The agenda of the most crucial Central Committee meeting before the twice-a-decade leadership reshuffle next fall is carefully and deliberately chosen. It speaks of the importance Xi attaches to party history, and his own place in it.
To the Chinese Communist Party, history — or rather, certain curated versions of it — can be extremely useful.
China’s alleged “historical claims” to disputed territories and waters, for instance, have been used by Beijing to bolster its case for contemporary sovereignty, while the narrative attached to the so-called “century of humiliation” by foreign powers — from the First Opium War in 1839 to the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 — has become a central source of legitimacy for the party.
As a result, the Chinese Communist Party vigilantly guards its own history — by airbrushing the darker chapters of its tumultuous past and erasing particularly sensitive episodes from public memory.
But the upcoming “history resolution” is not only about reshaping the party’s past. More importantly, it’s a way for Xi to codify his authority and supremacy in the present — and project his long-lasting power and influence into the future.
Since its founding, the party has only issued two such resolutions, put forward by Xi’s two most powerful predecessors — Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.
Xi sees himself as responsible for taking on the mantle of Mao and Deng’s epoch-making legacies, brushing past his two immediate predecessors. In that version of party history, Mao led China to “stand up” against the bullying by foreign powers, Deng helped the Chinese people to “get rich,” and Xi is now leading the country on a triumphant path to “become strong.”
And to continue to do that, the rationale goes, he needs to stay in power for at least a third term, to steer the country through what he terms the “window of opportunity” for China to catch up with — if not surpass — the West in national strength.
For now, few details about the resolution are known — barring the expectation that it will most likely be passed by party elites this week. The document’s title indicates a more celebratory and forward-looking tone than the previous two resolutions, which focused on clarifying the problems or mistakes of the immediate past.
But regardless of the finer details, the consensus among political observers is that the resolution will further cement Xi’s authority and place him firmly at the helm of the party for the foreseeable future.
As George Orwell’s famous quote from “1984” puts it: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”
And for Xi, it seems like he’s about to control all three, at least for now.