Only two men in the Communist Party’s history have ever written a so-called historical resolution. China is waiting to see whether President Xi Jinping becomes the third.
The first official declaration on Chinese history in 40 years is set to top the agenda when the ruling party huddles this week in the last major meeting before a twice-a-decade congress next year, where Xi’s expected to break precedent and secure a third term to extend his indefinite rule.
Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping’s historical resolutions came at critical junctures in the nation’s trajectory and enabled their authors to dominate party politics until their dying breaths. Issuing his own magnum opus would not only put Xi on par with those party titans, but could signal big changes afoot in the world’s second-largest economy.
The meeting from Nov. 8-11, called the sixth plenum, kicks off the closest thing China has to a campaign season. Getting the party to back his take on China’s history — and its future — would be the biggest sign yet that Xi has the power base to potentially rule for life after almost a decade of purging enemies and pushing to foster national pride.
What is the Sixth Plenum?
Between each party congress, the Communist Party’s Central Committee meets seven times in meetings called plenums that cover different topics. About 400 men (and a handful of women), including state leaders, military chiefs, provincial bosses and top academics, convene at a heavily guarded military hotel in Beijing. Like most things in elite Chinese politics, the agenda is top secret and only revealed in a communique afterward — with any squabbling and infighting edited out.
As the last big meeting in China’s five-year political cycle, the sixth plenum is in some ways more important than others: It’s the final chance for horse trading before big decisions are made at the following year’s congress. In preparation, the party’s Poltiburo last month reviewed a draft resolution on “the major achievements and historical experiences of the party’s 100 years,” the official Xinhua News Agency said, without elaborating.
The wording raised eyebrows. At the sixth plenum in 1981, Deng famously passed his historical resolution denouncing the missteps of Mao, whose Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution crusades caused famine and death. At a similar summit in 2016, the party named Xi a “core” leader, a term previously reserved for Deng, Mao and Jiang Zemin that confers de facto veto powers over key decisions.
What Will Xi Say?
Unlike his predecessors who criticized party missteps, Xi’s likely to spin a victorious tale of a century of success, glossing over failures and outlining his vision for a modern Marxist society, according to signs from state media. The Politburo meeting last month declared the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation a “historical inevitability” under Xi, the party’s People’s Daily newspaper said, offering clues at the resolution’s content.
Crafting a story of continuous success requires Xi to embrace the contradictory policies of Mao and Deng, ignore the scars of events such as the Great Leap Forward and the Tiananmen Square massacre, and present his own ideology as the natural next path — despite critics’ claims he’s reviving the personality cult Deng despised.
Why Does it Matter?
As the leader of one-fifth of the world’s people, Xi’s potential to rule for life has huge ramifications. China’s most important man is already on a mission to redistribute the nation’s wealth to build a fairer Marxist society. That “common prosperity” campaign wiped about $1 trillion off the value of Chinese stocks globally in July, and impacted the business of everyone from delivery drivers and after-school teachers to tech giants and celebrities, with major fallout for global investors.
With a historical resolution under his belt, Xi would head into next year’s politicking emboldened to execute more economic reforms and push back against the U.S. on trade, coronavirus probes and, of course, Taiwan, which Beijing considers a breakaway province. Xi in July called it a “historic mission” to bring the democratic island under the party’s control, a move that could actually send Washington and Beijing to war if done by force.