Following a meeting of its Central Committee last week, China’s Communist Party passed what it called a “Resolution on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century”. Ostensibly about the past, it still holds enormous significance for China’s future. This is only the third such resolution passed by the party in its 100-year history. The previous two resolutions, passed by Mao Zedong in 1945 and Deng Xiaoping in 1981, marked important inflection points in China’s politics, and established them as the dominant leaders of their respective generations. The full text of the latest resolution has not been made public, but a 5,000 word communiqué issued after the closure of the four-day plenum gives a flavour. It heaps praise on the contributions of Mao, Deng and current leader Xi Jinping. It differs in one key aspect from the previous resolution of 1981, which acknowledged Mao’s mistakes that led to the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), by describing the history of the party as one without flaws. “Looking back on the party’s endeavours over the past century,” it surmises, “we can see why we were successful in the past and how we can continue to succeed in the future.”
Explaining why the party saw the need for a new historical resolution, the communiqué said the party wanted to “strengthen our consciousness of the need to maintain political integrity, think in big-picture terms, follow the leadership core, and keep in alignment with the central party leadership”. The latest communiqué implicitly criticised the collective leadership model that Deng bequeathed his successors and enabled three peaceful transfers of power, praising Mr. Xi’s “core” leadership for having “solved many tough problems… never resolved and accomplished many things that were wanted but never got done”. It also called for “resolutely upholding Xi Jinping’s core position on the Central Committee and in the Party… and upholding the Central Committee’s authority… to ensure that all Party members act in unison”. The significance of the 1945 and 1981 resolutions lay not in their reflections on the past but in how they would change the exercise of power, bringing dramatic consequences for China’s future. The first established Mao’s ideology as the party’s guiding ideology. By doing so, it made it heresy to question Mao and paved the way for the creation of his disastrous personality cult. In 1981, Deng too established his dominance, but used his power to bring an end to rule by ideology, instead turning the party’s attention to development and bringing China to its era of reform and opening up. Now, 40 years after Deng, as China’s current leader looks to write his place in the party’s history, the past might be held in reverence, but it will not be allowed to dictate the contours of the future when the country prepares to take yet another political turn.