15 May 2024

From the bookshelf: ‘The Political Thought of Xi Jinping’

Robert Wihtol

At the Chinese Communist Party congress in October 2017, ‘Xi Jinping thought on socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era’ was formally incorporated in the party constitution—alongside Mao Zedong thought, Deng Xiaoping theory, Jiang Zemin’s ‘important thought on the three represents’ and Hu Jintao’s ‘scientific outlook on development’.

In the CCP ideological hierarchy, ‘thought’ is at the top, followed by ‘theory’, while Jiang’s ‘three represents’ and Hu’s ‘scientific outlook’ are considered to be action manuals, lower on the scale. Labelling Xi’s input to CCP ideology as ‘thought’ puts him on a par with Mao and ahead of Deng Xiaoping, at least in principle. But the length and clunkiness of the name of Xi’s dogma, contrasting with the punchy title ‘Mao Zedong thought’, is generally seen to indicate that Xi is not yet in the same class as the great helmsman.

Is this significant? To the casual reader, Xi Jinping’s written works and speeches might simply seem like disjointed pronouncements presented in the heavy jargon of the CCP. But do they in fact form a coherent body of work intended to guide Chinese decision makers, party cadres and the population at large? And can they serve as a guide for outsiders wishing to understand and predict the actions of China’s leaders?

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