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5 Random Observations on the 19th Party Congress

The Communist Party of China (CPC) just wrapped up its Congress in Beijing, a meeting held every five years to layout China’s roadmap into the future. I’ve done my best to follow the proceedings and read as much as I can about not only the event itself, but its implications.  Here are some of my “takeaways:”

  1. The Party takes center stage. All Party Congresses in general, but this one in particular, are good reminders that the CPC, even though it is not even a legally registered entity, remains in absolute control of China.
  2. Xi Jinping’s three and a half hour speech that opened the Congress provided a clarified mission statement for the Party, which includes the rejuvenation of the nation and the re-establishment of Party control. It is this re-establishment of Party control over every aspect of society that is having the biggest impact for the religious sphere, as the Party reiterates its stance that religions must serve the Party. House churches are one of the last sectors of society that are actually outside of Party control; something the Party increasingly sees as intolerable. 
  3. It’s probably time to start referring to Xi Jinping as “Chairman Xi.” not “President Xi.” The collective leadership model of the past 20+ years, where the Party General Secretary was a “first among equals” is done (for now). Among the five newly appointed members of the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), none are obvious successors to Xi. As China-watcher Bill Bishop puts it, “to challenge Xi is to challenge the Party.” 
  4. While Xi Jinping may be the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao, the social and economic environments are vastly different. Mao ruled over a country that was isolated, making a true cult of personality much easier. Is that even possible anymore? Time will tell, but I have my doubts.
  5. Glowing media reports to the contrary, not everything in China is rosy; key challenges remain, such as rural poverty, environmental degradation, economic turbulence and the need to transition from export-led growth to consumer-driven growth. The Party continues to have a very big job on their hands.

I have a sixth observation, but you’ll have to wait until next week to read that! It requires its own post.

Image credit: Joann Pittman, via Flickr.
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Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio

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