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Educational Philosophy and Theory
ISSN: 0013-1857 (Print) 1469-5812 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rept20
The Chinese Dream: Xi Jinping thought on
Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new
Michael A. Peters
To cite this article: Michael A. Peters (2017) The Chinese Dream: Xi Jinping thought on Socialism
with Chinese characteristics for a new era, Educational Philosophy and Theory, 49:14, 1299-1304,
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/00131857.2017.1407578
Published online: 24 Nov 2017.
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EDUCATIONAL PHILOSOPHY AND THEORY, 2017
VOL. 49, NO. 14, 12991304
The Chinese Dream: Xi Jinping thought on Socialism with Chinese
characteristics for a new era
The Chinese Dream is a desire for happiness, similar to the dreams of the people of other countries.
– From the speech to representatives attending the Seventh Conference of Friendship of Overseas Chinese
Associations, June 6, 2014.
It is remarkable fact that Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era has
been added to the Communist Party of China’s (CPC) Constitution during the 19th Congress recently
held in Beijing during the week-long meeting ending 24 October. It is remarkable for a number of
reasons: rst, it conrms Xi Jinping’s second ve-year term as General Secretary of the CPC and President
of China; second, it represents Xi’s rising symbolic signicance to the Party’s guiding ideology at a
critical historical juncture in China’s transition to a global superpower; and third, it frightens some
commentators, both domestic and international, that Xi is becoming too powerful. Xi’s thought
thus sets the tone and direction not just for the next ve years but importantly for the fteen-year
period following the establishment of ‘Xiaokang’—originally a Confucian term, meaning ‘moderately
prosperous society’, used rst by Hu Jintao (General Secretary, 2002–2012), to refer to economic policies
designed to create a more equal distribution of wealth within China.1 The planning exercise itself is a
great vision that looks forward to the mid-century and to China’s unequalled position as the largest
world economy and as a civilisation whose culture and military have regained its place in the world
as the leading power.
The CPC Constitution was unveiled and adopted at the Second Congress of the Party in 1922; Mao
Zedong Thought was established as CPC’s guiding ideology at the 7th Congress in 1945; and ‘leftist
mistakes’ were corrected at the 12th Congress in 1982. Deng Xiaoping’s theory of building socialism
with Chinese characteristics was written into the constitution in 1992 at the 14th Congress and adopted
as CPC’s guiding theory at the 15th Congress in 1997. In 2002, the Scientic Outlook on Development
was added into the Constitution and adopted as Party’s guide for action at the 18th Congress in 2012.
Since the predominance of Mao’s thought, after collectivisation and the Cultural Revolution, there has
been a greater political pragmatism following Deng’s ‘opening up’ reforms that recognises the force and
integration of world markets—a recognition sometimes referred to as ‘post-socialism’, ‘market social-
ism’ or ‘state-capitalism’. The fact is that Xi and CPC theoreticians like Wang Huning understand that
the Constitution must reect the dynamism of historical change and guiding ideology must provide a
road map that takes account of the evolution of human economy, culture and society. Of course, this
evolution has to include the world development of capitalism itself and China’s capital, enterprise and
entrepreneurship as Chinese traders, companies and CEOs more deliberately expand the nature of
their global enterprise.
The addition of Xi Jinping Thought is being compared to the addition of Deng’s and Mao’s thought,
indicating, as Western media has made abundantly clear, that Xi is the strongest leader of CPC since
Mao.3. The full text of the Resolution of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China on
the Revised Constitution of the Communist Party of China adopted at the 19th National Congress of the
CPC indicates that Xi thought has systematically addressed the ‘major question of our times—the form
© 2017 Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia
and principles of socialism with Chinese characteristics for the new era’.4 Xi Jinping Thought represents
a pragmatic reading adapting Marxism to the Chinese context ushering in a new era of China’s socialist
modernisation and governance based on strengthening the Party. The thrust of Xi Thought is given in
the resolution in the following terms:
The Congress holds that statements on our people-centred philosophy of development; on innovative, coordinated,
green, and open development that is for everyone; on coordinated eorts to nish building a moderately prosperous
society in all respects, comprehensively deepen reform, fully advance law-based governance, and strengthen Party
self-governance in every respect; and on all-out eorts to build a great modern socialist country, represent the
ultimate purpose, vision, overall strategy, and overarching goal of the Party in upholding and developing socialism
with Chinese characteristics. (ibid.)
