‘Xi Jinping Thought’ edges China’s leader towards great power

President’s political philosophy looks set for inclusion in the country’s constitution

Top Chinese communists hailed "Xi Jinping Thought" at a party congress, a sign the leader's political theory will be incorporated into the constitution, making him the most powerful leader in China in generations.

The language and procedures of Communist Party congresses are often arcane, but for a Chinese leader, having a political philosophy enshrined in the constitution is key to ensuring their legacy.

Politburo standing committee member Zhang Dejiang told a panel at the congress that "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era" was "the biggest highlight" of the gathering "and a historic contribution to the party's development".

Mr Xi kicked off the twice-a-decade congress with a 3½ hour speech heralding a new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics and promising to build China into a “moderately prosperous” superpower by 2035.


Mr Zhang's colleague on the elite ruling body, Yu Zhengsheng, was equally fulsome.

In remarks quoted by the Xinhua news agency, he told another discussion group: “This important thought represents the latest achievement in adapting Marxism to the Chinese context, and is an important component of the system of theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

Mr Xi has run China since he was installed at the last congress five years ago. Since then he has waged a corruption campaign, asserted China’s claims in the region and built up the military. He was given the title of “core” leader last year, boosting his credentials ahead of the ongoing congress.

Added muscle

Having the theory named after you gives you added muscle – founding father Mao Zedong had "Mao Zedong Thought" and economic liberaliser Deng Xiaoping had "Deng Xiaoping Theory". Jiang Zemin's "Three Represents" theory does not bear his name, nor does Hu Jintao's "Scientific Outlook on Development".

Another member of the standing committee, Liu Yunshan, urged party members to study hard Mr Xi's "new era" thought "in terms of its historical background, scientific system and practical requirement".

Ho-Fung Hung, associate professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins, said the many references in Mr Xi’s speech to a “new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics” were a sign that the party was moving away from ideas such as private property rights.

"To this day, the Communist Party's official ideology still does not recognise private property rights. Owners of land and other property only have a limited period of use right of that property, and the state is still the ultimate owner of all property," Mr Hung told The Irish Times.

During previous governments there had been calls for greater recognition of private property to help fend off fears among the wealthy and the middle classes, which was leading to capital flight as the rich moved their money overseas.

“Under Xi’s emphasis of ‘socialism’ in his report, it seems that such reform to establish private property right in China is going to be off the table under Xi,” said Mr Hung.

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing