Xi Jinping goes full 1984

Xi Jinping goes full 1984

"Who controls the past, controls the future; who controls the present, controls the past."

That slogan laid out the Party's sinister ploy to entrench itself in power by rewriting history in George Orwell's classic novel 1984. And it's what the ruling Communist Party now wants to do in China, where "Big Brother" Xi Jinping already oversees an authoritarian techno-surveillance state that in many ways exceeds the intrusion of Orwell's dystopian future.

The CCP's inner sanctum is in Beijing this week to hold its annual closed-door meeting. But this time it's done something rare by announcing one item on the agenda: an official resolution to revise China's historical narrative under its reign, to reflect Xi's take on the "correct" interpretation of party history — and by extension China's.

What the party comes up with won't just be an anodyne internal document only CCP nerds will obsess over. Xi's historical revision will influence everything in China — from foreign policy, to what's taught in schools or shown on TV and in films, to what constitutes the ultimate crime of disloyalty to the party — for an entire generation, if not longer.

From Mao, to Deng, to Xi. We've known for some time that Xi is the most influential Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping, and arguably since Mao Zedong. Prior to Xi, only they have been able to rewrite the party's narrative arc on their own terms throughout the CCP's 100-year history.

Mao did it in 1945 to become the party's undisputed leader, then won the civil war and called all the shots for three decades. Deng did it in 1981 to call out Mao's excesses in the Great Leap Foward and Cultural Revolution, and to justify risky reforms that later turned China into an economic juggernaut.

Very soon Xi will forever be at their level. By drawing a direct historical line to him from Mao and Deng, the resolution will give Xi the ultimate CCP street cred he needs to guide China in the direction he wants.

In 2021, Xi is tinkering with China's past — and present — to pilot its future. He's cast himself as the natural heir to heavyweights Mao and Deng, without breaking with either to take something from both.

The saying goes that Mao made China stand up (a phrase he's famous for yet never actually uttered), and Deng made China get rich. The next step is for Xi to build on their legacies to make China "strong" — a superpower in its own right.

Wait, why does Xi even need to do this if he's already super powerful? After all, he's crushed all dissent within the party, gone after tech titans who were getting too rich and powerful, lifted presidential term limits, and now has Chinese kids studying how Xi "thinks."

In the near term, though, Xi cannot afford even a quibble as he embarks on his big plans to transform China. If no one questioned Mao or Deng when they were at the peak of their power, Xi must ensure no one will dare challenge him if he says, for example, that the Chinese economy must grow a bit less in order to become a more equal society. Or when the party decides next year whether Xi can "run" for an unprecedented third term in office.

What's more, Xi knows that as a "transformative" leader he won't even need a formal title to still be the big boss after he eventually steps down. (Fun fact: in the 1990s Deng wielded more influence behind the scenes as the head of China's bridge association than Jiang Zemin as president.)

Still, we've learned from recent Chinese history that rewriting it can have unintended consequences. Each time the party has reviewed its past, it also set in motion other stuff that almost broke its grip on power: Mao's Great Leap Forward caused the worst famine in history, and Deng's economic reforms led to a pro-democracy movement that shook the CCP to its core until it was brutally suppressed on the streets of Tiananmen in 1989.

Whatever China's all-powerful leader has in mind for the immediate future, many things could go south. A miscalculation on Taiwan, a financial crash if the real estate sector collapses, or failing on his zero-COVID strategy could all backfire — and Xi will be on the hook.
A group of young women looking together at images on a wall.

Research indicates neurodivergent individuals hold key competencies to meet this demand, yet their unemployment rate is estimated to be as high as 80%.

As part of its initiative to build an inclusive workplace for all, Bank of America has improved its hiring and support process to recognize and elevate the unique talents of neurodivergent employees.

Who’s in Joe Biden’s democracy club?

The Biden administration’s much-touted Summit for Democracy kicks off on Thursday. A total of 110 countries are invited, with some puzzling choices and omissions.

