top of page

China: Heavy Stress on ‘Ideological Struggle’ in the Run-up to November 2013 Party Plenum

Indications are emerging that a politically sensitive phase may await China in the run-up to the forthcoming Third Plenum of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in November 2013. On one hand, the Xi Jinping leadership may, for valid reasons, feel more confident in the face of its achievements in the domestic field like formulation of ‘Chinese Dream’ concept, the legal closure of the case concerning former political heavyweight Bo Xilai and its ability to widen the high level anticorruption investigations as well as entering into a period of ‘new type’ external ties particularly with the US; on the other, it seems to have become somewhat nervous about the lack of party unity, especially among leading cadres, on the ideological front on the approach of the November gathering, being called ‘historic’ on par with the 1978 third plenum which made the landmark decision on ‘reforms and opening up’.

2.Suggestive of the uneasiness are a spate of high level statements and official media articles, being noticed now, which, using a strong language occasionally, lay stress on the need for the CCP to carry out ‘ideological struggle’. How deep are the ideological differences in the party, now being officially admitted? Do they signal that Xi Jinping, in consolidating his political power, is still facing obstacles? In what way ‘party disunity’ can affect the atmosphere prior to the Plenum which is slated to adopt the already well-publicised CCP politburo ‘socio-political’ proposal , i.e to finalise ‘ a new comprehensive strategic direction and programme for next 10 years, the specific aim of which will be the realisation of the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation’ (China Daily, 25 September 2013)? These are all questions for which there are no clear answers now.

3. The origins of the current party drive for ‘ideological struggle’ , which began in late August 2013, can be traced to five key theoretical standpoints adopted by the CCP in recent past – (i) ‘ Five Nos’ declaration of Wu Bangguo, the then Chairman of the National People’s Congress (2011) stressing that there would be ‘no multi-party election, no diversified guiding principle, no separation of powers, no federal system, and no privatisation’, (ii) Xi Jinping’s ‘Chinese Dream’ concept ( November 2012) focussing on the need for the country to regain past glories and realise full modernisation of the country by middle of the century through following the path of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’, (iii) Xi’s ‘Two- Non denials’ idea ( 5 January 2013) demanding that what was achieved before reforms cannot be denied on the basis of what happened after it and vice-versa and that Mao’s achievements cannot be totally denied), (iv) Xi’s postulates of ‘Three Self-confidences’ (17 March 2013) , calling upon the people to have self confidence in the direction, theoretical foundation and the system under the CCP leadership and (v) A Party Central Committee document (May 2013) entitled “Minutes of a Meeting of Officials from Propaganda ministries”, came to be known as Document No.9 , identifying ‘seven perils’ before the society.

4. The last mentioned ‘seven perils’ , being the latest description of the ideological challenges to the party and similar to the targets of the current ‘ideological struggle’ drive, merit a close scrutiny; to facilitate it, a listing of them has been done and given below:

(i) Western constitutional democracy: Attempting to negate current leadership and deny the socialist political system with Chinese characteristics. (ii) Universal value of human rights: Aimed at undermining the party’s ideological and theoretical foundation. (iii) Civic participation: Attempting to disintegrate the social basis of the CCP. (iv) ‘Neo-liberalism’ : Aimed at changing China’s basic economic system. (v) Western-inspired notions of media independence: Challenging the principle of party-controlled media and the press and publication management system. (vi) ‘Historical nihilism’: Attempting to negate the history of Chinese Communist Party and the history of the New China. (vii) Questioning of ‘Reforms and Opening up”: Doubting the socialist nature of ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. (Source-…/leaked-chinese-document-warns-against- the –evils of western values, 24 August 2013).

5. Spearheading the ongoing ‘ideological struggle’ drive is the CCP chief Xi Jinping himself. It reminds one about the anti- ‘spiritual pollution’ campaign launched by the then CCP propaganda chief Deng Liqun in early 80s to oppose the spread of Western liberal ideas resulting from economic reforms; by end of the decade it turned into one against “anti-Bourgeois liberalization” , specifically attacking the then liberal party general secretary Hu Yaobang.

6. The drive started in August 2013 and still continues. All Party cadres, especially at senior levels, are now being asked to study the contents of an ‘important’ speech delivered by the CCP chief Xi Jinping at a National Conference on Propaganda and Ideological Work (Beijing, 19 August 2013). The full text of the speech has not so far been published in the official media. However, starting from 21 August 2013, the party and government mouthpieces are regularly giving publicity to the highlights of the speech, along with carrying authoritative commentaries on it (numbering more than 10 as on end September). Occasionally, the commentaries are making additional references to the need for ‘public opinion struggles’ (Global Times, 24 August 2013; Liberation Army Daily, 4 September 2013) and ‘showing swords’ (Beijing Daily, 2 September 2013), suggesting that the situation is becoming more and more sensitive.

