President Xi Jinping’s political and multi-faceted manifesto of the Chinese Dream (zhonguo meng) is considered the hallmark of his administration. Although it may ring a bell of comparison with the previous American Dream, Xi’s slogan has all the characteristics of a national phenomenon deeply steeped in China’s political ideology and traditional culture. The key aspect of the Chinese Dream is the unquestioned centrality of and guiding role played by the Communist Party of China (CPC). President Xi made this clear from the start of his presidency and, especially, during the last 19th Congress of CPC in October 2017: in his three-hours-and-a-half speech, he in fact repeated the term “Communist Party of China” more than 400 times. The CPC is and remains at the heart of the Chinese State as established by Mao Zedong at the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949. To date, there are few signs that the legitimacy of the CPC is being in any way undermined. Alongside a rigorous application and promotion of the regime’s values, president Xi displayed some signs of discontinuity with the past, both at the national and international levels. In a sense, the CPC is also experiencing an impetus towards modernization and reform.
First, when Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, he immediately became general secretary of the CPC and chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), two of the highest-ranking positions in the CPC. This dual appointment marked the beginning of a strong leadership that entitled Xi to promote reforms in an effort to help China modernize its governance and military. A year after, in 2013, full recognition came with the nomination of Xi as president of the People’s Republic of China.
At the time of Xi’s nomination, the party was being accused of corruption, and multiple scandals were undermining the legitimacy of the CPC among the population and abroad. Hence, the CPC had to restore its status as leading power over the country. It is not surprising that shortly after being appointed, president Xi launched a massive anti-corruption campaign (fan fubai gongzuo) targeting, among others, high-level and middle-level officials from the CPC. Zhou Yongkang, former member of the Politburo Standing Committee and former Secretary of the Central Political and Legal affairs Commission Bo Xilai, former member of the Politburo and former Communist Party Secretary of Chongqing (2007-2012), and Sun Zhengcai, former member of the Politburo and former Communist Party Secretary of Chongqing (2012-2017), are just few examples of the high-profile individuals that the campaign denounced. A very popular TV-series, released a few years after the campaign’s launch, “In the Name of the People” (renmin de mingyi) presents a prosecutor’s efforts to unearth corruption in a fictional Chinese city. A small example that shows how much the media – especially the so-called official media such as the People’s Daily, Xinhua and CCTV – remain important tools for the Communist Party to shape public opinion.
President Xi’s anti-corruption campaigns had a profound impact on China’s political ecosystem whose internal equilibrium was altered. Although the CPC has always hosted concurring factions, the party now answers to president Xi alone, whose merit has undoubtedly been to consolidate and centralize his power, as well as to strategically replace with allies those high-level personalities that had been removed by his anti-corruption campaigns.
Although president Xi’s plan to modernize the CPC includes a redefinition of the party’s structure, the CPC’s internal organization has only been slightly revised. The CPC Politburo and its smaller decision-making body, the Standing Committee Politburo, in fact, continue to serve as the pivotal organs of the CPC. Their pre-eminence is second only to president Xi himself. It was in early 2018, however, that the “Reform of Party and State Institutions” (jigou he xingzheng tizhi gaige) introduced important novelties. First, the reform aimed to streamline governance and consolidate the Party’s leadership. In practice, this entailed that some coordinating organs would be removed and that numerous committees would be optimized so as to overcome long-standing power overlaps and segmentations. For instance, the State Administration of Civil Service has been included in the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television incorporated into the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee, and the State Bureau of Religious Affairs merged into the United Front Work Department of the CPC Central Committee. This is particularly striking if one considers the inextricable relation between the party and the state. Nonetheless, this reform is all but finished: in June 2019, President Xi publicly stressed the need to consolidate the reform and go further in modernizing China’s political system.
A final remark on the CPC’s internal reforms cannot disregard president Xi’s own political ideology. During the 19th Congress of the CPC in 2017, president Xi’s thought – i.e., his political theory “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” – entered the party’s statute, raising Xi to the level of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Following the constitutional amendment voted in March 2018 that abolishes the two-term limit for the country’s president, “the new era” is taking the form of a “Xi era”.