Self-assessment: How will the Chinese Communist Party evaluate the Xi Jinping era thus far?

The sixth plenary session of the 19th Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, the penultimate one before the end of the current term, will be held this November. The CPC has historically focused on issues of ideology and party building during such plenary sessions. Analysts believe the meeting will summarise the achievements of the CPC particularly during President Xi Jinping's era and point the way to future development. However, will there be reflections of previous mistakes and lessons, including a reassessment of the June Fourth incident?
Students wave flags of China and the Communist Party of China before celebrations in Beijing, China, on 1 July 2021, to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China. (Wang Zhao/AFP)
Students wave flags of China and the Communist Party of China before celebrations in Beijing, China, on 1 July 2021, to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China. (Wang Zhao/AFP)

The sixth plenary session of the 19th Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee will be held in November. It will focus on comprehensively reviewing the CPC’s major achievements and experience accumulated over the last 100 years. Analyses point out that the session will likely summarise the achievements of the CPC since the start of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s new era, and culminate in a new “historic resolution”.  

Xinhua reported that the time and agenda of the sixth plenary session was decided during a CPC Central Committee Political Bureau meeting on 31 August.  

The sixth plenary session is usually the penultimate plenary session during each CPC Central Committee’s term. Since reform and opening up, the sixth plenary session has been convened eight times focusing on issues of ideology and party building.

Reflecting on past successes to ensure future success

The sixth plenary session of the 18th CPC Central Committee held in 2016 established Xi’s position at the “core of the CPC”. That was also the second time the word “core” was used since 2002, strengthening the authority of the top leader. 

A Chinese military band arrives for celebrations in Beijing, China, on 1 July 2021, to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China. (Wang Zhao/AFP)
A Chinese military band arrives for celebrations in Beijing, China, on 1 July 2021, to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China. (Wang Zhao/AFP)

According to the agenda revealed at the Political Bureau meeting, the upcoming sixth plenary session will “study the issue of comprehensively reviewing the major achievements made and the historical experience accumulated during the Party’s 100 years of endeavour”.  

The Political Bureau stated that the CPC must attempt to understand why the party succeeded in the past 100 years and know how it can sustain the success in the future so that the party can firmly and consciously fulfil its original intention and founding mission and better uphold and promote socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.

There have been two plenary sessions in the history of the CPC that also dealt with historical issues and passed two influential “historic resolutions”.

During the seventh plenary session of the 6th CPC Central Committee in 1945, the “Resolution on Certain Issues in the History of the CPC”* was passed. This resolution summarised the experience gained and lessons learnt by the party since the founding of the party in 1921 to 1945 and criticised both leftist and rightist mistakes and tendencies. It expounded on the tenets of Mao Zedong Thought from the perspectives of politics, military, organisation, and political thought, thereby strengthening the guiding position of Mao Zedong Thought during the 7th National Congress of the CPC and the core position of Mao.

During the sixth plenary session of the 11th CPC Central Committee in 1981, the “Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of the CPC Since the Founding of the People's Republic of China”* was passed. This resolution mainly reviewed the historical lessons of the Anti-Rightist Movement, Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution and so on, following the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.  

Chinese President Xi Jinping waves at the celebration marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China in Beijing, China, on 1 July 2021. (Wang Zhao/AFP)
Chinese President Xi Jinping waves at the celebration marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China in Beijing, China, on 1 July 2021. (Wang Zhao/AFP)

Peking University School of International Studies lecturer Yang Zhaohui told Zaobao, “The two resolutions and the changes that they have brought about can be seen as two leaps in the history of the CPC. They had a huge role to play in solidifying the CPC’s ruling position and its leading role in spearheading China’s achievements”     

The upcoming sixth plenary session will be the next time since the sixth plenary session of the 11th CPC Central Committee in 1981 that the CPC will be meeting in a plenary setting to discuss historical issues.

A new tailor-made ‘resolution’ for the incumbent leader following two precedents?

