How to Read Communist China’s Upcoming ‘Historical Resolution’

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The planned unveiling of a “historical resolution” at the Chinese Communist Party’s plenary session next month has elicited comparisons between Xi Jinping, the regime’s current leader, and his powerful predecessors.

From Nov. 8 to Nov. 11, Xi and other top officials will review the draft of the resolution, which according to state media will “focus on the CCP’s major achievements and historical experiences” since its founding 100 years ago in 1921.

A historical resolution is a rare event, with only two such documents issued in the Party’s century-long history. The first was promulgated in 1945 by Mao Zedong, who took over the communist movement prior to World War II; the second by Deng Xiaoping in 1981, who used his resolution to repudiate Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

Analysts have said that the CCP’s third historical resolution would perform a similar role—cementing political power—for Xi Jinping. It would put him on par with Mao and Deng, leaders regarded as having established their dominance over the Chinese regime, as well as the ability to reinterpret the Party’s history.

Yuri Momoi, China bureau chief of Japan’s Nikkei Asia, wrote in an Oct. 24 commentary that the resolution “is expected to all but ensure Xi wins a rare third term at the Communist Party congress next fall.” She also described historical resolutions as a powerful tool “to reshape China’s political landscape.”

But some China watchers question whether Xi’s historical resolution could have such an effect, given the shaky grounds on which both his political authority and the regime itself now stand.

Show of Strength, or a Weak Echo? 

Mao’s historical resolution, which addressed “certain historical questions,” was made at the end of the Yan’an Rectification Movement (1942–1945), a harrowing political campaign in which torture, forced confessions, and constant indoctrination successfully established Mao as the undisputed leader of the communist movement.

By Leo Timm

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