The sixth plenum of the Central Committee (CC) of the Communist Party of China (CPC) passed a key resolution on Thursday, 11 November, that further consolidated the power of President Xi Jinping in the People's Republic of China (PRC).
It portrays Xi as a historic leader who is indispensable to China's growth and supremacy.
The "historic" resolution was only the third of its kind in the CPC's history.
The first one was passed by Mao Zedong (founding father of the PRC) in 1945, and it legitimised his and the CPC's right to lead the country.
The second, passed by Mao's de facto successor Deng Xiaoping in 1981, broke away from Mao's authoritative past and blamed the founding father for the bloodshed of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
The party, however, still remained supreme.
Deng even took measures to reduce the amount of central power that the Chinese President could exercise (to avoid a personality cult like Mao's) and promoted collective leadership, even introducing a two-term limit on the president's tenure, which was eventually abolished by Xi in 2018.
The 2021 CPC resolution is, therefore, significant because it not only essentially reverses the limited decentralisation of state power that existed during the tenures of Deng and his successors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, but also allows Xi to rewrite history, pass verdicts on his predecessors, and grandiloquently paint himself as the hero of China's path to glory.
That is why this resolution is being called "Xi's Mao moment", as reported by Politico.
There are two key things that the resolution does – a reassessment of the CPC's history by Xi himself and a further consolidation of Xi's personality cult – both of which this article explores in depth.
The CPC's Obsession With History
The plenum document not only spells out the future of a party that completed 100 years of existence this year, but quite akin to the previous two resolutions, it is also a summary of the CPC's history.
Such preoccupation with history, James Palmer of Foreign Policy argues, can either be traced back to the habit of Chinese dynasts rewriting the past (often shunning the preceding dynasty), or to Marxism itself, an ideology that emphasises that societies and institutions are all products of historical activity (historical materialism).
Consistent with this obsession, the communique of the resolution stated that the CPC completed "many major tasks that weren’t finished before and promoted historic achievements and historic changes in the cause of the party and the country", in an assessment of the party that is even more positive than what was found in Deng Xiaoping's resolution.
But unlike Deng’s document, which criticised Mao for the disasters that China endured under the latter, Xi's resolution did not even mention the famine caused by the Great Leap Forward campaign (1958-1962) or the brutalities that occurred during the Cultural Revolution.
Instead, the communique reads that "the Chinese people had stood up and the time in which the Chinese nation could be bullied and abused by others was gone."
Ling Li of the University of Vienna, an expert on the CPC, explained this peculiarity to The Guardian, saying that "the resolution serves two purposes: first, it justifies the path to power of the winner of the power struggles by passing verdicts to those who lost; and second, it builds a case about the distinctive performance of the party under the winner."
It's not as if the signs were never there.
Just about a decade ago, Xi had, even before establishing paramount control over the PRC, urged CPC members to "resolutely combat the wrong tendency to distort and smear the party’s history", Politico added.
History for the CPC, therefore, is a tool to establish political legitimacy and assert authoritarian control.
In fact, the country’s criminal code has now made it officially illegal to criticise the heroes of the PRC, the New York Times reported. Offenders risk going to jail for three years.
Who these heroes are, is of course defined by the CPC itself.
For instance, textbooks in Chinese schools, have already been redrafted to put Xi's father, Xi Zhongxun (who was imprisoned by Mao), at the centre of the party's grand history.
Xi's Cult of Personality
If he hadn't already established a culture of sycophancy within the CPC, Xi has now effectively ensured that anyone around him will be nothing more than a yes-man.
After all, in the resolution, "the party central committee called on the entire party, the entire army and people of all ethnic groups to unite more closely around the party central committee with comrade Xi Jinping as the core, to fully implement Xi Jinping’s new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics," according to Xinhua.
Comrade Xi Jinping as the core.
Those are by far the most important words of the post-plenum communique read out by Chinese state media, establishing Xi's unquestioned supremacy.
"[Former leaders] Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin never had as much consolidated authority as Mr Xi. However, it is unclear whether they had the inclination to do so even if presented with similar opportunities," Dr Chong Ja Ian of the National University of Singapore told the BBC.
Xi's two predecessors, Jiang (1989-2004) and Hu (2004-2012), both of whom had presided over a surge in China's economic growth and a rise in China's prestige and participation in international politics, have been sidelined (but not erased) in the party's history.
Despite China's entry into the World Trade Organization and the return of Hong Kong and Macau to China long before Xi became President, his historical resolution cheekily says that he inherited "many long-term problems that called for solutions but had not been solved."
The lack of attention and respect to previous paramount leaders of the PRC marks a shift under Xi that was not seen under Jiang or Hu, and this only supplements what we have been observing for a while: the demonstration of Xi's power by placing himself at the centre of everything.
Xinhua has referred to Xi as "a man of determination and action, a man of profound thoughts and feelings, a man who inherited a legacy but dares to innovate, and a man who has forward-looking vision and is committed to working tirelessly."
We don't how close or far this description is from the truth. But what we do know is that this is how Xi will force his reputation upon the Chinese people.
(With inputs from Foreign Policy, BBC, The Guardian, Politico, The New York Times and Xinhua)