Canadian communications theorist Marshall McLuhan‘s famous quote “the medium is the message” draws attention to how the way we say things can be as important or more important that what we say. Others have before McLuhan have said something similar. For example, there is Buffon‘s « Le style est l’homme même » ( “In his style we see the man himself”. The way things are said carries much of the meaning — a good thing for airlines which have not seen their business ruined by teleconferencing as yet.
Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping does recall Mao Zedong in the way he says things. I notice in particular the didactic style with its many parallel structures and numbered dictums – the four this and the five that – that good party members should know.
Parallel structures have a long history, naturally in such a poetry-loving people as the Chinese. Still, the classically-educated Mao Zedong took things to extreme. I remember reading as a beginning student of Chinese during the Cultural Revolution (albeit safely in Boston during the contemporaneous though far tamer upheavals of 1960s America) very longgg sentences – paragraph length with seven or eight parallelisms in them. Sometimes I felt like that style was putting the total back in totalitarianism. The sentences was overbearingly didactic. Unpacking them sometimes required excursions into Chinese political numerology — the five thises and the six thats.
I remember wandering through the library looking at Chinese scientific journals in 1977. In a Chinese meteorological journal, scientific articles had boldface sentences quoting Mao Zedong Thought or attributing scientific achievements to Mao Zedong Thought. In a medical journal, a surgeon similarly credited Mao with inspiring breakthroughs. Although China is far from those days, a return of that style reveals a hankering among some Party leader for the days when Party leadership was unquestioned and China’s ideological security felt much greater.
That kind of textbook writing was hard for me as a student to grasp. Even in my beginning Chinese language textbook written for foreigners, the Party message was clear. In my first two years of Chinese I learned Cultural Revolution slogans and even read some of Mao’s essays and poetry including “In Memory of Norman Bethune.” Red Guards at Peking Foreign Language University may have found their way onto the textbook editorial board even though the Cultural Revolution shut down the school for five years until summer 1971.
I have gotten some use out of the Cultural Revolution education I absorbed through my Chinese language textbooks at a safe distance. I do get laughs from Chinese today with some of my Cultural Revolution turns of phrase. And in 1980, I was even able to help out a Canadian Communist on his way to a Communist Youth Congress in Berlin, telling him that when he meets Chinese comrades, he should say that “I am a compatriot of Norman Bethune!” 我是白求恩的同胞！
Six, seven, eight, nine or more parallel structures in very long sentences typical of text of that time took time to unwrap. Such long complex sentences were always difficult and unfamiliar to me at least until much later when I came across David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (set in mid-1980s Boston!) David Foster Wallace was a guy who could make longgg sentences readable. Too bad David Foster Wallace and Mao Zedong never met.
Anyways, General Secretary Xi, like Mao before him, talks about democracy all the while insisting on every party member’s responsibility to stay in close alignment in their thoughts and actions with the Party Central Committee and naturally, the firm leading role of the General Secretary in the Party Central Committee.
Nothing ever quite repeats itself. Xi’s formative experiences were very different from Mao’s. Still, Mao and the chaos of the Cultural Revolution seems to have formed Xi’s view of how to rally the Party and the need to have a strong leader in a Party and for a Party Politburo that is somewhat less collegial that it has been since Deng.
Qian Gang, in his recent China Media Project article Parallelism for the Future wrote: “It is my observation that in the eight years since Xi Jinping came to power, his use of parallelisms has been steadily on the rise. This is particularly true since the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in November 2017. So it is probably more accurate to say that the speechwriter or speechwriters in this case merely recognized Xi Jinping’s fondness for the drumbeat quality of the parallelism.
There is immense guiding power in this rhetorical preference. After March 4, every edition of the Study Times has felt obligated to publish a “reflection article” about the March 1 speech. Aside from the March 4 piece, I have read three others, published on March 6, 8 and 11.”
Mao used all that parallelism (in articles written by others in ‘response articles’ explicating the leader’s thoughts as Qiao Gang explains in his own articles, helps drive in the leader’s points and assert his authority.
Xi now appropriates that style – the dominant style of political writing during his formative years during the Cultural Revolution – to similarly assert his authority and drive in his own points with parallelism and pity dictums of the four thises and the five thats.
I intruded the notes on just what the four thises and the five thats are into my translation so that their didactic glory will not be blunted by relegation to an endnote.
From the Chinese Communist Party News Network website at http://theory.people.com.cn/n1/2017/0428/c40531-29243362.html
Firmly Establish the “Four Awarenesses” to Become Politically Qualified — on the “Two Studies and one Action” in the series What Needs to Become Customary and Institutionalized
April 28, 2017 Source: Guangming Daily
Original title: Firmly Establish the “Four Awarenesses” to Become Politically Qualified
[Translator’s note: the Four Awarenesses are:
- Awareness of the need to uphold political integrity,
- Awareness of the big picture,
- Awareness of the need to follow the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China as the core of the Chinese leadership, and
- Awareness of the need to act consistently with CPC Central Committee policy.
(Here I paraphrase a note from a guide to recent PRC political terminology.) End note.]
Did you still remember the oath you took when you joined the Party? Do you still have your initial enthusiasm? On the New Long March, if every party member can retain their true character, stress politics, behave in a disciplined manner, and assume responsibility, at the very least meet the meet the standard of being “qualified”, then our ranks will be united and powerful, and the road ahead will be broad and bright.