7. The support to the present calls for ideological struggle / public opinion struggle has now spread from the Centre to provincial levels; five provincial party secretaries (Xinjiang, Shanxi,Gansu,Qinghai and Jilin) and heads of 31 provincial propaganda departments have so far backed the drive in public. Of special interest, is the demand for ‘ideological struggle’ coming from within the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Xu Qiliang , a politburo member and vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission has defended it (‘Four Commmands’ meeting, 16 September 2013), specifically referring to the necessity for the PLA to “actively seize and control the internet as the new position in the ideological struggle,” and to “strengthen the line of defense against infiltration by hostile forces.” Two days later, the Liberation Army Daily (18 September 2013) has demanded that the Party must “adopt a position in the ideological struggle, similar to the one held by the PLA’s 15th and 12th Corps at Triangle Hill during the Korean War in 1952 ( Chinese Media Project, University of Hongkong).

8. On the basis of all available material on the subject of ‘ideological struggles ‘in public domain, one gets a broad idea of the instructions on the subject being disseminated by the CCP central leadership among the cadres throughout the country for implementation. The following are the two major points of the instructions: (a) Cadres should take ‘economic development’ as the ‘central task’ and do ‘the important job of ‘ideological work’ with ‘Marxism in ‘guiding position’. Various problems relating to the required ‘political conviction’ of the cadres like insufficient ideological standards, lack of political judgement and confusion in recognising merits and demerits, have appeared; though they pertain to individual cadres, the whole party is getting affected. Needed therefore is an ‘ideological struggle’. Party men should adhere to the correct political orientation and resolutely maintain a high degree of uniformity with the Central Committee, and resolutely safeguard the authority of the Central Committee (Xi, 19 August 2013) (b) World multi-polarisation, economic globalisation , cultural diversity and environment for open governance are causing changes in the situation in the world, country and the party; they have induced appearance in China of erroneous phenomena like ‘neo-liberalism’, ‘democratic socialism’ , ‘historic nihilism’, the so called ‘universal values’ and ‘Western Constitutional democracy’. In essence, they seek to make China to discard the socialist road and harm the CCP leadership. Under such ‘new conditions’, the party men should maintain high vigil and guide cadres and masses in drawing the correct boundary between Marxism and Anti-Marxism. They should develop ‘political convictions’ to open up ‘long term, complicated, resolute and powerful ideological and opinion struggles’. The Western countries challenge China’s development from the points of view of their own value systems and models, and carry out ideological and cultural penetration into China. The hostile forces inside and outside the country are not stopping their attack on and provocation against the CCP, China’s Socialist system, and undertakings being taken under ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’. There is also a problem in the country of whether to persist or not persist with ‘four cardinal principles’ and other basic political ideas. Every leading cadre and party organisation should wage unwavering struggles against all kinds of erroneous ideologies (Yuan Chunqing, Shanxi Province Party Secretary, commentary in Chinese language on Xi’s speech, 24 September 2013)

9. Five targets of the current CCP’s ‘ideological struggles’ drive, stand out as they have potentials to damage the party supremacy, if unchecked – voices appearing in favour of ‘constitutionalism’ in the country under the influence of Western democratic ideas, pleas for Western-sponsored media freedom, tendencies to disobey ideological instructions from the party centre, emergence of ‘historical nihilism’ trend and questions on ‘reforms and opening up.’

10. Taking the targets one by one, meeting the challenge from ‘Constitutionalism’ standing for restraining the government’s power by law, seems to have emerged as a priority task for the party. A publication (December 2008) , known outside China as “Charter 2008” manifesto, brought out by a group of retired party officials and intellectuals including Liu Xiaobo, a Nobel prize winner, now in a Chinese jail, marked the beginning of this trend. Other instances include a recent article in the Southern Weekend journal (January 2013) which stressed the need for ‘constitutionalism’ in China. A Chinese academician Tong Zhiwei of East China University of Political Science and Law has demanded a fuller implementation of China’s constitution and a way to “prescribe a limit to the party’s power.” Another scholar Zhang Qianfan of Peking University has estimated that more than three-quarter of Chinese population associate Xi Jinping’s “China Dream “concept with the dream of “constitutionalism” (The Economist, 4 May 2013). Cai Xia, a Professor in the Central Party School, has favoured ‘constitutionalism’ in China through an Internet article (21 June 2013). Lastly, the Study Times, the Central Party School journal (5 August 2013) favoured political reforms because waiting further will harm the country.

