The Communist Party of China’s (CPC) Central Committee sixth plenary session scheduled for November 8-11 is expected to make a big bang “third historical resolution” that seeks to strengthen President Xi Jinping’s leadership and legacy.
The CPC’s first two historical resolutions, issued in 1945 and 1981 under then-paramount leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, vowed respectively to make China “stand up” and “wealthy.”
Observers and analysts expect the third historical resolution will rehabilitate the official historical narrative of the Cultural Revolution, a 1966-76 sociopolitical movement that led to hundreds of thousands if not millions of deaths, and provide guidance on Xi’s new “common prosperity” push, which some have already dubbed as “Cultural Revolution 2.0.”
The crucial planning meeting comes at a time of rising tumult and crises, ranging from a teetering property sector, slowing economic growth, power blackouts and a regulatory squeeze on tech and other private companies that has pounded bourses to the tune of over $1 trillion in market losses.
That’s all raised new questions about Xi’s strongman leadership and his hold on power going forward. That, in turn, has seen Xi make certain compromises with CPC factions linked to previous leaders to win support for the announcement of his next historical resolution.
Commentators have noted that historical resolutions were not made under the leaderships of Jiang Zemin or Hu Jintao, former national leaders who still have sway inside the CPC.
The CPC holds its National Congress every five years in Beijing, where over 2,000 prominent party members are in attendance. It usually holds the Central Committee’s sixth plenary session with about 200 members a year earlier to make decisions on important personnel and policy issues in advance of the National Congress.
On October 18, a meeting of the Central Committee’s politburo chaired by Xi issued a report to solicit opinions for the drafting of the party’s third historical resolution and subsequently submitted a draft for the upcoming plenary session’s deliberation, according to state media reports.
The meeting reportedly stressed that Chinese communist leaders Mao, Deng, Jiang and Hu all made tremendous achievements in revolutions, construction and reform in the party’s long struggle, the reports said.
Since the 18th CPC National Congress in November 2012, the Central Committee with Xi at its core has united and led the party and the people to major achievements, demonstrating the powerful vitality of socialism with Chinese characteristics, the October 18 meeting resolved.
The party’s first historical resolution was issued by Mao in April 1945 after he overtook his political rivals including Wang Ming and Bo Gu to become the party’s supreme leader two years before. In that resolution, Mao criticized previous party leaders for their leftist and rightist decisions since the CPC was first established in 1921.
The second historical resolution was issued by Deng in June 1981 after he replaced Hua Guofeng, Mao’s successor, as the top leader in December 1978. It abolished life tenures and introduced a retirement system for senior party members in August 1980.
Deng’s resolution praised Mao’s contributions in founding the “New China”, but he also criticized Mao’s “wrong decision” of starting the Cultural Revolution in 1966, which lasted until 1976.
The idea of issuing a third resolution under Xi was first raised by Zhang Hongliang, a prominent scholar at the School of Adult Education, Minzu University of China, in an article published in January 2015.
“After the first historical resolution, the CPC established New China and socialist construction. After the second resolution, China had reform and opening up,” wrote Zhang, who is known for his favorable views of Maoism. “As China is now entering the third stage of the National Rejuvenation, the party should issue the third historical resolution.”
Zhang wrote that the CPC’s extreme right-wing, which he did not identify with any particular party members, controlled the cultural, education and media sectors and did not cooperate well with Xi. He said the right-wing “madly suppressed” the left-wing by colluding with some “opportunists”, who he blamed for inciting extreme emotions among the masses.
He wrote at that time that the party could not pass a historical resolution based on Marxism due to the right-wing’s objections, but that it should continue to create conditions for the issuance of such a resolution. Zhang’s call fell on deaf ears for six years until August 31 this year, when the politburo announced the sixth plenary session would issue the third historical resolution in November.