Through our “study”, we build up our ideological foundations and by “action”, we will display the true character of party members. Over the past year, ever since we began the “Two Studies and One Action“, [Translator’s note: “Two Studies, One Action”：
- Study the Constitution of the Communist Party of China;
- Study the important speeches of Party General Secretary Xi Jinping and
- Act as competent Communist Party members.
study and educational activities have been a powerful starting point for promoting ideological party building, organizing party building, and building the Party. The Party governing the Party continues to deepen. Recently, General Secretary Xi Jinping fully affirmed the “Two Studies and One Action” study and education program carried out throughout the entire party. He has given important instructions on how to promote the institutionalizing and making customary “Two Studies and One Action” studies and education. To this end, “Two Studies and One Action” study and education should deepen the expansion of the genuine study, guide a great many of party members to enhance their “Four Awarenesses“, and maintain a high degree of unity in both ideology and political action with the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core and so meet standards in their politics, discipline, character and usefulness.
Comrade Mao Zedong once said that if you don’t stress politics, you have no soul. In 1986, Comrade Deng Xiaoping said that “in whatever you do, you must stress politics.” In 2015, General Secretary Xi Jinping placed special stress on politics as the first priority in his meeting with outstanding county party secretaries. He listed “becoming someone who understands politics” as the first of the four requirements of the county party secretary.
In politics the stress is on political qualifications. Politics is the fundamental requirement of Marxist political parties. Stressing politics is the fundamental guarantee for our party. Stressing politics is the calcium supplement that strengthens our bodies and keeps us fit. Stressing politics is the fundamental way for our party to cultivate in each member the courage to make their own personal revolutionary self-transformation, enhance their ability to purify themselves, and to improve the detoxification and sterilization to their own personal political immune systems. Similarly, stressing politics is also the spiritual foundation of every party member and the first and most important issue that all politically-qualified party members need to resolve for themselves.
Political qualifications are based on firmly held ideals and beliefs. “For a tree to become tall, it must first grow strong roots.” Ideals and beliefs are the “calcium” of the spirit of Communist Party members. Without ideals or beliefs or ideals and beliefs, they will develop “calcium deficient” and they will develop moral and they will have “osteoporosis”. They will become politically unreliable. Reading the confessions written by corrupt officials, we realize that their fall began when their political ideals and faith started to weaken and fail.
Strengthening ideals and faith is how we get back to basics in our ideals and faith. This also the solid foundation upon which the Party is built. Ideals and faith are not empty or illusory. Every clause of the Party Constitution is imbued with them. They live in every party members understanding of and attitudes towards their rights and responsibilities and towards their personal standards and the important considerations governing their behavior. The Party Constitution demands that Communist Party member earnestly carry out personal cultivation. Every party comrade should devote themselves to learning, to continual study and linking their studies to practical things, and to be goal-oriented in their studies. Only by choosing good ideals and beliefs will we be have the strength to avoid all kinds of errors and temptations. If the Party is in our hearts, then we will be able to take the people to heart, our responsibilities to heart, and the rules to heart.
The key to success in becoming politically qualified is to firmly establish the “Four Awarenesses.” Whether the “Four Awarenesses” are strong or not is a key criterion for judging whether or not someone is politically qualified. Once we have the correct political direction, we can stand firm and have a clear-cut stand on what is right and what is wrong. Once we have a global perspective, and we can consciously respond with just how we need to act in that situation. Only in this way will we be able to overcome fundamentalism in reform and achieve coordinated and strategic development across China’s national chessboard. More specifically, we need to address the “Four Major Tests”
[Translator’s note: The Four Major Tests are:
- Tests long-term and severe in exercising governance,
- Tests long-term and severe in carrying out reform,
- Tests long-term and severe in opening up and developing the market economy, and
- Tests long-term and severe from the external environment.
[Translator’s note: The Four Kinds of Dangers are:
- Danger of spiritual laziness that leads to passivity, ideological rigidity, conservatism in the actions of Party members and government cadres.
- Danger of incompetence due to neglect of study and low ideological level.
- Danger of getting isolated from the masses leading to bureaucratism, subjectivism, and formalism, neglect of the people’s interests, and preoccupation with just looking good to superiors.
- Danger of passivity and corruption leading to in some areas many party members and cadres violating party discipline or laws sometimes resulting in severe social repercussions.
in order to promote reforms and to overcome difficulties, to break through obstacles created by special interests and achieve solidarity. Even more will need to all party members to be aware of the need to rally around the leadership of the Central Committee of the Communist Party with General Secretary Xi Jinping at its core, to be aware of the need to act in line with the party core, and to be aware of the need to resolutely safeguard the authority of the Communist Party Central Committee, and to be aware of the need to take Comrade Xi Jinping as the core of the Party Central Committee.
Party members maintain a high degree of unity with the Party Central Committee so that the important decisions of the Central Committee can be fully implemented in a comprehensive without deviation. Party members must not do anything that the central government explicitly prohibits and opposes. They must always be politically firm, clear-minded, ideologically united, and act exactly as they should without letting up. The “Four Awarenesses” cannot be created and firmly established on their own. All party members should should actively learn and voluntarily participate in education and training, and actively participate in putting what they have learned into practice. Practice molds their party spirit and allows their understandings of theory and faith form deep ideological roots.
Last year, a video entitled “I am the Communist Party of China and I will always be at your side” was posted on the Internet. “Who am I? What kind of person am I?” The film asked. This made many party members reconsider how very important it is to them to be “member of the Communist Party”. Do you still remember the oath you took when you joined the Party? Do you still have your initial enthusiasm? Why is the beginning of the departure still there? On the New Long March, if every party member can retain their true character, stress politics, behave in a disciplined manner, and assume responsibility, at the very east meet the meet the standard of being “qualified”, then our ranks will be united and powerful, and the road ahead will be broad and bright.