Xi Jinping points to China’s cultural past to shape country’s future

William Zheng
·4-min read

President Xi Jinping returned to the birthplace of his political career in his first trip since the endorsement of the country’s five-year blueprint, urging the Communist Party to look to its Chinese cultural roots to help shape the future.

In the first stop of the trip in Wuyishan, Fujian province, on Monday, Xi visited a park dedicated to Zhu Xi, a 12th century Confucian scholar, and said the past was central to identity.

“Taking the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, we must continue to adapt Marxism to China’s conditions,” Xi was quoted by state news agency Xinhua as saying.

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“Without [an understanding of] the 5,000 years of Chinese civilisation, how can we have Chinese characteristics? Without such Chinese characteristics, how could we have the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics that led to our success today?”

Xi has repeatedly sought to graft ancient Chinese values onto party doctrine since coming to power almost a decade ago.

In 2013, he visited Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius, and stressed the importance of traditional Chinese culture in his grand plan of national rejuvenation.

The trip to Fujian came just over a week after the country’s top legislature approved the next five-year plan, a core part of which is self-sufficiency in technology.

Visiting the Mount Wuyi National Park – also on Monday – Xi emphasised the need for science and technology to play a role in rural revitalisation and environmental protection.

Later, visiting the city of Fuzhou, he said his years as party chief there were among the best.

“I worked in Fuzhou for six, seven years. I was 37 when I came here. I spent my best years here. I have many memories [here],” Xi said in footage circulating online.

Xi spent 17½ years in Fujian after he was appointed deputy mayor of Xiamen in June 1985. He became the party chief of Fuzhou in 1990 and provincial governor in 2000, before being transferred to neighbouring Zhejiang province as acting provincial governor in October 2002.

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Observers said Xi’s trip to Fujian was meant to project confidence and signal a “can do” spirit for the “new beginning of next phase of development” as China comes under pressure from other countries.

Chen Daoyin, a political commentator and former professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law, said Xi’s decision to visit the birthplace of his political career indicated that he wanted to take stock of “what he has done so far and move on to the next stage of development”.

“After the Chinese and US diplomats had bitter exchanges on the first high-level meeting under the new Biden administration over the weekend, Xi went to his political hometown the next Monday, took a raft trip ... and projected a very confident and calm image,” Chen said.

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Xie Maosong, a professor at the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said the themes of Xi’s trip – rural revitalisation, environmental protection, innovation and confidence in Chinese culture – were all the key points of his plan for the country’s future.

“Xi’s message is clear: China is going to focus on its own development schedule, no matter what happens [externally]. Just like Mao Zedong’s poem, ‘despite the wind and waves, it is just like a walk in the park’.”

Yingjie Guo, Chinese studies professor at the University of Sydney, said Xi’s message from his visits to Qufu in 2013 and to the park dedicated to Zhu Xi were consistent.

“Both visits are part of calls for the [Communist Party’s] return to Chinese cultural roots,” Guo said.

“The [party] is increasingly differentiating China from the US – especially in political and cultural terms – so that its grip on power will not be jeopardised, and China’s autonomy, unity and identity is maintained.”

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