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Echoes of Mao: China Communist Party fawns over 'Xi thought'
By Ben Dooley
Beijing (AFP) Oct 20, 2017

Communism is 'beyond' them, but Chinese still flock to the party
Beijing (AFP) Oct 21, 2017 - Marx might struggle to recognise his heirs among the billionaires, skyscrapers and stock exchanges of modern China.

But as the country's ruling Communist Party meets for its twice-a-decade congress this week, it boasts an 89 million-strong membership that still attracts people motivated by ideology -- and self-interest.

"When I was younger, in the 1960s, we were told in school that being in the party signified being someone good," 53-year-old Liu Shimin, a former employee at a state-owned enterprise and long-standing party member, told AFP.

"At the time, you would join it to stand up for socialism."

"Today, the ideological side of it is a little beyond me. Communism is so vague, no one can say if it will come true."

The Chinese Communist Party was clandestinely founded in 1921 by about a dozen revolutionaries in Shanghai.

Since coming to power in 1949, the CCP has survived near-destruction during the decade of the Cultural Revolution -- which regime founder Mao Zedong launched against his own cadres -- and sweeping pro-market economic reforms.

Throughout, Chinese people have continued to join the CCP in great numbers, with today's membership making it one of the largest political organisations in the world, alongside India's Bharatiya Janata Party.

The Communist Party's membership comprises 6.5 percent of China's population of almost 1.4 billion people.

But young recruits do not hide their intentions. They join the party not only to participate in national development, but also out of their own self-interest.

- Joining the 'elite' -

"At first, I never imagined joining the CCP. I only started thinking about it after university, when I had to find a job," said Xiao Wei, a 30-year-old Beijinger.

Xiao is employed by the CCP in a residential area. Her work includes relaying instructions; organising public campaigns on fire safety, the environment and health matters; and putting party slogans on display.

"To be a civil servant or work in a state enterprise, it's almost obligatory to be in the party," Xiao said. "It's like a diploma. It opens doors."

Not just anyone can join: candidates must apply or be recommended, most often by a university professor or their company's party cell.

Then, a long selection process begins: courses, dissertations, exams, interviews and a probationary period.

At the end, the CCP chooses candidates based on their high education level, political reliability, or ability to bring something extra to the table.

Some are flattered to have received an invitation to join -- recognition that they belong to the "elite".

"Today, some join the party to enter the civil service, to have a better job or to gain respectability. There's no doubt about it," prominent pundit Sima Nan told AFP in front of a portrait of Mao hung in his spacious Beijing apartment.

- 'Eternally grateful' -

For all that has changed, the Party today still dominates politics, society and the economy, ruling without opposition and with no tolerance for dissent.

"The benefit of the party is its ability to unite the forces of all these people, to mobilise it, to move the country forward and maintain order," said Sima. "Without the CCP, all this would be very difficult."

Sima, 61, became a party member in 1980. He saw the first economic reforms and the country's opening up as "a way to reach communism more quickly".

Although he believes that that objective is now "very distant", he is glad to have personally benefited from the party's accomplishments.

"My family was very poor," he said. "If the Communist Party had not been in power, I would never have been able to get a scholarship and enroll in university."

"I am eternally grateful to it."

As the Chinese Communist Party gathers for its most defining congress in decades, a new catchphrase is echoing through Beijing's cavernous Great Hall of the People: Xi Jinping's "new era thought".

The catechism is being reverentially uttered by almost every one of the more than 2,300 delegates to the five-yearly congress -- from the country's premier right down to village secretaries.

It is more than mere lip service. Next week, the CCP's general secretary may have his name -- and signature ideology -- inscribed in the party's constitution -- symbolising his elevation to the pinnacle of Chinese power.

Currently, the document names only two Chinese luminaries: modern China founder Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, the architect of the country's economic reforms.

Xi's predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, both had their own ideas written into the constitution, but without their names attached and only at the end of their respective 10-year terms.

Xi, who is expected to earn a second term as the party's chief by the end of the congress, is set to get the same honour after only five years.

The new concept's full name, as reported by the official Xinhua news service, is a mouthful: "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era".

Xi's six comrades in China's all-powerful seven-member Politburo Standing Committee extolled the concept during the congress, according to Xinhua reports Thursday and Friday.

The new thought is "an important component" of Chinese socialism, Premier Li Keqiang told a panel Thursday, according to Xinhua.

Zhang Dejiang, the head of China's rubber-stamp congress, called it "the biggest highlight" of the congress "and a historic contribution to the Party's development".

- 'Concentration of power' -

Xi's new "thought" places a heavy emphasis on the party's role in governing every aspect of the country from the economy to what people are writing on social media.

He is saying "we want to improve the quality of life, but we can only do it if we have a greater concentration of power, especially in the core leadership of the Communist Party", said Kristin Shi-Kupfer from Germany's Mercator Institute.

Its rollout is a clear signal that Xi is the most powerful leader in a generation, said Hu Xingdou, professor of economics at Beijing Institute of Technology.

The leader's rapid ascension into the party's hall of fame is because "he won the people's support through his anti-corruption campaign and at the same time consolidated power", Hu said.

Xi is already expected to use the congress to stack the top echelons of party leadership with loyalists.

But adding his name to the party's commandments would show that "he has turned the page" on Chinese history, said David Kelly, director of research at Beijing-based consultancy China Policy.

"It's his assertion that 'on my watch, we became a major power,' which is something Mao could not claim," he said.

- 'Feeling of warmth' -

While "Xi thought" may not end up in the constitution, it has certainly entered the party's vocabulary.

When the concept was mentioned, eastern Zhejiang province party chief Che Jun said he was immediately filled with "a feeling of strong familiarity, warmth, and a sense of approval".

At the meeting of the Tibet delegation, regional governor Qi Zhala raved about Xi's "long-term guiding ideology for our party".

Not everyone, however, appears so enamoured with Xi's new thought.

Hu Chunhua, party chief of the Guangdong delegation, did not mention Xi's name even once during his region's meeting.

Hu, who oversees a southern economic powerhouse that includes the prosperous port of Shenzhen, has been considered a rising star within the party, with many analysts tipping him for a seat on the Politburo Standing Committee.

"In the context of so much genuflection," Kelly said, Hu's silence shows that Xi still has a long way to go before he reaches the level of adulation enjoyed by Mao.

During the Cultural Revolution, "nothing could be said without invoking the Chairman. He was the Caesar and the Pope."

Xi tells Communist Party to combat any actions to 'undermine' it
Beijing (AFP) Oct 18, 2017
Chinese leader Xi Jinping urged the Communist Party on Wednesday to "resolutely oppose" any actions that undermine its leadership as he opened a congress expected to enhance his already formidable power. Xi told some 2,300 delegates at the imposing Great Hall of the People that the country was entering a "new era" as the party pursues "socialism with Chinese characteristics". "The prospe ... read more

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