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Why Xi Jinping Thought Is a Threat to China's Future

14 Aug 2018

James A. Dorn

This year marks the 40th anniversary of China’s opening to the
outside world in 1978. Following the disastrous Cultural Revolution
and Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, economic development, not class
struggle, became the primary aim of the Chinese Communist Party
(CCP). Deng Xiaoping allowed experimentation with market-based
alternatives to central planning, and for a while it appeared that
economic liberalization would help create a free market in ideas
with greater debate on political as well as economic issues. That
hope is rapidly disappearing with the rising power of China’s
president for life, Xi Jinping.

A new “little red” book, Thirty Chapters about Xi Jinping
Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New
compiled by the Publicity Department of the CCP’s Central
Committee, presents the politically correct view on Chinese-style
socialism. The book is being widely distributed within China, but
there is little room for serious debate. As the China
notes, the book “explains that Xi Jinping Thought is the
guiding thought that the Party and the country must follow
in the long run.”

Xi Jinping Thought is a 14-point manifesto to ensure CCP
“leadership over all forms of work.” It promises “continuation of
‘comprehensive deepening of reforms’ ”; propagates the long-held
myth that under “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” the
“people” are “the masters of the country”; asserts that China
should be governed by “the rule of law”; reinforces the post-Maoist
idea that “the primary goal of development” is to improve “people’s
livelihood and well-being”; and advocates creating “a peaceful
international environment.”

In March 2018, the National People’s Congress, by a vote of
2,958 to 2 (with 3 abstentions), added “Xi Jinping Thought” to the
Preamble of the PRC’s Constitution, alongside “Marxism-Leninism,
Mao Zedong Thought, and Deng Xiaoping Theory.” At the same time,
the NPC amended Article 1 by adding: “The defining feature of
socialism with Chinese characteristics is the leadership of the
Communist Party of China.”

China’s institutional
infrastructure is weaker than it might appear at first

If President Xi actually allowed the common people to be
“masters of the country,” adopted a genuine rule of law to limit
the power of government and safeguard persons and property —
including freedom of thought — then he would truly transform
China. Yet his actions and growing power do not instill much
confidence that the Middle Kingdom will couple economic freedom
with limited government and protect basic human rights. Indeed,
since Xi took over as paramount leader, economic reform has stalled
or even regressed, and suppression of human rights has

Liu Xiaobo’s dream for “a future free China” looks dim. As a
signatory to Charter 08, he was imprisoned and not allowed to
receive the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize in person, and his wife, Liu
Xia, was put under house arrest for eight years. The empty seat at
the Nobel ceremony was a stark reminder that although China is the
largest trading nation in the world, it ranks near the bottom in
terms of a free market for ideas.

Without open debate and competition in a free market for ideas,
the probability of big errors increases dramatically. China learned
that lesson under Mao’s central planning and control. That is why
Article 45 of the PRC’s 1978 Constitution guaranteed individuals
“the right to speak out freely, air their views fully, hold great
debates and write big-character posters.”

Those “four big rights” were ended in 1980, and no longer appear
in the Constitution. They ended because the CCP has a monopoly of
power and to maintain that power the ruling elite must not let
liberalization in the market for goods and services spillover to
the market for ideas. All individual rights in China are suppressed
by the power of the state, as represented by the vanguard of the

Today, the PRC Constitution declares: “Citizens of the People’s
Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of
assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration”
(Article 35). It also states that “freedom of the person of
citizens … is inviolable” (Article 37). Yet the reality is much

The CCP’s Constitution continues to hold that “the highest ideal
and ultimate goal of the Party” is “the realization of communism.”
In truth, the Party’s monopoly on power is maintained through the
suppression of a free market in ideas. Any criticism of the CCP is
dealt with swiftly with no effective due process and no independent
judiciary. In a country without a just rule of law and the free
flow of information, there is little trust in government and much
fear with regard to one’s security. Those cracks in the
institutional infrastructure will put a drag on China’s future
development and cause untold misery.

James A. Dorn is a senior fellow and China specialist at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C.

Click here to view the full article which appeared in CATO Journal