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Brief #126: 20th Party Congress Report: Keywords Analysis

Threat perception, technology, ideology

On October 16, Xi Jinping delivered the 19th Central Committee’s report to the 20th Party Congress. This report articulates the Communist Party leadership’s position across major areas, including ideology, socio-economic development and foreign affairs:

Report to the 20th Party Congress (full text and translation)
The 20th Party Congress opened in Beijing on Sunday, October 16. Xi Jinping delivered the report to the Congress on behalf of the 19th Central Committee. You can find the Chinese and English versions of the full report below. Three things to note. First, the report and translation below, while

We can get a sense of the Party's shifting priorities and concepts by looking at how keywords are used, and comparing the frequency of these keywords in the original Chinese version of the report with those in the previous reports (from the 18th Party Congress in 2012 and the 19th Party Congress in 2017).

Here are the full results of the keyword frequency analysis.

Note that keyword frequency alone can be misleading. For example, “democracy” (“民主”) appears numerous times in all three reports analysed. Yet, the Communist Party’s interpretation of “democracy” is a world away from how the advocates of liberal democracy understand the term.

In short, the data suggests that over the last decade, security, technological self-reliance and ideology have become increasingly important to the Party leadership.

Rising threat perception

There is almost a tripling in the mentioning of “security” (“安全”), a broad concept used by the Party that expands on traditional security concerns to include areas such as ideology, culture and outer space.

Mentionings of associated terms, such as “problems” (“问题”), “risks” (“风险”) and “challenges” (“挑战”), have also risen.

At the same time, the mentionings of “harmony” (“和谐”), a term that received much attention under Hu Jintao, plummeted. The frequency of “peace” (”和平“) also saw a decline.

One concept present in previous reports and notably missing in the current one is “a period of strategic opportunity” (“战略机遇期”), that is, a window of time with favourable external conditions for China's development. The 19th Party Congress Report published in 2017 stated: “China is still in an important period of strategic opportunity for development”. This assessment was reaffirmed by Xi as recently as May 2019.

However, the 2022 report does not mention “a period of strategic opportunity.” Instead, what we have is a sombre assessment:

Our country has entered a period of development in which strategic opportunities, risks, and challenges are concurrent and uncertainties and unforeseen factors are rising…


For the Party leadership, the world has become more unstable and dangerous. Therefore, it is not surprising that the choice of words in the report reflects a heightened threat perception and a more pessimistic assessment of China’s domestic and international environments.

Technological self-reliance

Science and technology are critical in China’s pursuit of development and security. The US Government’s recent attempts to hamper the development of China's high-tech sector is a case in point.

The 20th Party Congress Report mentions “science and technology” (“科技”) a whopping 44 times, mostly in the context of technological self-reliance, independence and innovation. This is a big jump compared to the 19th and 18th Party Congress reports, the latter of which laid more focus on “science” (“科学”) itself as part of Hu Jintao’s “Scientific Outlook on Development.”

Legitimation: economics to ideology

Economic terms such as “development” (“发展”), “economy” (“经济”), “reform” (“改革”) and “market” (“市场”) have become less prominent. In contrast, terms related to ideological concerns, including “history” (“历史”), “Marxism” (“马克思主义”), “self-confidence” (“自信”) and “ideology” (“意识形态”), all saw increases.

Even though the appearance of economy-related terms still far outstrips ideology-related terms (366 vs 99 total mentions in the 2022 report), the difference has narrowed (515 vs 41 total mentions in the 2012 report).

In the post-Mao period, economic development has been the central pillar of the Party’s claim to legitimacy. Given China’s slowing economic growth in recent years, the Party is eager to shift legitimation from economic to nationalist grounds. Expounding on the Party’s historic mission and ideological superiority is part of the effort to bolster its legitimacy.

By Clemens Ruben and Adam Ni