China’s Communist Party Rewrites its History to Reinforce a Cult of Personality

On Friday, November 14, the sixth plenary session of China Communist Party’s Central Committee formally closed. According to an official summary of the meeting, the Committee approved a decision to rewrite the party’s history in order to elevate the status of its leader, Xi Jinping, and pave the way for his third consecutive term as general secretary.

Leaders of the Chinese Communist Party in meeting with representatives of the Central Committee. By Li Tao for Xinhua News

Traditionally, the plenary sessions are held for the representatives of the Central Committee, who are party members elected by the National Congress, to hear reports from the Political Bureau, headed by Xi, and to discuss and set the general agenda of the party for the next year. In the fifth plenary session last year, the representatives passed the fourteenth five-year plan, the nation’s primary economic and social development initiatives. 

In this year’s meeting, the Committee focused on distilling the hundred-year history of the party and especially emphasized Xi’s contribution. The Committee elevated Xi to be one of the greatest leaders of the party, next to Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, and Deng Xiaoping, who led the nation during its transition to a market economy.

There is no doubt that Xi is a strong-willed and hard-line leader. Under his leadership, China has undergone “historic development” and made “historic progress”, writes the official meeting report. In response to the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, Xi imposed strict security laws and jailed dissident leaders. And he ordered swift and strict lockdown to battle the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The Committee also voted unanimously to hold the 20th National Congress next year. A focus of the National Congress would be to elect and determine the new leadership of the party. In 2018, Xi famously eliminated the terms limit for the position of general secretary, making it possible for him to lead the country indefinitely. It is expected for Xi to seek an unprecedented third term next year. The rewriting and distilling of the party’s history are only one of the attempts he made to unite the party and the nation around him. 

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