BEIJING – Political slogans have been a mainstay of Chinese life dating back to Mao Zedong, the founder of the People's Republic.
President Xi Jinping is carrying on that tradition with two of his slogans, "Chinese Dream of the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation" and the "Four Comprehensives," that are getting attention during the annual session of the national legislature this week.
In recent years, they've become largely symbolic statements of principle, but at other times they have signaled major shifts in policy or new, often traumatic, political campaigns. Below are some of the best known, each associated with one of the five generations of leaders:
"Destroy the Four Olds" — With the launch of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, Mao and his henchmen needed to identify their targets, settling in part on old customs, old habits, old culture and old thinking. In execution, that meant renaming streets and shops after Mao, his Red Guards and various revolutionary slogans, attacking intellectuals and destroying temples and other examples of ancient art and architecture.
"The Four Modernizations" — In the wake of Mao Zedong's disastrous Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping sought to steer the nation back on the path of modernity and economic development, focusing on industry, agriculture, science and technology, and national defense. Critics pointed out that a fifth modernization was missing: democracy. Many of them were subsequently sentenced to lengthy jail sentences, but such sentiments reawaked during the 1980s, culminating in the 1989 pro-democracy protests centered on Beijing's Tiananmen Square that were crushed by the military.
"The Four Cardinal Principals" — Despite the changes he was making, Deng had to hold the line somewhere. The essence of Chinese governance was therefore defined as: Adhering to the socialist path; maintaining the people's democratic dictatorship; upholding the leadership of the Communist Party; and upholding Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong thought.
"Sweep Away Spiritual Pollution" — Deng's conservative opponents were unnerved by his jettisoning of orthodox Marxism, so he responded by backing them in a drive against perceived bourgeois liberalism that was considered a threat to party power. Targets of the campaign included Western fashions and progressive social views, seen by the old guard as vulgar and foreign.
"The Three Represents" — This was the cryptic formulation intended by Jiang Zemin to define his 13 years as party secretary, but it left most observers scratching their heads. On paper, the "three" referred to advanced productive forces, advanced culture and the fundamental interests of the Chinese people. It was largely seen as a call for political consensus and a form of outreach to China's increasingly dynamic class of private businessmen and professional managers.
"Scientific Outlook on Development" — The signature concept of Xi's predecessor, the efficient but bland Hu Jintao, who used it to incorporate the idea of a "Socialist Harmonious Society" as a way of building the economy and society in a scientific, sustainable manner that avoided upheavals.
"The Eight Honors and Eight Shames" — Hu's attempt to instill pride, patriotism and honesty among citizens public servants and ordinary citizens. The short-lived campaign called for people to be "disciplined and law-abiding, not chaotic and lawless," and urged them not to "spend ethics for profits."
"Chinese Dream of the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation" — The theme Xi used to launch his presidency exhorts Chinese citizens to work harder, live better and restore China to its former glory. It's been whole-heartedly embraced by the entirely state controlled media and was featured extensively at last month's annual four-hour Lunar New Year television gala, and even made it into the final applause line of Premier Li Keqiang's annual address to the national legislature on Thursday. "China Dream" may sound like an echo of the "American Dream," but unlike the latter, personal liberty and individual rights aren't part of the equation.
"The Four Comprehensives" — Xi's most recent formulation is largely a repackaging of goals and concepts laid out by his predecessors, comprising "comprehensively" establishing a moderately prosperous society, deepening reform, ruling the nation by law, and enforcing party discipline. The formula adds weight to Xi's calls to fight corruption and follow the letter of the law.