Conceptual understanding of the Chinese dream

Conceptual understanding of the Chinese dream

Chinese dream

Chinese dream

Dr. Sinha M. A. Sayeed
‘Dreams inspire and propel us. Philosophers, politicians, writers and musicians have been saying so for centuries.
“Hope is a waking dream,” Aristotle once wrote. “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one,” John Lennon famously sang, and Shakespeare observed that “we are such stuff as dreams are made on. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech became the catchphrase of the American civil rights movement, and Walt Disney built an empire by creating dream worlds. US presidents are fond of evoking the “American Dream” concept to convince people that they control their own destinies (
Historically enough, America has a dream called American Dream, for India it is Indian Dream (India Doctrine) and for Bangladesh it is named Golden Bangladesh and so on. Shouldn’t China from her standpoints have a one after the same mood and spirit? If it is so then what’s that very dream? Yes, it is phrased as ‘China Dream (zhongguo meng (ÖйúÃÎ)”. Xi Jinping, President of China, first mentioned the term “the Chinese dream” during his tour of an exhibit at the National Museum of China on 29 November 2012, shortly after he became leader of the Chinese Communist Party. That exhibit is called the Road to National Rejuvenation, and Xi said the Chinese dream is the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. Then on March 17, 2013, Xi fully spelled out his thoughts about the Chinese dream in his first public speech as the newly elected president of China. Asking is ‘What is Chinese Dream
The Chinese Dream is, in fact, a novel idiom within Chinese socialist thought and describes a set of ideals in the People’s Republic of China. Xi narrated it saying “The Chinese dream is the dream of the whole nation, as well as of every individual. The Chinese dream, after all, is the dream of the people. We must realise it by closely depending on the people, and we must incessantly bring benefits to the people’’. Therefore, Chinese Dream would become the seal of his administration since he asserted, it is “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. China started promoting and proliferating the phrase as a jingle, leading to its all-embracing exercise in the Chinese media. He has avowed that young people should “dare to dream, work assiduously to fulfill the dreams and contribute to the revitalisation of the nation.” According to Qiush, the party’s theoretical journal, the Chinese Dream is about Chinese prosperity, collective effort. From pragmatic standpoints, Xi’s Chinese Dream is described as achieving the “Two 100s”: the material goal of China becoming a “moderately well-off society” by 2021, the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, and the modernisation goal of China becoming a fully developed nation by about 2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic. It is otherwise a pointer of what French sinologist David Gosset calls “Modern China”, “Civilisation China” and “Global China”. The Communist Party’s propaganda chief, Liu Yunshan, has meanwhile directed that the concept of the Chinese dream be incorporated into school textbooks. Today it is at large used by journalists, government officials, and activists to describe the role of the individual in Chinese society.
Robert Lawrence Kuhn, an international investment banker and the author of “How China’s Leaders Think: The Inside Story of China’s Reform and What This Means for the Future,” holds that the Chinese Dream has four parts: Strong China (economically, politically, diplomatically, scientifically, militarily); Civilised China (equity and fairness, rich culture, high morals); Harmonious China (amity among social classes); Beautiful China (healthy environment, low pollution). He further states that “a moderately well-off society” is where all citizens, rural and urban, enjoy high standards of living. This includes doubling the 2010 G.D.P. per capita (approaching $10,000 per person) by about 2020 and completing urbanisation (roughly one billion people, 70 percent of China’s population) by about 2030. “Modernisation” means China regaining its position as a world leader in science and technology as well as in economics and business; the resurgence of Chinese civilisation, culture and military might; and China participating actively in all areas of human endeavor.
According to Xinhua, a government news agency, the Chinese dream “suddenly became a hot topic among commentators at home and abroad”. Question is ‘where did the slogan originate from?’ Interestingly enough, it is, perhaps, the New York Times. In October, 2013, in the run up to Mr Xi’s ascension, the Times ran a column by Thomas Friedman entitled “China Needs Its Own Dream”. Mr Friedman said that if Mr Xi’s dream for China’s emerging middle-class was just like the American dream (“a big car, a big house and Big Macs for all”) then “another planet” would be looked-for. Instead he urged Mr Xi to come up with “a new Chinese dream that marries people’s expectations of prosperity with a more sustainable China.” When Mr Xi began to use the phrase, Globe, a magazine published by Xinhua, called Mr Xi’s Chinese-dream idea “the best response to Friedman”.
Strictly speaking, author Helen H. Wang— based on over 100 interviews of the new members of the middle class in China— published her first book ‘The Chinese Dream’ in 2010. In the book, Wang did not conceptually define the Chinese Dream. Moderately, she conveyed hopes and dreams of Chinese people through intimate portrays of this growing demographics. The book has won Eric Hoffer Book Awards. In 2011, it was translated into Chinese and published in China. In 2012, the 2nd edition of The Chinese Dream with Foreword by Lord Wei was out. In the Foreword, Lord Wei noted:
“The Chinese Dream today as portrayed in Helen’s book speaks of a changing China that is discovering consumerism, that is increasingly globalised, and also at a cross roads. Will her path in years to come continue to be one that resembles that of Western countries with all the benefits of further urbanisation, wealth, and industrialisation, but at the same time challenges in managing scarce resources, population migration, and the social problems that affluence can bring, elsewhere called ‘Affluenza’? Or will the Chinese people themselves inside and outside China create a new sustainable Chinese Dream, based on their ancient values of respect for culture, family, and nature, harnessing technology and creativity?
It is firmly understood that Xi is respectful and mindful of more than 5000 years of continuous Chinese culture and his reference to Confucianism is noteworthy as well. Confucianism, an ethical and philosophical system that stresses hierarchy and obedience, was China’s official state ideology during imperial times, which lasted almost until the opening of the 20th century. It was despised by the Communist Party during its first decades in power, and on the whole targeted during Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, but Xi has long approvingly alluded the sage. Since taking office two years ago, Xi has also coined the concept of the “Chinese dream,” describing it as “national rejuvenation, improvement of people’s livelihoods, prosperity, construction of a better society and military strengthening.”
The Chinese dream, strongly it is held, draws on the nutrients from China’s exceptional traditional culture and the teachings of Confucius. In one of his most high-profile endorsements of Confucianism to date, Xi delivered the keynote speech at an International Confucian Association meeting in Beijing’s hallowed Great Hall of the People to commemorate the 2,565th anniversary of the sage’s birth in September. “Excellent traditional Chinese culture, including Confucianism, contains important implications for solving problems faced by humanity now,” he said. The Confucian concepts being promoted under Xi are a romanticised ideal crafted by the Communist Party and not open to discussion or further interpretations, said Jyrki Kallio, a senior research fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs. “Xi seems to believe that Confucianism is something that can strengthen and sustain his own standing in China,” noted he.
There is no denying the truth that the concept of Chinese Dream is incredibly corresponding to the idea of the “American Dream”. The China Dream has been defined very differently, as the dream of “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Rather than celebrating individual aspiration and endeavor, the China Dream emphasises a collective effort from all Chinese people in step by step achieving China’s yearning for a “great rejuvenation” in the 21st century. While both “dreams” hope for success through hard work, the American Dream stresses the spirit of freedom and social mobility, while the China Dream (whereas it incorporates individual dreams) pinpoints unity and stability. Also, the China Dream is unique to the Chinese people. Contrasting the American Dream, it speaks only to the members of the Chinese nation and is not meant to be adopted by the world. As a facet of political thought in contemporary China, the appearance of Chinese Dream indicates a diversion of political ideology from egalitarianism to a relatively more liberal individualist approach. It is worth noting that the concept is still based on collectivism rather than individualism for it sees the subject of Chinese Dream as the people of China as a whole instead of specific individual hero/heroine.
It’s indecent to argue over which dream is “better.” Different cultures have cultivated different values, beliefs, and different political cultures, which cannot be judged with a single meta-narrative. Obviously, the China Dream is different from the American Dream, but that does not necessarily lead to an inevitable clash between these two dreams or even these two states and cultures. In fact, their very differences might make it possible for the two to co-exist. “Seeking common ground while reserving differences” is a core value and principle of China’s culture and its foreign policy as well, and it certainly is a core value that is deeply embedded in the idea of China Dream.
‘While the concept of China Dream has been applauded enthusiastically at home, people outside of China have struggled to ascertain the precise meaning of Xi’s statement. This is unfortunate because the Chinese Dream is essential for understanding how a “rising” China views itself and its role in the world. Failure to understand its meaning will thus heighten the chances for misunderstanding, with potentially devastating consequences for all parties involved.
Although outsiders almost always speak of China’s “rise,” the Chinese like to refer to their impressive recent achievements and future planned development as “rejuvenation” (fuxing). The use of that word underscores an important point: the Chinese view their fortunes as a return to greatness and not a rise from nothing. In fact, rejuvenation is deeply rooted in Chinese history and the national experience, especially with regard to the so-called “century of national humiliation” that began with the First Opium War (1839–1842) and lasted through the end of the Sino-Japanese War in 1945. China’s memory of this period as a time when it was attacked, bullied, and torn asunder by imperialists serves as the foundation for its modern identity and purpose.
As Norwegian scholar Johan Galtung has noted, key historical events are critical in defining a group’s identity and determining how that group behaves in conflict situations. Galtung argues that the three forces of chosenness (the idea of being a people chosen by transcendental forces), trauma, and myths combine to form a country’s Chosenness–Myths–Trauma (CMT) complex. This CMT complex is an extremely useful tool for understanding the rationale behind many of China’s actions (’.
Notwithstanding anything contained in the Dream, it is not free from scores of criticisms and underestimations by those who feel and realise that the CCP has a long tradition of providing its people with a rosy picture of the future. ‘Xi’s Chinese Dream narrative is therefore like old wine in a new bottle with the dream’s name supplanting Mao’s realisation of socialism and communism, Deng’s invigoration of China, Jiang’s national rejuvenation and Hu’s harmonious society. With the rising complaints and unrest from the grassroots level about social inequity, Xi Jinping and the Party have also made special efforts to connect the Chinese Dream with the Chinese public. Instead of only emphasising the Chinese Dream as the goal for the country and the government, Xi endeavored to convince the general public that the dream was also for each individual Chinese. And the realisation of this dream for the country would be the catalyst for the realisation of the dream for the individual, including housing, employment, public health, education and environment. Thus, the Chinese public could feel connected with the Chinese Dream narrative.
As we can see, Xi’s Chinese Dream continues the CCP’s tradition of providing the people with a rosy and attractive future dream. The names and contents of the different narratives may differ, but the most important message of all these narratives from different periods remains the same: the Party wants the people to believe that only under the leadership of the CCP can the dream of a better life be realised. As Mao Zedong declared, “Only the CCP can save China!” Jiang Zemin stated, “Only the CCP can rejuvenate China!” And Xi Jinping recently said, “We 1.3 billion Chinese people should bear in mind the mission, unite as one.” To make Chinese people believe this message is the dream that generations of the CCP leaders have dreamed (’.
It is also held by many that the Chinese dream indicates a shift in the rhetoric of the Communist Party. Previously each loyal citizen was to sacrifice himself or herself on behalf of society. Now, individuality is allowed a slightly stronger emphasis than before. The Chinese dream is a daydream. It is impossible to fulfil for any worker individually unless he joins hands with colleagues to fight for better conditions. But that is not the dream of our president (
Here the concept of Tianxia (tien-hsia; Chinese: 天下; literally: “under heaven”) is very relevant and reckoning. It is a Chinese language word and an ancient Chinese cultural concept that denoted either the entire geographical world or the metaphysical realm of mortals, and later became associated with political sovereignty.
In primeval China, tianxia denoted the lands, space, and area divinely appointed to the Emperor by universal and well-defined principles of order. The center of this land that was directly apportioned to the Imperial court was called Huaxia(Chinese: 華夏), among other names, forming the center of a world view that centered on the Imperial court and went concentrically outward to major and minor officials and then the common citizens, and finally ending with the fringe “barbarians”. The centre of this world view was not exclusionary in nature, and outer groups, such as ethnic minorities and foreign people, who accepted the mandate of the Chinese Emperor were themselves received and included into the Chinese tianxia.
In classical Chinese political thought, the Emperor of China (Chinese: 天子), having received the Mandate of Heaven, would nominally be the ruler of the entire world. Although in practice there would be areas of the known world which were not under the control of the Emperor, in Chinese political theory the rulers of those areas derived their power from the Emperor.
The larger concept of tianxia is closely associated with civilisation and order in classical Chinese philosophy, and has formed the basis for the world view of the Chinese people and nations influenced by them since at least the first millennium BC. Tianxia has been independently applied by other countries in the East Asian cultural sphere, including Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.
Here attention needs to be paid as expected to the reality that ‘Mr. Xi’s self-assurance is not surprising, but his words and deeds betray a deep vein of insecurity. The talk of 1.3 billion people dreaming the same “Chinese dream” can’t hide the fact that China’s leaders continue to be plagued by nightmares not unlike those that haunted them in 1989. It was under Mr. Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, in office from 2002 to 2012, that growth rates soared, the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, with their high-tech venues and soaring ceremonies, wowed global audiences, and China launched a flashy space program. Mr. Xi has gone further even than Mr. Hu in trying to show that symbols of the old and the new, the classical and the revolutionary, Confucius and Mao, can be synthesised.
Beijing’s handling of the Hong Kong situation was the latest illustration of the party’s fear that its grip on the national rejuvenation package is weaker than outsiders sometimes imagine. It made the Communist Party profoundly uneasy to watch Hong Kong youth show such creativity and determination and demonstrate so clearly how misleading it is for Mr. Xi to claim that “each Chinese person” is capable of dreaming only the party’s authoritarian dream. Thus the lurch from bravado to paranoia..
