Xi Jinping tries to build symbolic bridge between past and future at Chinese Communist Party centenary

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Chinese President Xi Jinping paid special tribute to his predecessors and revolutionary leaders in his speech to mark the Communist Party’s centenary on Thursday morning as he urged the younger generation to follow the party in pursuit of the dream of national rejuvenation.

Delivering his speech at Tiananmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, where Mao Zedong declared the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, Xi praised the older generations for their contribution to the country.

“We owe all that we have achieved over the past hundred years to the concerted efforts of the Chinese Communists, the Chinese people and the Chinese nation,,” Xi said in his hour-long speech.

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“Chinese Communists – with comrades Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao as their chief representatives – have made tremendous and historic contributions to the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. To them, we express our highest respect.

“Their great contributions to our motherland and our nation will be immortalised in the annals of history, and their noble spirit will live on forever in the hearts of the Chinese people.”

Xi was joined by Hu, his immediate predecessor, but Jiang – the party chief between 1989 and 2003 – was a notable absentee along with former premier Zhu Rongji.

Hu, his hair now white, stepped on to the rostrum together with Xi. His former premier Wen Jiabao was also present.

Former president Hu Jiantao appeared at Xi’s side during the ceremony. Phoot: AP
Former president Hu Jiantao appeared at Xi’s side during the ceremony. Phoot: AP

Flanked by the party stalwarts, Xi appealed to young people to follow in their footsteps and live up to the party’s expectations.

“The future belongs to the young people, and our hopes also rest with them … In the new era, our young people should make it their mission to contribute to national rejuvenation and aspire to become more proud, confident and assured in their identity as Chinese people so that they can live up to the promise of their youth and the expectations of our times, our party and our people,” Xi said.

Communist Party sticks to the script on a day for young and old

Observers said Jiang, 94, and Zhu, 92, were probably too frail to attend.

Jiang was last seen in public in October 2019 at a National Day military parade to mark the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Republic.

Zhu, who failed to attend that event, is also reported to be in poor health. A photo of him celebrating his birthday at a hospital was widely circulated on Chinese social media last October.

Former president Jiang Zemin was least seen in public in October 2019 and is thought to have been too frail to attend Thursday’s event. Photo: AFP
Former president Jiang Zemin was least seen in public in October 2019 and is thought to have been too frail to attend Thursday’s event. Photo: AFP

“This is the once-in-a-life-time celebration of the party. I think all retired leaders would have come as long as their health permitted. Those that didn’t … might not have been able to endure the ceremony,” said Xie Maosong, a political scientist at the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Xie also noted that Thursday’s ceremony gave special prominence to the Communist Youth League and Young Pioneers – two bodies used by the party to nurture future leaders.

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The choir that performed before the ceremony – singing songs such as Without the Communist Party, There Will be No New China – was made up of members from the two youth bodies.

“This was not seen in previous celebrations. So here at Tiananmen Square and the Gate of Heavenly Peace, we have three generations of the Communist Party – party elders, current leaders and pioneers and youth league members – in the same frame,” he said.

“This is to show a clear message of passing on the revolutionary spirit and continuation of the Communist Party’s traditions.”

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