May 25, 2021 - World

At 100, Chinese Communist Party claims credit for the Chinese dream

Illustration of the Chinese flag with a birthday candle as the flagpole.
Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

Chinese Communist Party leaders are pulling out all the stops to celebrate the party's founding 100 years ago.

The big picture: As China's geopolitical prominence is cemented abroad while authoritarian pressures grow at home, the CCP claims to have delivered the modernity and prosperity Chinese people have dreamed of for over a century.

What's happening: From elementary school essay competitions to patriotic films to an unending parade of speeches, banners and news headlines, China is in the midst of celebrating the CCP's 100-year anniversary.

Background: When the party was founded in July 1921, China was riven by feuding warlords, deeply mired in poverty, and powerless on the international stage.

  • By that time, a generation's worth of Chinese intellectuals had already dedicated their lives trying to reform and modernize China, proposing everything from enlightened imperial rule to a constitutional monarchy to a democratic republic.
  • The Republic of China was established in 1912, but its government was weak and largely unable to solve China's problems.

By contrast, the China of 2021 is an emerging superpower. Beijing has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, a nuclear arsenal and the world's second-largest economy.

  • The CCP continues to claim full credit for these accomplishments. But this isn't new: A well-known 1950s-era propaganda song popularized the slogan "Without the Communist Party, there would be no new China."
  • The centennial celebrations are "an opportunity to draw continuity across the party and across Chinese civilization," says Peter Mattis, a senior fellow at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
  • "Especially since the 19th party congress in 2017, Xi Jinping has been talking about Chinese solutions and providing Chinese contributions to humanity. This is an opportunity to speak of a Chinese project, not just a party project — but they can say the party is the one who achieved this."
Photos: Wikimedia Commons, Getty Images; Graphic: Shoshana Gordon, Andrew Witherspoon/Axios
Photos: Wikimedia Commons, Getty Images; Graphic: Shoshana Gordon, Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Details: Top party leaders, including Xi, are trying to further associate China's achievements over the past 40 years with the party, especially through emphasizing the realization of several specific goals laid out years ago.

  • In 2012, the same year Xi was selected as party secretary, the party began heavily promoting the "centenary goal" of achieving a "moderately well-off society" by 2021.
  • Related goals included eliminating poverty, building China's own space station and becoming an "Internet power."
  • Xi has often connected this centenary goal to the "Chinese dream," his signature slogan referring to achieving a modern, powerful and prosperous nation.

Between the lines: "Linking the two concepts means that there is effectively a deadline for achieving the Chinese dream. By 2021, the 'dream' must be at least partially complete," Diplomat editor Shannon Tiezzi wrote in 2015.

  • That explains, in part, the big push over the past few years to alleviate poverty — including initiatives for funding local infrastructure and incentives for businesses to invest in China's inland region as well as relocating some populations and forcibly putting others, including Uyghurs, to work.
  • In February, Xi declared the end of extreme poverty in China.
  • Earlier this month, China successfully launched a key part of its new space station into orbit and successfully landed a rover on Mars.
  • And its internet and fintech sectors are among the largest and most profitable in the world.

Yes, but: China's GDP per capita remains far below that of developed countries and hovers just under the global average of around $11,000. Access to high-quality health care and education is still out of reach for many.

  • For many Chinese people, especially ethnic and religious minorities, a succession of ideological crackdowns carried out by Xi and his hardline supporters has also cast a shadow over their futures.

The bottom line: The Chinese Communist Party has made it through a century of turbulence, and it's come out on the other side more powerful than ever.

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