The third historical resolution is expected by analysts and commentators to include four key points, namely the reiteration of Mao’s achievements, the affirmation of Deng’s successes in China’s reform and opening, a re-definition of the Cultural Revolution from a leftist disaster to an “arduous exploration” that provided the party “valuable experiences”, and finally the affirmation of Xi’s achievements in the socialist road with Chinese characteristics.
The last point, the most important among others, will reportedly provide the grounds for Xi to extend his term by five more years from March 2023 to March 2028 and implement his own Cultural Revolution via his recently articulated common prosperity policy.
Ma Haoliang, an editor at the Hong Kong-based newspaper Ta Kung Pao and a columnist at Beijing Observation, wrote in a recent op-ed that while the first two resolutions focused on “historical problems”, Xi’s third resolution would emphasize the party’s “major achievements and historical experiences.”
Ma said Deng’s resolution completely rejected the Cultural Revolution but now it’s time to conclude the party’s experiences as China’s power had increased over the past few decades.
“From the establishment of the Party to 1945 and from the founding of New China to the country’s reform and opening-up, the CPC had made arduous explorations and taken roundabout routes,” Ma said. “To resolve problems, we must have the consent to correct the mistakes, rectify the deviations, clear the mists and have deep reforms.”
He wrote the third historical resolution would be a “mobilization order” for China to become more and more powerful.
Bruce Lui, a senior lecturer at Hong Kong Baptist University’s Department of Journalism, said after “Xi Jinping Thought” was added to the CPC constitution in 2017, Xi was trying to boost his authority and shroud himself in eternal glory by issuing the party’s third historical resolution.
Lui said the Short History of the CPC, a book published by the party in February 2021, spends a quarter of its content praising Xi, who he notes has only been in charge of the party for less than a decade. He opined that the publication would probably be used as a framework of the third resolution.
Other prominent commentators suggest Xi has made significant compromises to factions linked to the party’s old guard in order to issue the third historical resolution and extend his term by five more years at the 20th Party Congress set for next year.
Chen Pokong, a US-based political commentator who participated in pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989, said originally Xi wanted his name to be equal to Mao and Deng and skipped mention of the contributions of Jiang and Hu in the third resolution, but he faced opposition in the party. He then reportedly agreed to add the two former leaders’ names and describe himself as the “fifth generation” of Chinese leaders.
Chen added that Xi would likely be able to extend his term by five more years until early 2028, but he may have been forced to introduce his successor at the coming sixth plenary session.
Over the past year Xi has tightened the rules in different industries including property and technology as a way to bargain with senior party members who had vested interests in the affected sectors, suggested Victor Ng Ming-tak, a former banker and an adjunct associate professor of economics and finance at the Hang Seng University of Hong Kong.
Last year, Xi suggested to impose a property tax in 30 Chinese cities but has since agreed to cut the number of trial cities to 10 upon the recommendation of Vice Premier Han Zheng, Ng noted, citing a report published by the Wall Street Journal last week.
To appease other elder generation party members, Xi recently allowed Alibaba founder Jack Ma to travel overseas for the first time since a regulatory clampdown on his sprawling business empire, Ng added. He said Xi would probably tighten industry rules again after the sixth plenum until he is certain to renew his term at the party’s National Congress in November 2022.
On August 17, Xi told the CPC’s financial and economic affairs committee in a speech that China would push forward its “common prosperity” drive step-by-step and would not repeat the income disparity problems seen in some developed countries after their industrialization.
Xi said the country would also push more antitrust enforcement and improve public services to reduce the national wealth gap. On October 15, Xi penned an article to further elaborate on the policy with concrete actions for nationwide tax reform and improvements in education, healthcare and housing services.
While Xi is in the driver’s seat for now, a slowing economy could undercut his bargaining position inside the party in the crucial months ahead. China’s GDP rose a mere 4.9% year-on-year in the third quarter, slightly lower than market expectations of 5%. Growth has downshifted considerably from the 18.3% seen in the first quarter and 7.9% in the second quarter.
Read: Xi fleshes out his ‘common prosperity’ vision