The emphasis also on
the need to achieve better quality and more ecient, equitable and sustainable development, to improve and
develop the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics, to modernise China’s system and capacity for gov-
ernance and to pursue reform in a more systematic, holistic and coordinated way.
These are the essentials of the new ‘development philosophy’ that also turns its gaze to structural
market reforms as well as an enhanced governance with a system of socialist rule of law with Chinese
characteristics based on ‘consultative democracy’ and the promotion of Chinese culture in both its tra-
ditional and revolutionary forms as a foundation for soft cultural power, socialist culture and Chinese
identity. There is a continuance of the 18th Congress policies in strengthening and developing new
approaches to social governance alongside holistic approach to the question of national security with
an ultimate goal to build a community with a shared future for mankind.
Xi Thought has provided a long-term two-stage development plan: the rst stage from 2020 to 2035
devoted to the realisation of socialist modernisation, including the achievement of the Belt and Road
Initiative5; and the second stage from 2035 to 2050 ‘to develop China into a great modern socialist
country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful’.6
Throughout the text mentioning these historical stages, there is a rm commitment to ‘opening up’
with emphasis on competitive globalisation, market-based interest and exchange rates, and greater
market access with the protection of foreign investors’ interests and rights. The other areas include
the enhancement of law-based governance with an emphasis on compliance with the constitution,
anti-corruption and the commitment to ecological management and protection of natural ecosystems.
Clearly, also the plan to be achieved by mid-century includes a vision of global leadership through
Chinese diplomacy and the globalisation of the Chinese socialist model.7
Nobody can doubt the impressive, perhaps unequalled, development of the Chinese economy
since 2012 that has grown at 7.2% annually adding over 13 million new urban jobs and commensurate
increases in R&D spending (1.57 trillion yuan), global trade volume, environmental improvements,
poverty elimination and growth of the service economy.8
In ‘The Thoughts of Chairman Xi’, BBC China Editor Carrie Gracie analyses the rise of Xi and how he
came to embody the destiny of China and the CPC.9. The facts of his rapid rise to power are well known:
Xi was born in 1953 in Fuping county, Shaanxi province, the son ofXi Zhongxun, a comrade of Mao’s,
and he grew up in the countryside after his father was purged during the Cultural Revolution. Xi at 15
worked as a labourer on an agricultural commune in Yan’an, the heart of the yellow earth of inland
China. He joined the Party in 1974 and attended Tsinghua University to study chemical engineering.
After graduation, he worked as a secretary to Party ocials rst in Beijing and then in Hebei province,
becoming a Party committee member and deputy major of Xiamen in Fujian province. He became
deputy provincial party secretary in 1995 and acting governor of Fujian in 1999, and later acting gov-
ernor of Zhejiang and party secretary from 2003. In 2007, he took over as party secretary of Shanghai
briey before being elected to the standing committee of the CCP’s Politburo in the same year, being
shortlisted as a possible heir to Hu Jintao. In March 2008, he was elected vice-president of China suc-
ceeding Hu as general secretary of the party in 2012.
Gracie’s (2017) analysis reveals the charmed life of a ‘red princeling’ who advanced in the Party
never forgetting his roots. Xi said arriving in Liangjiahe village ‘When I arrived at 15, I was anxious
EDUCATIONAL PHILOSOPHY AND THEORY 1301
and confused. When I left at 22, my life goals were rm and I was lled with condence’. Gracie (2017)
quotes him as saying ‘I left my heart in Liangjiahe. Liangjiahe made me’. It is a characteristic attitude
of modesty in face of the people that has remained with him even if he is somewhat solemn, reserved
and vulnerable to criticism and ridicule. By all accounts, he is wedded to Confucian moral values and
unhappy at corruption and the kind of commercialisation of China that has led to the rise of nouveau
riche and the conspicuous consumption of the Chinese upper middle class.
Xi’s (2014)The Governance of China a collection of speeches, talks, interviews, correspondence and
photographs from 2012 to 2014, arranged in 18 chapters devoted to China’s history, social system and
culture, helps to clarify the principles of governance of the CPC, China’s path of development and the
new concept of the Chinese Dream (中国梦). It was compiled by the State Council Information Oce
of China, the CCCPC Party Literature Research Oce and China International Publishing Group and, as
the Publisher notes in the Introduction, published in response to ‘rising international interest’ and ‘to
enhance the rest of the world’s understanding of the Chinese government’s philosophy and its domestic
and foreign policies’. Most non-hagiographical commentary sees the book as a statement of intent about
China’s ‘peaceful development’ designed to alleviate Western fears of China’s rise to superpower status
and the implications for global stability and international order (see e.g. Swaine, 2015).
