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Brief #106: prioritising and normalising Party history

The Communist Party carried out a year-long Party history campaign in 2021 to coincide with its centenary. Aimed at building Party cohesion and faith, this campaign culminated at the Sixth Plenum in November. At that gathering, the Central Committee adopted the third history resolution, a document that glorified the Party's 100-year history and lauded the historical significance of Xi's new era.

Last Monday (March 21), Xinhua published a new directive from the General Office of the Central Committee: Opinions on Promoting the Normalisation and Long-term Effectiveness of Party History Learning and Education 《关于推动党史学习教育常态化长效化的意见》. This directive instructs Party organisations and cadres to prioritise and normalise Party history learning and education. In practice, the activities and the focus of the 2021 campaign may become the norm across the  Party’s ideological education, cadre training, propaganda and theory research activities.

The new directive lists six areas of focus: confidence in history (历史自信), theoretical self-consciousness (理论自觉), the “Two Establishes” (两个确立) and the “Two safeguards” (两个维护), purpose (serving the people), fighting spirit, and self-revolution (自我革命). Each one of these deserves an essay, but here is the core message, paraphrased into a narrative form:

The Party has a glorious past and a bright future. We know this because we have grasped the rules of historical progression. We can be confident of our place in history. While we should be confident in our purpose and actions, we should also be confident in our theory — Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. As the crystallisation of collective wisdom, this theory will guide us to national rejuvenation. We need to uphold the authority of Xi and his thought. We need to remember why the Party exists: to serve the people. And we must be willing to fight for our cause, even if it means making painful changes.

The third history resolution presents the same story, albeit in a more elaborate form. Working through that 37,000 character self-panegyric one moonless night, I couldn’t help but feel melancholic: the grotesque instrumentalisation of history, the cringe-worthy narcissism, the vast gulf between words and deeds…history has become a farce.

During an afternoon stroll the next day, I subjected my captured-audience-wife Katharina to a lecture on the resolution. Towards the end, she asked: "How could they write the history of the present and the future?" This is an excellent question. The answer has two parts. The first is that history serves present politics by placing the past, present, and future in a historical continuum. We can see this in how Party leadership frames Xi’s new era as the culmination of Party history and the departure point of a new journey.

The second reason is that Marxist historiography is Party orthodoxy. The Party presents history as a linear, unidirectional process governed by precise rules.

A sinologist once wrote that for the Communist Party, the future is constant while it’s the past that keeps changing. To understand the Party, we must first turn to its history.

By Adam Ni

Edited by Alexander Davey