Written by Chi Kin Cheung.

Since President Xi Jinping pronounced the notion of China Dream, the idea has attracted great attention from China watchers. However, like many other official formulations of former Chinese leaders, the new China Dream is utterly elusive. As Roderick MacFarquhar, a professor at Harvard, said during the First World Congress on Marxism at Beida in October, Xi Jinping’s China Dream was “not the intellectually coherent, robust and wide-ranging philosophy needed to stand up to Western ideas.” Chinese media was quick to respond, but instead of articulating a clear vision of China Dream to rebuke Prof. MacFarquhar’s critique, they simply fabricated his remark and stated that “Roderick MacFarquhar believed that the notion of Chinese dream put forward by President Xi could be regarded as the innovative development of Marxism, which would has a positive effect on human development.” This statement can still be found on Beida’s website of the event.

The interesting thing is that the fabricated remark put forwarded by Chinese media seems to suggest that China Dream is in some way linked to the country’s socialist tradition. Although socialism already lost its appeal among the general population since the reform and opening, and the downfall of Bo Xilai marked the end of the so-called “Red Culture” he engineered in Chongqing, not many people think that socialism is ready to leave the scene of Chinese politics yet. The recent World Congress on Marxism in Beida is a good example of the official attempt to resuscitate the dying ideology. However, is China’s socialist tradition able to provide any solution to the mounting social problems in China and achieve the glorious revitalization of the nation? Even China’s socialist theorists have expressed doubts when they were asked by the Global Times.

Instead of relying on socialism, President Xi told us that China should make use of Chinese traditional culture. In a study session of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China, President Xi said that despite the need to base China Dream on China’s socialist system, China Dream should also have a Chinese spirit. And Chinese culture embodies a wealth of experience in good governance which should be adopted to solve contemporary problems in China. He further stated that, “in order to govern today’s China well, we need to have an in-depth understanding of our national history and cultural tradition, we also need to consolidate the ancient Chinese explorations on state governance and the wisdoms that we had accumulated”.

Given that ancient Chinese wisdom is key to the socialist China Dream, it is not surprising to see that professors in the Central Party School of the CCP teach us to appreciate the Chinese classics instead of Marxist classics. One of the classics that is receiving attention is Qun Shu Zhi Yao. The book was compiled in AD631 by a group of scholar-officials in early Tang Dynasty (618-907), one of the finest periods in the dynastic history of China. It was a collection of essays on good governance selected from thousands of ancient Chinese texts, including many of the Confucian classics. In a website dedicated to the book, Professor Liu Yuli from the Central Party School provides a series of talks that discuss the advice offered by the Confucian classics on various topics including how to be an uncorrupted government official, the importance of filial piety, and so on. The interest in Confucian classics at the state and popular level is not a new phenomenon. What is different in the recent development is the importance placed on how Confucianism could be used on state governance and to regulate social order.

A similar development can also be found in how Confucius is commemorated. In the past, the ceremonies that commemorate Confucius are mostly related to his birthday and his role as a great teacher. The profile of these ceremonies has been raised significantly with the growing participations of high ranking officials and party leaders including President Xi himself. These ceremonies highlight the important status of Confucius without making any specific reference to the doctrine he proposed. But this has changed with the establishment of the first Museum of Filial Piety in Xichuan this year. The establishment of the museum, which cost about 8 million RMB, was supported by the local government. The new museum is among a series of cultural activities which aim to rejuvenate the virtue of respect for one’s parentS, elders in the family and ancestors, and to instil into the young generation the idea that it is their responsibility to take care of their parents. These cultural events, together with the recent “Elderly Rights Law” that stipulates adult children must visit their parents, are regarded as government’s attempts to tackle the growing problem of lonely elderly people in the countryside. A problem that was the result of the rapid economic growth in the past three decades which has driven millions of migrant workers to work in the cities, leaving their parents in their rural home.

These developments suggest that Confucianism is assuming a new role in China. In addition to being a cultural identity for the Chinese nation and a brand name for foreign consumption, Confucianism is now a solution to China’s state governance and social problems. It is no longer an antithesis to China’s modernization, but is essential to the realization of the socialist China Dream.

Chi Kin Cheung is Assistant Professor in the Department of Asian and Policy Studies, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at The Hong Kong Institute of Education. Image Credit: CC by Thierry Ehrmann/Flickr.