For some seasoned, China watchers compare Xi’s rise to power to Mao’s cult of personality. MacFarquar
(2013) writing for The New York Review of Books in an article called ‘China: The Superpower of Mr. Xi’
speculates on why Xi was chosen, repeating the rumour that the elders were looking for a ‘red princeling’
who would reinforce the Party–someone who could maintain Party discipline and deal to problems
of corruption. He refers to Willy Wo-Lap Lam’s (2015) Chinese Politics in the Era of Xi Jinping, suggest-
ing that Xi has centralised power to an unprecedented extent in modern times creating the Central
National Security Commission that coordinates the police, army and national security agencies as well
as the Central Military Commission. The new Central Leading Group is seen as cutting across Premier Li
Keqiang’s powers. Further, possible competitor successors like Bo Xilai have been purged. MacFarquar
(2013) mentions that Xi has his own crusade for moral purity within the Party yet, he argues,
Neither the ‘Chinese dream’ nor ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ has the intellectual plausibility of Marxism-
Leninism, and certainly does not arouse the mass fervor of Mao Zedong Thought at its height
MacFarquhar might be underestimating the genuine need to maintain social governanceand related
policies that aim at reconstituting a moral self that speaks to Confucius, to Mao whiletaking account of
the growth oflate consumer markets where Western values are enshrined in quality brands. Ultimately,
the Chinese Dream cannot simplybe an empty neoliberal consumer materialism willingly put into
practice by the population, as these are not long-term civilisational values that are culturally and eco-
logically sustaining or socially fullling. Of course, the Chinese middle class now are better educated
and informed than under Mao. They are also well-travelled and less susceptible to ideologies that run
against the experience of history. Individual market freedoms breed consumers who after a certain level
of consumer satisfaction want other personal freedoms and lifestyle choices. The consumer market
teaches a certain level of psychological resistance to cheap ideas. Xi understands the new sophistication
of urban living and is pragmatic enough to believe that people can be responsible citizen-consumers,
even if they need some direction. The real diculty is that with the growth of purchasing power of
the 400 million Chinese middle class market demands stretch from high quality clothes and shoes to
information and entertainment products of all kinds. There is great store put on social information
goods that hold signicant symbolic power, easily created and dispensed, and quickly marshalled and
The diculty with plans that look beyond the ve-year period is that it is now almost impossible to
predict the impact of technological disruption, trends towards world integration or backlash globali-
sation; or, that matter, new biology, AI and deep learning, impact of new media. Political innovations
also grow out of social media in terms of the co-creation and production of collective citizen symbolic
goods. The problem is that the Chinese Dream, like the American Dream, has narrative threads that
can point in opposite directions (Peters, 2011). When Trump succeeded Obama, he made a matter of
principle to reverse as many of Obama’s domestic policies as he could. Trump also ercely repudiated
Obama’s foreign policy based on a form of liberal internationalism, splitting the country as he trumpeted
‘Make American Great Again’. National dreams are elastic narrative resources that permit conicting
interpretations (Peters, 2017). They need careful maintenance and to draw on rhetorical traditions
and recall the principles and values of national institutions and culture. As the American philosopher
Richard Rorty (1998) argues:
You have to describe your country in terms of what you passionately hope it will become, as well as in terms of
what you know it to be now. You have to be loyal to a dream country rather than to the one you wake up to every
morning. Unless such loyalty exists, the ideal has no chance of becoming actual.
Rorty writes ‘National pride is to countries what self-respect is to individuals: a necessary condition for
self-improvement’ (p. 3). Chastising the cultural Left, he provides a narrative re-crafting of the dream in
pre-Vietnam America by reference to Walt Whitman and John Dewey in a progressive pragmatist spirit
that recalls the secular dream of America based on the notion of exceptionalism without reference to
the divine—a society where all Americans would become mobilised as political agents in the cause
Drawing on Whitman and Dewey, he argues that the conjunction of the concepts ‘America’ and
‘democracy’ is an essential part of a new description of what it is to be human—perhaps a stretch too
far but his success as a philosopher is related to his ability to tell a new story about America and the
American Dream, to re-describe the past using a dierent vocabulary and to highlight how a new
philosophical history can make us feel dierently about who we are and who we might become. He
oers Americans a ‘philosophy of hope’, a philosophy based on the narrative of cultural invention,
self-discovery and national self-creation.
