A controversial essay by Chinese President Hu Jintao may be more about the leadership's concerns about their own rule than about clashing with the West
Hu meets with U.S. business leaders in Honolulu / AP
On the first day of 2012, Chinese President Hu Jintao published an essay on culture in a Communist Party journal, Seeking Truth. The language, lifted from Hu's speech at a party plenum on "promoting culture" in October last year, has been interpreted as largely hostile toward the "west" and its machinations to divide China. Here's Ed Wong of the New York Times on this:
The essay, which was signed by Mr. Hu and based on a speech he gave in October, drew a sharp line between the cultures of the West and China and effectively said the two sides were engaged in an escalating war. It was published in Seeking Truth, a magazine that evolved from a publication founded by Mao Zedong as a platform for establishing Communist Party principles.
"We must clearly see that international hostile forces are intensifying the strategic plot of Westernizing and dividing China, and ideological and cultural fields are the focal areas of their long-term infiltration," Mr. Hu said, according to a translation by The Associated Press.
And the Wall Street Journal seems to accuse Hu of launching a "new cultural revolution":
No, it won't be as destructive as the original, in which Mao Zedong brought China to its knees in the late 1960s and early '70s. But his successor Hu Jintao has launched another culture-rectification campaign with goals that Mao would recognize: step up ideological struggle and fight back against Western encroachments.
Hu's words were largely construed as a call for a "culture war" against the amorphous West (see a sensible take from China Geeks on just how Beijing would wage this coming battle) or as an indication that the leadership will tighten domestic censorship and speech. That the Chinese president's opening salvo made western audiences recoil did not go unnoticed in China. The Culture Minister responded on Wednesday by stating that 2012's "culture work" is not a "great leap forward," clearly attempting to defuse any fears of a repeat of the Cultural Revolution, which saw millions killed from 1966 to 1976. It's all about promoting soft power, stupid, says the Culture Minister -- an eerie and Orwellian label.
I have a bit of a different take on Hu's politically charged essay. I am of the view that the "politics" of it are predominantly aimed at the Communist Party itself rather than an abstract "external enemy," in this case the West or specifically the United States. It serves as a warning to both current party members and incoming leaders to remain vigilant, not simply because it is a political transition year but because of the existential fear that peaceful evolution (和平演变) may just be around the corner. Indeed, one of the longstanding fears for the party-state is not that it will go out with a bang but that it will fold quietly in a whimper of irrelevance.