2021: The Birth of Xi Jinping Thought (习近平思想)?

I’m starting to suspect that the rectification campaign that will sweep through China’s political-legal bureaucracy in 2021 might be a major vector for trying to raise Xi Jinping’s ideological place in the CCP political pantheon yet closer to Mao Zedong.

Naturally, the addition of “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” to the Party charter in 2018 vaulted Xi over his predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin in importance, both of whom did *not* have their names so added.

But it still left Xi short compared with Deng Xiaoping & Mao Zedong.  Those two leaders are represented by “Deng Xiaoping Theory” (邓小平理论) and “Mao Zedong Theory” (毛泽东思想), both of which are shorter and more direct than the ponderous sounding 习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想.

As Bill Bishop (@niubi), the China Media Project (@cnmediaproject), and others have noted, one of the games over the past several months has been the roll out of a host of things like “Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy” or “Xi Jinping Thought on Rule of Law.”

Naturally, that’s a total 擦边球/boundary-pushing move. Roll out a host of things like 习近平外交思想, 习近平法治思想, 等等and see if you can gradually set expectations, and then – boom, at an appropriate time shorten it into 习近平思想 (Xi Jinping Thought), with the obvious parallel to Mao.

Now, the other thing to keep your eye on is that you’ve got a major, somewhat unusual, nationwide rectification campaign set to sweep through China’s political-legal apparatus in 2021. See the excellent analysis by Li Ling (@lingli_vienna). Note her comparison with the early 1950s. 

Naturally, “Xi Jinping Thought on Rule of Law” (习近平法治思想) is going to be a big part of this. And to understand what this involves, it helps to look at statements by key people.  For example, here’s a 12/21 editorial in the Party’s flagship paper, the People’s Daily, by Guo Shengkun 郭声琨.  Guo is the 政法委书记 – the Party Secretary for the Party’s Political-Legal Committee.  That’s to say, he sits at the top of the Party bureaucracy that overseas the political-legal apparatus that is about to be rectified.

Unsurprisingly, his piece is a paen to Xi Jinping Thought on Rule of Law (习近平法治思想). Fifty-one (!) invocations of Xi’s name. If that’s a sign of what 2021 holds for China’s political-legal apparatus, it’s going to be Xi, Xi, Xi – all the time in those mandatory study sessions.

Heck, want a taste of what’s coming? Flip back 4 days to 12/17, and look at the People’s Daily decision to plaster summaries of Xi Jinping speeches on law over two pages. That’s what those study materials will look like.

But Guo’s editorial is interesting for two less-obvious reasons as well.

First, notice how certain parts of it start looking like a paen to Xi himself, rather than the Party core: 习近平总书记站在人类历史发展进程的高度,以宏大的全球视野、强烈的时代意识,统筹推进国内法治和涉外法治,协调推进国内治理和国际治理提出构建人类命运共同体、运用法治和制度规则协调各国关系和利益、坚定维护国际法基本原则和国际关系基本准则、推动全球治理体系朝着更加公平合理的方向发展等一系列重大理论观点.

That’s the type of thing that could create more space for lower-level sycophants to think the road to advancement lies in praising Xi personally. Which, of course, would be what you want to do if you were trying to push the system towards, say, “Xi Jinping Thought.”

The second thing that caught my eye about the Guo editorial was the extent to which some of the language describing 习近平法治思想 was so sweeping that it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch to imagine how it could get edited into 习近平思想.

[slightly edited from prior Twitter thread]