Illiberal Poland is attending, but not illiberal Hungary. Seven of the 10 Southeast Asian nations are out, but several quasi-democracies in Africa made the cut. Brazil's authoritarian-minded President Jair Bolsonaro is an acceptable democrat for Joe Biden, but not Bolivia's democratically-elected President Luis Arce.

The criteria to get a ticket is as unclear as what Biden’s democratic virtual get-together wants to achieve.

More Show less
The French election is getting hot

Germany has been the European center of political attention in recent months, as punk-rock god Angela Merkel exits the stage after almost two decades at the helm. But there’s another big election heating up in Europe. The French will head to the polls in just twelve weeks, and the race has started to get very interesting.

More Show less
The Graphic Truth: Are you democratic enough for Joe Biden?

The Summit for Democracy, which the Biden administration has been playing up for months, kicks off Thursday. The invite-only event with representatives from 110 countries is Biden’s baby: it’s a chance for the US president to “rescue” democracy, which is in global decline. What’s less clear, however, is why some states with poor democratic records have a seat at the table, while others with better democratic bona fides don’t. Is this a real stab at strengthening democracy, or rather a naked attempt to alienate those who cozy up to foes like China and Russia? We take a look at a selection of invitees, as well as some who didn’t make the cut, and their respective democracy ratings based on the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index.

Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones has often had to defend her work as the creator of the 1619 Project, a piece of modern journalism that has gained as much praise on one end of the US political spectrum as it has sparked outrage on the other.

Hannah-Jones admits some of the criticism was fair game — and that's one reason she’s just published an extended version of the project in book form, entitled The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story. But she rejects those who’ve tried to disqualify her and the project.

"People were saying these facts are wrong... [and] that this journalism needed to be discredited, and that's not normal," she explains. "And I don't agree with that type of criticism because... it's not true.”

According to Hannah-Jones, part of the problem is the mistaken perception that the 1619 Project claimed that slavery was uniquely American. It did not, she says, but did argue that the history of US slavery is quite exceptional in another way.

"There is something clearly unique about a country engaging in chattel slavery that says it was founded on ideas of individual rights and liberty. And that was not Brazil. That was not Jamaica. That was not any of the islands in the Caribbean. They didn't pretend to be a nation founded on God-given rights. We did."

Watch all of Hannah-Jones' interview with Ian Bremmer on the upcoming episode of GZERO World.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson observes an early morning Merseyside police raid on a home in Liverpool as part of 'Operation Toxic' to infiltrate County Lines drug dealings in Liverpool, Britain December 6, 2021.

Boris’ horrible, no good, very bad day. Boris Johnson is no stranger to controversy. In fact, sometimes he appears to relish it. But not this time. As British authorities weigh whether to impose unpopular restrictions amid a surge in omicron cases, a video has surfaced of top Downing Street aides tastelessly joking about flouting lockdown rules last Christmas by gathering for a holiday party. At the time, Britons were forbidden to gather with friends and family during the holiday season, let alone say goodbye to dying relatives. What’s more, Downing Street has been accused of trying to cover up the shindig – a “wine and cheese” night, according to the video – until this damning footage materialized. Johnson says he is “sickened and furious” about it, and a top aide has since resigned. (Johnson himself has not been accused of attending the party.) Meanwhile, London police say they are looking into the case. The timing is pretty awful for Johnson, who is already facing party backlash over a series of blunders in recent months, as well as his perceived failure to address Brexit-related shortages of gasoline and goods. Currently, 55 percent of Britons disapprove of his leadership.

More Show less
A person waves flags as people gather after the Senate approved a same-sex marriage bill, in Santiago, Chile December 7, 2021

8: Chile’s Congress approved same-sex marriage Wednesday, becoming the eighth Latin American country to do so. Conservative President Sebastián Piñera for years opposed the measure, which would give full parental rights to same-sex couples, but six months ago changed his position, paving the way for the bill’s passage.

More Show less

Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, our parent company, has opened this year’s GZERO Summit with a provocative speech on the near future of international politics. Here are the highlights.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal


Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal