The glowing image of China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, greets visitors to museum exhibitions celebrating the country’s decades of growth. Communist Party biographers have worshipfully chronicled his rise, though he has given no hint of retiring. The party’s newest official history devotes over a quarter of its 531 pages to his nine years in power.
No Chinese leader in recent times has been more fixated than Mr. Xi on history and his place in it, and as he approaches a crucial juncture in his rule, that preoccupation with the past is now central to his political agenda. A high-level meeting opening in Beijing on Monday will issue a “resolution” officially reassessing the party’s 100-year history that is likely to cement his status as an epoch-making leader alongside Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.
While ostensibly about historical issues, the Central Committee’s resolution — practically holy writ for officials — will shape China’s politics and society for decades to come.
The touchstone document on the party’s past, only the third of its kind, is sure to become the focus of an intense indoctrination campaign. It will dictate how the authorities teach China’s modern history in textbooks, films, television shows and classrooms. It will embolden censors and police officers applying sharpened laws against any who mock, or even question, the communist cause and its “martyrs.” Even in China, where the party’s power is all but absolute, it will remind officials and citizens that Mr. Xi is defining their times, and demanding their loyalty.
Geremie R. Barmé, a historian of China based in New Zealand. “It is not really a resolution about past history, but a resolution about future leadership.”
Mr. Xi, the decision will fortify his authority before a party congress late next year, at which he is very likely to win another five-year term as leader. The orchestrated acclaim around the history document, which could be published days after the Central Committee meeting ends on Thursday, will help deter any questioning of Mr. Xi’s record.
Mr. Xi, 68, is China’s most powerful leader in decades, and he has won widespread public support for attacking corruption, reducing poverty and projecting Chinese strength to the world. Still, party insiders seeking to blunt Mr. Xi’s dominance before the congress could take aim at the early mishandling of the Covid pandemic or damaging tensions with the United States.
Especially after the resolution, such criticisms may amount to heresy. In the buildup to this week’s meeting, articles in People’s Daily, the party’s main newspaper, have praised Mr. Xi as the “core” leader defeating the pandemic and other crises. Commentaries have exalted him as the unyielding leader needed for such perilous times, when China’s ascent could be threatened by domestic economic risks or hostility from the United States and other Western powers.