In Obama and the End of the American Dream I noted the inauspicious beginnings in the work of
James Truslow Adams.
[Adams] was the historian who rst coined the term ‘American Dream’ in The Epic of America published in 1931,
signicantly at a time when America was suering the early years of the Great Depression. He chose his title well.
The term ‘epic’ is a long narrative poem detailing the heroic deeds and events signicant to a culture, tribe or nation.
In archaic Greek style these poems followed a certain format, exhibiting set literary conventions that described a
heroic quest, normally beginning with an invocation to the muse, where genealogies are given and the values of
a civilization are heralded….
To describe America as an epic is to make appeal to noble sentiments and Adams was aware of this especially in
the context of the 1930s he wanted to high-light and romanticize the ethic of equality and in particular, equal-
ity of opportunity and equality before the law. He also wanted to use these ideals and principles to describe a
country based on the conscious development of a secular social order that found its origins in the Declaration of
Independence … (Peters, 2011, p. 90)
Rorty’s take is not too dissimilar to Xi jinping’s re- crafting of the Chinese Dream, a concept he is respon-
sible for introducing into the political domain as Wang (2014) make clear:
Since Xi Jinping took oce in November 2012, he has promoted the concept, ‘the Chinese Dream.’ From the National
People’s Congress, annual meeting to his international trips, Xi has stressed it as a main theme in the majority of his
public speeches. In addition, the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda machine has used its various resources
to promote the narrative. In a recent article from the People’s Daily, Liu Qibao, the head of the CCP’s Publicity
Department, denes the importance of the Chinese Dream for the Party and the country. Liu refers to the Chinese
Dream as the new leadership’s ‘mission statement’ and ‘political manifesto’ for the Party and the country’s future;
and it is ‘a major strategic thought’ for developing socialism with Chinese characteristics. Judging from the CCP’s
propaganda eorts, the Chinese Dream has become the signature ideology for Xi’s term. Without a doubt, under-
standing the concept of the Chinese Dream is essential to understanding Xi Jinping’s administration and China’s
future policy orientation. (p. 1, footnotes removed from original)
Wang (2014) explains not only that the ‘Chinese Dream’ is here to stay but also that it is based, as Xi
indicates in a variety of sources, on the rejuvenation (fuxing) of the modern Chinese nation, a rhetor-
ical theme utilised by many Chinese leaders in the past. Xi’s use of the narrative, building on rapid
modernisation and economic success, is designed to hark back to and move on a century of hardship
and humiliation, utilising the master narrative of Chinese nationalism to harness Chinese identity and
EDUCATIONAL PHILOSOPHY AND THEORY 1303
nation building. Like Rorty, and the construction of the American Dream, the accent is on the tran-
scendental force of ‘chosenness’ that elevates the dream to talk in the name of humanity itself. The
dierence between Xi and Rorty is that where Xi turns to the historical trace of humiliation as a spur
to future nation building, Rorty returns to a narrative strategy of ‘national pride’, democracy and prag-
matic self-improvement. Both enjoy the resources of ‘rejuvenation’ of past glories. I should also mention
Obama in this context, as his deft utilisation of the American Dream including the handy slogan ‘ Yes we
can!’ galvanised the centre ground and turned the tables on the Bush dynasty that threatened the dark
forces of the Project for the American Century, a narrative construction based on the neoconservative
think tank to promote American global leadership.
Wang’s (2014, p. 6) analysis is somewhat premature and limited in understanding the function of
legitimating master narratives. He writes:
the Chinese Dream is a continuation of the rejuvenation narrative. Lacking the procedural legitimacy of demo-
cratically elected ocials while simultaneously facing the collapse of communist ideology, the CCP has no choice
but to fall back on using China’s histor y, culture and patriotism as its ‘societal glue.’ Therefore, Xi chose to continue
working on the same path of Jiang and Hu.
