Xi Jinping’s ‘historical resolution’: what is it and why is it important?

  • The pivotal document is likely to look back at key events in party history, enshrine Xi’s role as leader, and set a course for the next few decades
  • It is only the third since the Chinese Communist Party’s foundation 100 years ago, with previous resolutions delivered by Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping

On Monday, top officials of China’s Communist Party will consider and likely adopt a “historical resolution” at the Central Committee’s most important meeting ahead of next year’s national congress.

The “Resolution of the CCP Central Committee on the Major Achievements and Historical Experiences of the Party’s Centennial Struggle”, to be discussed at the sixth plenary session of the party’s highest governing body, is set to look back at key events in the party’s 100-year history and enshrine President Xi Jinping’s role as leader, as well as determine the party’s direction for the next few decades.

The pivotal document is only the third of its kind since the party’s foundation in 1921, with the first issued by Mao Zedong in 1945 and the second by Deng Xiaoping in 1981.

What are ‘historical resolutions’?

Historical resolutions are official summaries of the party’s history from its formation in 1921 to the point of the resolution’s publication. They address leading political figures, key achievements, lessons learned, and directions for future policies.

These resolutions are chiefly drafted by China’s leader and later discussed by the Central Committee. Each committee usually holds seven plenary sessions during its five-year term, and past resolutions have also been issued at the sixth plenary session, which typically focuses on ideology and party building.

This year’s plenum will be conducted by the 19th Central Committee, which was elected in 2017 and will sit until 2022.

What did previous resolutions look at?

Both historical resolutions can be said to have occurred after tumultuous periods in the party’s history, at turning points that gave leaders the occasion to interpret key historical narratives and the policies of their predecessors, while prescribing a course of action going forward.

Mao’s “Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party” in 1945 came after a political and ideological purge within the party, known as the Yanan Rectification Movement, that took place from 1942 to 1945 and saw thousands of intellectuals killed before Mao was eventually put in power.

The resolution summarised struggles for power that took place in the party over the past two decades and took aim at past policies by former leaders. It promoted the practice of “self-criticism” for party members deemed to have made mistakes, resulting in a compliance and conformity that paved the way for Mao’s campaign to purge his political opponents and sway other senior officials to his side.

Former Chinese leader Mao Zedong issued his historical resolution in 1945, before the party came to power. Photo: AFP


Deng’s “Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China” in 1981 focused on the 10-year Cultural Revolution initiated by Mao, which sought to purge remnants of capitalist and traditional elements from Chinese society and reimpose Mao’s doctrine, Mao Zedong Thought.

In his resolution, Deng criticised Mao’s “errors” during the Cultural Revolution period from 1966 to 1976, which resulted in the deaths of millions of people.

He also espoused his vision for the party’s development, moving away from Mao’s policies and proposing a group-centred form of leadership that would prevent the formation of the type of personality cult that Mao had established, while setting the foundation for market and economic reforms.

However, he emphasised Mao Zedong Thought as the guiding ideology of the party, saying that Mao’s “contributions to the Chinese revolution far outweigh his mistakes”.

Deng Xiaoping, whose historical resolution in 1981 focused on the 10-year Cultural Revolution initiated by his predecessor Mao.

What is the significance of Xi’s upcoming resolution?

State media has reported that the latest resolution will help establish Xi’s authority and also promote key party ideas such as the Chinese dream, at a time when Xi may have additional achievements to boast.

Although details about the resolution have yet to be revealed, the document’s title, which refers to “historical experience” rather than the “certain questions” of the party’s history addressed by Mao and Deng, hints that Xi may avoid altering or questioning past views of the party’s history and instead emphasise its achievements.

Since China’s top legislature removed the two-term limit for the presidency in 2018, Xi may also address his bid to become the longest-serving leader of China and use this key resolution as his mandate to continue his rule into a third term after next year.

When he took power in 2012, Xi spelt out two “centenary goals”: to make China a “moderately prosperous” society by 2021, 100 years since the party was founded, and a “great modern socialist country” by 2049, 100 years since Mao declared the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

Xi announced that the first goal had been achieved at the party’s centennial this year, and the resolution is likely to chart a path to achieve the second goal.

Author: Cat Wang, SCMP

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