CCP Revises Constitution For a “New Era”

On October 24, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) issued a revised version of its constitution (中国共产党章程). Since the current version adopted in 1982, it has been amended several times, including in 1987, 1992 and 2012. As the foundational document of China’s ruling political party—and in practice more significant than the national constitution—the revisions act as an important coda to the results of the recently concluded 19th Party Congress and point out where China is likely headed for the next five years. Examination of the revisions and additions to the constitution reveal a number of important themes (People’s Daily Weixin, October 30).

First and most important is the inclusion of CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping’s “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” (习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想). The new constitution notes that:

Since the 18th Party Congress, Comrade Xi Jinping has been the primary representative of the CCP….[his] “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” is a successor and development of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important thought of Three Represents (Jiang Zemin’s core contribution) and the Scientific Outlook on Development (Hu Jintao’s) and is the result of the sinification of Marxism….

Xi Jinping Thought can be understood as an umbrella for a number of ideas and policy initiatives that include, most famously, the China Dream, Strong Military Dream, and Four Comprehensives (China Brief, September 21).  The constitution continues, saying that “Xi Thought” “is a guide to action for the entire Party and nation to achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people..”

A hallmark of this shift in focus can be seen by comparing the new constitution with the previous version. Throughout the document, “founding of the PRC” (建国) has been replaced with “establishment of New China” (新中国成立). This ties into the idea that through the CCP China began the process of revitalization and that under Xi’s leadership it is entering a new period of rejuvenation.

This is important as it links Xi to China’s newfound power. The argument is that while in true dialectical style each of his predecessors’ ideologies and policies were important and necessary stages of Chinese development, Xi represents their culmination and triumph. Such a position justifies his elevation in 2015 to the ”Core of the Leadership” (领导核心), making Xi not just the senior member of a large bureaucracy but also its spiritual focus (China Brief, March 7, 2016).

As a result, Chinese people can now feel the “Four Self-Confidences” (四个自信) another formulation that includes self-confidence in the path China is taking (道路自信), in ideology and theory, (理论自信) in the institutions of the country (制度自信), and in Chinese culture (文化自信).

The emphasis on culture is particularly noteworthy. Xi Jinping has made promotion of traditional culture and values a hallmark of his leadership (China Brief, July 6). Civilizational revitalization is therefore achieved in part through cultural revival. Exending the reach of Chinese culture is also a priority. The revised constitution includes newly added encouragement to “promote Chinese superior traditional culture” and…improve national cultural softpower.”

While the General Principles (总纲) section lays out core tenets of CCP ideology and Xi Jinping Thought, the majority of the document is devoted to proper behavior for cadres. Most important of these is the attention given to fighting corruption and Party discipline.

Following yet another major theme of Xi’s administration, the new constitution has language encouraging greater discipline among Party cadres and enhancing the role of Party oversight organizations like the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. Subsequent chapters encourage party cadres to oppose “hedonism” and extravagance and promote honesty and diligence. Not coincidentally, the Chinese government is already taking steps to improve anti-corruption through the creation of a National Supervisory Commission, which will absorb several anti-corruption organs (SCMP, November 6, 2017). Xi’s power, however, goes beyond directing corruption investigations.

At the time of writing, over 20 universities and colleges have set up centers to study Xi Jinping Thought (VOAChinese, October 30). Those that might oppose Xi’s initiatives now face not only an uphill factional and political battle, but also an organizational one. Chinese soldiers are exhorted to study Xi Jinping thought and the “Spirit of the 19th Party Congress” (People’s Daily, November 6). For now, Xi’s ideas will receive full support across the swath of CCP, State, and Military bureaucracy.

The public face of Xi Jinping’s enhanced power—omnipresent propaganda, and oddly dramatic displays of loyalty such as the cadres paying homage to a tree planted by Xi—can appear comical (SCMP, November 8). However, Xi’s control of the real levers of power and ability to control the Party’s fundamental structure—as embodied by the Party’s constitution—is perhaps a better indicator of his real power.