In the light of Xi Thought and the Belt and Road initiative the analysis, with the benet of hindsight,
might be too harsh and limiting. Xi understands the importance of strengthening Party discipline and
promoting social governance both inside and outside the Party. He is also aware that the grand narrative
of the Chinese Dream has an international audience beyond peaceful and open globalisation based
on trade. As a ‘signature ideology’ (Wang, 2014) no doubt the Chinese Dream will continue to evolve.
The Chinese Dream has huge narrative and cultural resources to draw on including the discourse of
Chinese cosmopolitanism that has experienced an explosion of publications recently that emphasises
past empires (Hansen, 2012; Hu & Elverskog, 2016; Lewis, 2009; Xu, 2014) as well as future orientations
(Callahan, 2013) and contemporary relations with the US (Kuan-Chou, 2017). Narrative and narrato-
logical approaches to the study of narrative depend on the weaving of all the elements of a culture
into new semiotic forms in a wide variety of media that can reach the people and help them interpret
their experience. It is not just a political PR exercise but an activity that understands that narrative
is a vehicle for organising human experience and a tool for constructing models of historical reality,
allowing us to come to terms with the temporality of our existence. Narratives can create and transmit
cultural traditions, and build the values and beliefs that dene our cultural identities. While narrative
is an instrument of self-creation, at the same time narrative can be a vehicle of dominant ideologies
and an instrument of power.
1. See the other members making up the CPC politburo—Li Keqiang, Li Zhanshu, Wang Yang, Wang Huning, Zhao
Leji, and Han Zheng (all men over 60)—at http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/special/19cpcnc/index.htm
2. These are the major additions to the CPC’s Constitution, see http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-
3. See e.g. http://time.com/4994618/xi-jinping-china-19th-congress-ccp-mao-zedong-constitution/, http://www.
bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-41730948 and https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/24/xi-jinping-
5. See the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road structured along six corridors, unveiled in 2013
https://eng.yidaiyilu.gov.cn/ and https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/13/business/china-railway-one-belt-one-
7. The 13 parts of Xi’s report to 19th CPC National Congress can be found at http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-
8. See the infographics at http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-10/17/c_136684588.htm
Callahan, W. (2013). China dreams: 20 visions of the future. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gracie, Carrie (2017). The Thoughts of Chairman Xi. BBC, China Editor. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/
Hansen, V. (2012). The silk road: A new history. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hu, M. & Elverskog, J. (Eds.). (2016). Cosmopolitanism in China, 1600–1950. Amherst, New York: Cambria Press.
Jinping, Xi. (2014). The governance of China. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.
Kuan-Chou, C. (2017). The Sino-U.S. relations under Xi Jinping’s ‘Chinese dream’ for foreign policy strategy (Thesis). National
Taiwan University. http://ndltd.ncl.edu.tw/cgi-bin/gs32/gsweb.cgi/login?o=dnclcdr&s=id=%22105CCU01322001%22.&
Lewis, M. E. (2009). China’s cosmopolitan empire: The Tang dynasty. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
MacFarquar, R. (2013). China: The superpower of Mr. Xi, The New York Review of Books. Retrieved from http://www.nybooks.
Peters, M. A. (2011). Obama and the end of the American dream: Essays in political and economic philosophy (Postscript by
T. Besley). Rotterdam: Sense.
Peters, Michael.A. (2017). Conicting narratives of the American dream: Obama’s equality of oppor tunity and Trump’s ‘make
America great again’. Solsko polje Journal, Educational Research Institute, Ljubljana.
Rorty, R.. (1998). Achieving America: Leftist thought in twentieth-century America. The William E. Massey Sr. Lectures in
American Studies 1997. Harvard: Harvard University Press.
Swaine, M. D. (2015). Xi Jinping on Chinese foreign relations: The governance of China and Chinese commentary. China
Leadership Monitor, (48). https://www.hoover.org/publications/china-leadership-monitor/fall-2015-issue-48
Wang, Z. (2014). The Chinese Dream: Concept and context. Journal of Chinese Political Science, 19, 1–13.
Wo-Lap Lam, W. (2015). Chinese p olitics in the era of Xi Jinping: Renaissance, reform, or retrogression? London: Routledge.
Xu, X. (2014). Cosmopolitanism, nationalism, and individualism in modern China: The Chenbao fukan and the new cultural
era, 1918–1928. Lanham, MD: Lexington.
Michael A. Peters
School of Sociology, Beijing Normal University and Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research,
University of Waikato