Security in the streets of Beijing has been tight over the past fifteen days. While the Great Hall of the People witnessed the First Session of the 13th National People’s Congress of the Communist Party, bars were shut down, no gatherings were allowed, and sensitive events were cancelled by the police.
While Beijing goes back to normal after one of the most important gatherings of the Party for the past decades, President Xi Jinping has made official what some feared. The Constitution has been amended. Xi Dada, as he is affectionately known in China, intends to stay on as president for as long as he wishes. His ideology, officially known as The Xijinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era has been added to the preamble of the Constitution, elevating him to the same level as his comrades’ doctrine: Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory.
This matter not only ignites the dangers that any excessive centralisation of power in the hands of one person carries or demonstrates the endless limits of the Communist Party’s political willingness; it is a wake-up call for those who believed that economic development would bring political, social and civil rights to the Middle Kingdom. The West has, once again, failed to predict the future of China; while China’s economy keeps growing, despite its transition from a manufacturing-oriented towards a service economy, hopes for a structural change of its political apparatus only fade away.
In order to understand how a political individual, such as Xi, has achieved such concentration of power, one must explore the country’s feelings towards its past, present and future. Chinese society is currently infested with a nationalistic narrative. Infested both literally and figuratively: literally, as seen in the propaganda deployed in every bridge, banner and metro station. Figuratively, because of its presence in the educational curriculum, the Chinese New Year Gala, the speeches delivered in the political meetings and, more concerningly, in the minds of most of the Chinese people. The Chinese dream, the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, a harmonious society, a sustainable development, no more humiliation, the recovery of the Silk Road and the return to the Great Ancient Times of China. Ideological purity instilled in the minds of a 1.4 billion population that only aims to achieve economic prosperity and success.
Now the equation is simple: this nationalistic narrative, in addition to the Party’s economic capability to make it come true, equals political legitimacy. Unquestionable political legitimacy. Now, adding Xi Dada to the formula, we obtain a cult-like personality that China had not seen since the times of Mao.
The constitutional amendments and Xi’s unlimited capability to remain in his position are, in conclusion, a demonstration of power, a sign of strong legitimacy, and a lesson to the West. China has achieved to keep growing economically while maintaining the legitimacy of the Communist Party, and now more than ever, such legitimacy seems to be unbreakable. The West was wrong: economic development has not yet brought political and social freedom to the country. China, again, has surprised the world.
Fernando Alonso estudió Relaciones Internacionales y Traducción e Interpretación en la Universidad Pontificia Comillas. Se graduó en 2017 y se encuentra actualmente estudiando un doble máster en Peking University y la London School of Economics and Political Sciences. Aunque se está especializando en política china, sus áreas de interés también incluyen derechos humanos, estudios de género, la Unión Europea y políticas de identidad.