Blog Entries

Political Counting

An interesting feature of Chinese social and political discourse is propensity to label institutions or political campaigns using numbers. The One this. The Two That. They are catchy and thus relatively easy to remember. Here are some of my favorites.


Let’s begin with the one (no pun intended) that has dominated every aspect of Chinese society and politics for the past three years, namely China’s zero-COVID policy. From the start of the pandemic China’s approach was to stop the spread of the virus completely by implementing harsh restrictions on human interaction and mobility and closing the borders. In 2022, mass testing measures were added that required daily negative tests before being allowed into any public spaces (transportation, markets, and so on) The policy was abruptly abandoned in early December as the government seemed to say “never mind.”

One China Policy

Any country that wants to have official diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China must subscribe to the One China policy. This policy requires acknowledgement that there is only one China (of which Taiwan is a province) and that the government in Beijing is the legitimate government. Countries may not have “official” ties with the Republic of China government in Taiwan. There are very few countries left in the world that officially recognize the government in Taiwan, and China works hard to entice them to switch. Most recently (mid-March 2023), Honduras announced that were switching their recognition to the People’s Republic of China.

Two Sessions/Meetings

In modern day bureaucratic governance, there are two different entities referred to as Two Sessions or Meetings, depending on the translation (liang hui). One refers to the annual gathering of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the National People’s Political Consultative Conference (NPCC) in Beijing every March. The NPC is China’s top legislative body (parliament) that convenes each year to make laws. The NPPCC is a gathering of delegates from all walks of society to offer suggestions on new laws. That’s a very simplified take, mind you.

The second liang hui is part of the religious affairs bureaucracy that oversees Protestant Christianity. The Two Meetings/Sessions are the China Christian Council (CCC) and the Three Self Patriotic Movement Committee (TSPM). The CCC is the purported governing body of the Protestant churches in China, while the TSPM is a political body that ties the CCC to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Both are now under the United Front Work Department of the CCP, which means that the Party is in more direct supervision of Protestant Christianity.

Three Anti Campaign

This political campaign, launched by the Party in the early 1950s, was an effort to root out corruption, waste, and bureaucracy. This was combined with an accompanying Five Anti Campaign to tackle bribery, theft of state property, tax evasion, cheating on government contracts, and stealing state economic intelligence (hard to imagine what that might have been). Clearly all of these were serious enough problems that required named campaigns!

Three Represents

The “Three Represents” was a theory put forth by General Secretary Jiang Zemin in 2000 to reorient the Communist Party. Rather than just representing the interests of the workers and peasants, his theory was that in the modern era it needed to also represent “the development trends of advanced productive forces, the orientations of an advanced culture, and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people of China.”1 When this theory was put forward in 2000, I was studying with a professor in Beijing. I asked him what in the world it meant. To me it just seemed like a Chinese word salad. “Don’t worry,” he told me. “No one understands it. But basically, it means that now the Communist Party represents capitalists!”

Three Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM)

Many of us are also familiar with the term “Three-self” as it’s often used as a moniker for the registered churches in China. The TSPM was established in the early 1950s to bring Protestant churches under the supervision of the Party-state. Because Protestant churches had been established by foreigners, and were therefore suspect, the focus of this body was to make sure the churches in China were loyal to the Party-state. As such they adopted the three-self principles of self-governance, self-funding, and self-propagating. Ironically these principles predated the Party; they were already being pursued by some local churches around the country. The Party just co-opted them.

Four Olds

This slogan emerged in the early days of the Cultural Revolution. The Red Guards, the so-called shock troops of the Cultural Revolution, were focused on destroying the Four Olds: old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits. This slogan formed the ideological foundation of many of the excesses and atrocities committed during the ten years of the Cultural Revolution.

Four Modernizations

When Deng Xiaoping came to power following the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, he inherited a country on the brink of economic and social collapse. In an effort to turn the country around and away from the madness and chaos of the Cultural Revolution, he launched the Four Modernizations campaign. The goal was to modernize these four key sectors by the end of the century: agriculture, industry, science and technology, and defense. On my first visit to China in 1979, billboards and posters hailing this campaign were everywhere.

Eight Honors and Shames

In 2006 President Hu Jintao introduced a pithy moral code that he wanted Party members to live by. Called the Eight Honors and Shames, it became popularly known as the Eight Dos and Don’ts. Posters with this list were plastered all over Beijing, including in the lobby of my apartment building.

  1. Do love the motherland; don’t harm the motherland.
  2. Do serve the people; don’t betray the people.
  3. Do quest for science; don’t refuse to be educated.
  4. Do work hard; don’t indulge in comfort and hate work.
  5. Do help each other; don’t seek gains at the expense of others.
  6. Do be trustworthy; don’t trade integrity for profits.
  7. Do obey the law; don’t break the law.
  8. Do uphold plain living and hard struggle; don’t wallow in extravagance and pleasures.

I remember asking a taxi driver what he thought about it. “Harumph!” he replied. “Do they think we are idiots?”

I miss talking with Beijing taxi drivers.

Twelve Core Socialist Values

After the 19th Party Congress meeting in October of 2012, I started noticing a new set of billboards and posters started popping up around town with the words “democracy” and “freedom” featured prominently, not words that are commonly featured in Chinese political discourse. I must admit that my first thought was of that classic scene in the movie The Princess Bride when Vizzini keeps saying “inconceivable,” Inigo Montoya retorts, “You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The Party, in its wisdom had decided that the best way to arrest some of the moral decay within Chinese society was to issue a list of 12 Core Socialist Values that would be promoted through a nationwide moral education campaign. Divided into three categories (national, social, and individual), the values are: prosperity, democracy, civility, harmony, freedom, equality, justice, rule of law, patriotism, dedication, integrity, and friendship.

I once again defer to the great Inigo Montoya.

One Hundred Flowers

Finally, we can’t forget the infamous “Let 100 Flowers Bloom” campaign launched in 1957 by Chairman Mao to encourage the Party to be more open to outsiders and other ideas.  

Intellectuals saw it as a chance to urge the CCP to reform and air some grievances. There was lots of criticism of Party corruption and privileges. After a couple of months, the CCP decided that it had heard enough, and turned on those who had spoken out, branding them as “rightists.” Over 300,000 were persecuted (by being sent to jail, labor camps, or to farm labor in the countryside), and an entire generation of intellectuals were sidelined.

Biblical language gets in on the act as well. What in English are referred to as the Beatitudes, in Chinese are called, simply, the Eight Blessings.

Numbers pop up a lot in Chinese idioms, too, but I will save those for another post!


  1. “What Is ‘Three Represents’ CPC Theory?” China Through a Lens, accessed March 29, 2023,
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Image credit: 維基小霸王CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
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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