Prof Yang said: “At this point in time, to revisit the CPC’s achievements and experience over the past 100 years might lead to a new ‘resolution’ catering to the current leaders, just like the previous two ‘resolutions’.”

A longtime CPC observer and analyst also told Zaobao that the sixth plenary session is expected to heavily publicise the CPC’s achievements over the past 100 years, highlight some experiences, and set a clear direction for the next 100 years, but the document may not be called a “resolution”.

He said: “A resolution is a conclusion to unresolved historical issues, but the CPC currently does not have any historical issues that need to be resolved urgently.”

“The focus will be on the CPC’s achievements and experience after reform and opening up, especially in the new Xi Jinping era, rather than previous mistakes and lessons.” - longtime CPC observer and analyst

100th anniversary
The Chinese flag is seen on a skyscraper in Shanghai at dusk on 31 August 2021, part of celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. (Greg Baker/AFP)

Attention on whether the June Fourth incident and others will be defined

During its 100th anniversary celebrations, the CPC stressed that it objected to “historical nihilism” — referring to viewpoints and interpretations of history that it deems to be incorrect. There is attention on how the authorities will assess the Cultural Revolution and other CPC missteps, and whether controversial incidents after 1981, such as the June Fourth Tiananmen incident, will be defined. 

The aforementioned CPC analyst believes that the CPC will not make major changes to the historical assessments of the two previous resolutions, and the authorities will stick to calling it the “political turmoil between the Spring and Summer of 1989” (1989年春夏之交的政治风波), and will not revive the term “counter-revolutionary riot” (反革命暴乱).

He said the CPC’s two resolutions were mainly to resolve historical issues, but this time it is to look forward. “The focus will be on the CPC’s achievements and experience after reform and opening up, especially in the new Xi Jinping era, rather than previous mistakes and lessons.”

“This time, if there is only praise without reflection, it will be very different from the previous two resolutions.” - Yang Zhaohui, lecturer, School of International Studies, Peking University

Prof Yang felt that the two previous resolutions summarised historical experiences and were strongly critical in their deep reflections on the CPC’s problems and errors. “This time, if there is only praise without reflection, it will be very different from the previous two resolutions.”

mao zedong
This photo taken on 27 May 2021 shows veterans posing for photographs in front of a bronze statue of late Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong at a square in Shaoshan, in China's central Hunan province. (Jade Gao/AFP)

Note:

*Two key resolutions in the history of the Communist Party of China:

Resolution on Certain Issues in the History of the CPC (adopted by the Seventh Plenary Session of the 6th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, 1945)

This was the first systematic summary of the CPC’s historical experience. The resolution summarised the lessons of leftist and rightist mistakes over the 20 years since the founding of the party.

The resolution set out the basic tenets of Mao Zedong Thought in terms of politics, military, organisation, and political thought, thereby strengthening the guiding position of Mao Zedong Thought during the 7th National Congress of the CPC and the core position of Mao.

Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of the CPC Since the Founding of the People's Republic of China (adopted by the Sixth Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, 1981)

The resolution summarised the historical lessons since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, such as from the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, and set the direction for China’s reform and opening up. The resolution defined the Cultural Revolution as “initiated by a leader labouring under a misapprehension and capitalised on by counter-revolutionary cliques, (which) led to domestic turmoil and brought catastrophe to the Party, the state and the whole people”.

The resolution assessed Mao Zedong’s historical achievements and errors, as well as the historical position of Mao Zedong Thought. It also criticised the "'Left' errors in the guiding ideology that Comrade Hua Guofeng continued to commit in his capacity as chairman of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party”. Hua was relieved of his duties at that session.

Related: China idol: Mao Zedong makes a comeback among Chinese youth | The most outstanding of CCP leaders? | The return of Mao-era practices: New threat to China's political and economic modernisation | A secretive centenary celebration: Can the CCP be more open? | 'Red peril' or benign power: How different is China's CCP from USSR's CPSU? | Rise of China's CCP and demise of USSR's CPSU: A tale of two communist parties