingly. It hurts if you are faced with bare terror, and when you are feeling the irresistible need to give in. The Taoists occasionally mentioned the ruler who remains unnoticed, having people believe that “we did it on our own”. This can work in positive and negative ways.
    In my view, the mobilization effect I mentioned in this post is the key – in the narrow context of the document, and nationalism. My estimate: Chinese academics will feel the strongest emotional need to see themselves as free individuals. They will need to take part in uncertain numbers of political sessions, but they will keep silent about it when talking with foreigners, because they find the whole thing embarrassing, and they will laugh at anyone’s suggestion that they might be censoring themselves (after all, censorship is a matter of definition). In the world of business, the concept of struggle might be more appealing anyway, because it is what they feel everyday, and because materialism is no ugly word there, as a rule. And the economically still struggling Chinese majority feels the experience most intensely, and will be most likely to relate to the concept.

    But if all that still won’t cut it, and if the circus horse won’t believe that it rode itself through the arena (the gist of how Dr. Zhivago described the operation), the horse shall be ruled by fear. I’m sometimes surprised of the degree to which the CCP is apparently assumed to be a weak ruler.


  5. JR. I was referring to the at-home domestic context. The rest of the world is either smirking or trying to pull meaning out of these new runes.

    The SBS news anchor on our multicultural tv channel could barely contain a smirk the other night, and this is a station which uses about six news reports by Al Jazeera to one from CNN (and that is always a lifestyle piece.)

    To my mind, this development is a sure sign that the PRC is starting to flatline in the department of totalitarian “creativity’.

    Time to invest in a underground dvd counterfeiting operation.



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