In the 100-year history of the Chinese Communist Party, there have been rare times when it acknowledged missteps and vowed to correct its errors. The most significant among such acknowledgments are featured in the party’s two “historical resolutions”—documents that express the party’s assessment and view of history—released in the 1940s and 1980s, respectively.
Last week (Nov. 9), at a critical meeting paving the way for leader Xi Jinping to take a third term at next year’s leadership congress, the party passed its third historical resolution. The document’s full text, released only yesterday, showed that the 36,000 character treatise puts extensive focus on the party’s achievements, rather than any failings. It also aims to offer an authoritative explanation as to why Xi and the party can lead China to the next stage of its rise, aka “national rejuvenation.”
“The new resolution is a verdict on why the party is right and will continue to be right,” wrote Zhu Liuqiang, a columnist for Singapore-based outlet the Initium.
The resolution also further cements Xi’s status as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, the two men most responsible for shaping today’s China prior to Xi. It was Deng, in fact, who instituted the move toward limited tenure after Mao’s long and often chaotic rule—and a third term for Xi would break with that tradition.
What is a Communist Party “historical resolution”?
Resolutions essentially serve as one of the party’s most effective tools for (sort of) apologizing for its mistakes while simultaneously reassuring citizens that its tight control of the country should remain undented.
In 1945, even before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the party issued its first resolution, in the wake of a purge of hundreds of intellectuals. The resolution criticized these former opponents for being having been led astray by ideologies like capitalism, and helped Mao consolidate his power and establish a Communist republic in 1949, after years of civil war.
The second resolution was issued in 1981 under Deng, at the start of China’s period of economic opening up. It was three years after Mao’s death, and the memories of his campaigns, in particular the Cultural Revolution, were still fresh. From the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, China entered a dark period where hundreds of thousands were bullied and killed in order to weed out capitalists, feudalists and others guilty of ideological impurity. In an attempt to restore normalcy and put the past behind, the second document acknowledged Mao’s errors in initiating the Cultural Revolution and other political movements targeting opponents, while emphasizing that the achievements of the party still outweighed its missteps.
The new resolution upholds the party’s past views on historical issues, saying the two resolutions’ “basic points and conclusions remain valid to this day,” according to the official translation by Xinhua. For example, the new document reaffirmed that the Cultural Revolution was initiated under Mao’s “completely erroneous appraisal of the prevailing class relations and the political situation,” which some see as an indication that Xi will be wary of leading China into such a political frenzy despite his increasingly Mao-like stature. It also gave high praise to previous leaders, including Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin in addition to Mao and Deng, for their efforts in building a moderately prosperous society and deepening the country’s market reforms.
A glowing profile of the Xi era
Meanwhile, much of the new document focused on Xi’s achievements in his nine years of power. His name was mentioned 22 times, the most of any other Chinese leader, including Mao (18) and Deng (6). There were repeated mentions of how things in China have improved “since the 18th National Congress,” seen as a reference to the start of the Xi era. At the congress, held in late 2012, Xi became general secretary of the party, the highest position in China, and in March the following year he became president. In the document, “the Xi era has been portrayed as the representative of the concentrated realization of the party’s various pursuits over the past 100 years,” wrote Zhu, the columnist.
Among the successes of the party since Xi took over are enhanced party overall leadership, better self-discipline among cadres—a reference to the anti-corruption campaign unleashed by Xi during his first term that both addressed an actual problem and also removed rivals—as well as the building of a modern economic system that has lifted 100 million rural residents out from poverty, according to the document.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus outbreak, which first started in the Chinese city of Wuhan in early 2020, is described as being handled by “calmly and decisively” by a central committee that helped China to lead the world in fighting the pandemic. The passage of the controversial national security law in Hong Kong too is listed as an effort that helped to “restore order” in the city. The document also says Xi has expanded China’s friends and influence, though it may look from the outside as if the international community’s criticism of China’s censorship, alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang, political crackdown in Hong Kong, and its draconian Covid zero policies, has been mounting in the Xi era.
All of these achievements together put Xi at the “core” of the party, the resolution said.
“In summary…the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core has led the entire Party, the military, and all Chinese people in forging ahead…We are now equipped with stronger institutions, firmer material foundations, and a more proactive mindset for realizing national rejuvenation,” it wrote.
Correction: This story earlier referred to news outlet Initium as based in Hong Kong. It is now based in Singapore.