11. On the other hand, opposition to ‘constitutionalism’ demands also seems to be gathering momentum. Authoritative journals are now accusing those indulging in the ‘secret mission of constitutionalism talk’, as attempting to “abrogate the CCP leadership and to overthrow the socialism regime” (Party Construction journal, 29 May 2013), considering “constitutionalist systems as only belonging to capitalism and bourgeoisie dictatorship and not to socialist people’s democracy” ( Red Flag Manuscript) and detecting in the ‘constitutionalism’ demand a reflection of a ‘conspiracy to impose Western ideals on China’, with an analogy of the ‘destruction’ of the former Soviet Union by the US Intellligence (People’s Daily, 6 August 2013).

12. On ‘media freedom’, the second main target of the ‘ideological struggle’, the stress is now on fighting the dissent appearing in the ‘Internet’. While the Central Party School journal ‘Study Times’ has opposed any official crackdown on ‘Internet’ rumours, a harder line is seen in other quarters, for e.g as per Xi Jinping’s instructions, the CCP propaganda Department is to form a ‘strong internet army to seize the ground of new media’ (South China Morning Post, 4 September 2013). The party media are accusing “some officials” in China of being ‘open minded’ on the ‘anti-mainstream views’ appearing in the Internet. The call being given now by them to the party cadres is to work against ‘expansion’ of such views. This takes us to the next target of eliminating ‘insubordination’ to the party central committee. To be seen in this context is the progressing admonition of some cadres for not ‘speaking with one voice” on the internet issue. The official emphasis at this juncture on ‘directly managing some extreme opinions and toning down of radical opinions in the Internet’ (People’s Daily Online, 5 September 2013), suggests that the government will act with both firmness and caution against officially unacceptable Internet views. At the level of law, though the authorities have accorded the people ‘the right to criticise or make suggestion to state organs’ through the 1982 constitution, tighter internet censorship regulations have been announced of late.

13. The fourth target of the present ‘ideological struggles’ drive is fighting ‘Historical Nihilism’ trends in the party. Xi Jinping has himself criticised the tendency in the country to ‘negate altogether’ the historical role played by the CCP, especially during the Mao period. Significant are his observations that Mao’s achievements cannot be denied (Xi’s ‘Two Non-Denials’ idea, mentioned in para 2 above, refers) and the assertion during his visit to Mao’s residence in Wuhan that ‘our red nation will never change colour’. Is Xi diluting or redefining the essence of “Resolution on Several Historical Issues’, adopted by the CCP in 1981 holding that 70% of what Mao did were wrong? The answer seems to be yes, indicating strong chances of internal opposition to such thinking of Xi.

14. About the last target- Questions on ‘reforms and opening up’, notable are differences openly surfacing; some writings ( for e.g in the party school journal ‘Study Times’) have favoured free-market conditions for reforms to become successful , while others ( for e.g in the People’s Daily) have found Marxism and the party rule as having contributed to China’s economic miracle.

15. Interesting is the absence of ‘leftism’ in the identified targets of ‘ideological struggle’. In the past, the practice was to put leftism within quotes while criticising it, meaning thereby that the attacks are only against pseudo-leftism and leftism per se is not a taboo. Apparently, Xi does not see in leftism a political danger. Along with his determination to pursue reforms, he is undertaking a ‘mass line’ approach and finding virtue in the leftist political lines of late Chairman Mao.

16. In conclusion, it can be said that there are distinct signs of ideological disunity in the party; indicative of the same are the ongoing internal debates on key subjects like ‘constitutionalism’, media freedom, party history and reforms. The authorities have so far tolerated such debates. The calls for ‘ideological struggle’, being made in such an environment, may suggest the new urgency which the party leadership has come to face, to unify the party by eliminating opposition to the accepted policies of continuing reforms under the party’s overall control . The party perceives that Western ideas and ‘hostile’ forces inside and outside the country are the main sources of such opposition. Well understood is the perceived ideological challenge from the West, but there has so far been no elaboration by the CCP about the exact nature of the second, particularly the ‘hostile forces’ said to exist within China. Are they mere opposing ideas without involving any personality? Is the present ‘ideological struggle’ directed against any particular leader like what was seen in end 80s in the case of Hu Yaobang ? Keeping in view that China’s political system remains non-transparent, there can be no clear answer to these questions, leaving one to only speculate. One thing is however certain that CCP will like to keep the present ‘ideological struggle’ drive well within limits in the interest of party unity and overall stability in the country.

(The writer, D.S.Rajan, Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S), Chennai, India.Email:

2 views0 comments


bottom of page