One of Chairman Mao’s favorite words was “contradictions,” and today’s China is riddled with them: rule by a party that is nominally Communist, but embraces consumerism and welcomes entrepreneurs into its ranks; widespread unease about the environmental, social and even moral consequences of growth; deep insecurity in the ranks of a party that outwardly brims with confidence. The dark side of the Chinese dream — the negative fantasy that haunts China’s psyche — explains why Mr. Xi, the strongest Chinese leader since Deng, is so skittish, so ready to jump at shadows. (The Elusive Chinese Dream, 26 December 2014, New York Times, Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, professor of history at the University of California, Irvine, and the author, most recently, of “China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know)’.
‘All politics is cultural, just like all politics is local. While individualism has prevailed in Western societies and political cultures for hundreds of years, China has a strong tradition of collectivism and even authoritarianism. Collectivism and the spirit of unity have virtually dominated Chinese culture, society, and politics for thousands of years, ever since the time of Confucius (551-479 BCE). Chinese culture, or in a larger sense Chinese civilisation, helped cast and shape China’s unique contemporary domestic politics and its political culture. Underpinning Chinese contemporary politics are a great number of traditional values and beliefs such as the importance of order, reverence for authority, the virtue of rulers, and most importantly, collectivism or unity.
These cultural backgrounds determine political perceptions and ideals. Many Westerners view the state as a “necessary evil” and believe that individuals should constantly remain alert in their efforts to confine and try to contain the beast. By contrast, the traditional Chinese view sees the state as an extended and (more importantly) a united family to which they should show their love and reverence. In fact, the word for country in Chinese, guojia, combines the characters for kingdom (guo 国) and family (jia 家). Based on this cultural perspective, one difference becomes clear: the China Dream is “our dream”; the American Dream is “my dream (”.
In the article “The Real “Chinese Dream”: Control of the South China Sea?” Bonnie S. Glaser observed “While bureaucratic competition among numerous maritime actors is likely a factor that is contributing to tension and uncertainty in the South China Sea, as Linda Jakobson argues in her report China’s Unpredictable Maritime Security Actors, it is probably not the biggest source of instability. Rather, China’s determination to advance its sovereignty claims and expand its control over the South China Sea is the primary challenge. Xi Jinping has clearly signaled that “protection of maritime rights and interests” and “resolutely safeguarding territorial sovereignty” are high priorities, which should be pursued even as China seeks to preserve stability and maintain good relations with its neighbors. At the recently concluded Central Foreign Affairs Work Conference Xi additionally emphasised that China should not “relinquish our legitimate rights and interests or sacrifice’ China’s ‘core interests.’
As Jakobson relates, uncoordinated actions by local entities have occasionally created policy confusion, for example by releasing competing maps of the nation’s South China Sea claims. However, China’s most assertive and destabilising actions have appeared to be well coordinated, including the placement of the HYSY-981 oil rig in waters disputed with Vietnam earlier this year and extensive land reclamation projects that are underway in the South China Sea(
For her overall marching onward, China needs also to be careful about her maritime strategies, projections and applications under the theme of Chinese Dream. Curiously enough, Lowy Institute Nonresident Fellow Linda Jakobson in her study ‘China’s unpredictable maritime security actors’ argues:
China’s recent assertive actions in the maritime domain are not part of a grand strategy to coerce China’s neighbours in a tailored manner.
The restructuring of China’s maritime law enforcement agencies, announced in March 2013, led to a power struggle between the State Oceanic Administration and the Ministry of Public Security. Consequently, genuine integration of the new China Coast Guard has not yet taken place.
The People’s Liberation Army could be taking a more active role as coordinator of maritime law enforcement in China’s near seas (
Yes, despite all such negative landscapes, there is every possibility for Chinese Dream to get encouraged by this very Tianxia otherwise in a broader perspective, of course, whether it is officially or unofficially signaled by the Communist Party of China and, as a result, concepts such as string of pearls and silk roads (in its modern connotation) deserve to be an added force under the circumstances, appropriating or not. Here China’s U-turn from Deng Xiaoping’s foreign policy dictum “hide its strength and bide its time” (taoguang yanghui),– Deng’s low-key approach to foreign affairs—to Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping’s announcement in January 2014 ‘China should be “proactive” (fenfa you wei)’ is a pointer indeed. This is the equivalent of China moving from first gear into second; and like second gear, the pace of this new foreign policy can sometimes be jagged. Relevant compulsion is that China also needs to take care of down-to-earth approach to the development of professional diplomacy in the domain of her foreign policy.
Let us pay due attention to the reality that China is now the number-1 world economic power having the 21st century in right perspective, vision and mission. Let us not forget even for a moment that America with American Dream, India with Indian Dream and Japan with Japanese Dream (since Japan is moving fast to enrich her defence stocks and strategies deviating and sliding gradually from the post world war two embargo) shall never sit idle to ensure their respective and/or joint dominance in Asia covering Indian Ocean in particular.
[Dr. Sinha M. A. Sayeed, Chairman of Leadership Studies Foundation, member of International Political Science Association, writer and columnist at, Bangladesh]


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