Xi Jinping and the Chinese dream
The vision of China’s new president should serve his people, not a nationalist state May 4th 2013 |From the print edition
IN 1793 a British envoy, Lord Macartney, arrived at the court of the Chinese emperor, hoping to open an embassy. He brought with him a selection of gifts from his newly industrialising nation. The Qianlong emperor, whose country then accounted for about a third of global GDP, swatted him away: “Your sincere humility and obedience can clearly be seen,” he wrote to King George III, but we do not have “the slightest need for your country’s manufactures”. The British returned in the 1830s with gunboats to force trade open, and China’s attempts at reform ended in collapse, humiliation and, eventually, Maoism.
China has made an extraordinary journey along the road back to greatness. Hundreds of millions have lifted themselves out of poverty, hundreds of millions more have joined the new middle class. It is on the verge of reclaiming what it sees as its rightful position in the world. China’s global influence is expanding and within a decade its economy is expected to overtake America’s. In his first weeks in power, the new head of the ruling Communist Party, Xi Jinping, has evoked that rise with a new slogan which he is using, as belief in Marxism dies, to unite an increasingly diverse nation. He calls his new doctrine the “Chinese dream” evoking its American equivalent. Such slogans matter enormously in China (see article). News bulletins are full of his dream. Schools organise speaking competitions about it. A talent show on television is looking for “The Voice of the Chinese Dream”.
Countries, like people, should dream. But what exactly is Mr Xi’s vision? It seems to include some American-style aspiration, which is welcome, but also a troubling whiff of nationalism and of repackaged authoritarianism.
The end of ideology
Since the humiliations of the 19th century, China’s goals...