Today, while you are doing more important things, a crucial gathering took place in Beijing that could point the direction China will take over the next six years — and, even more crucially, who will take it there.

Your average China watcher or foreign correspondent gives understandable priority to those most obviously significant gatherings of Party decision-makers; to the regular plenum sessions, and of course to the National Party Congress, that reshuffle of leadership that rolls around with choreographed dullness every five years.

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Photo: People’s Daily.

By comparison, July 1 anniversaries of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party may seem as immaterial as they are tedious — occasions for Party leaders to toast themselves and gild a political tradition they have already told us is a lily.

But ever since the 60th anniversary of the CCP in 1981, right at the outset of reform and opening, July 1 celebrations on five and ten-year cycles have been important clues to what will happen at the National Party Congress. This was true in 2001, before the 16th Party Congress, and in 2006 and 2011, before the 17th and 18th congresses.

The main event at these celebrations is the “important speech” delivered by the president, which can define the political direction for the big meeting. Moreover, the July 1 celebrations are often an occasion to trot out new potential candidates for the inner leadership circle.

Just a warning to start that preliminary analysis is, well, preliminary. With that caveat out there, allow me to share some initial thoughts on Xi Jinping’s July 1 speech to commemorate the 95th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party.

First off, we should note that there is no fresh (or freshly insistent) language in this speech that might indicate a direction for the 19th Party Congress next year. On that count, this speech should suggest to us that preparation work for the 19th Party Congress — and I mean that in the broadest sense, from personnel to policy — is still very much in progress.

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“Spread positive energy and build the China Dream” is a propaganda strategy under the leadership of Xi Jinping. Photo:

One thing we can note in particular is that there is no banner term, or qihao(旗号), in this speech. That means, again, that Xi Jinping’s core agenda is not yet taking shape around a central rallying phrase — as we had with Jiang Zemin’s “Three Represents” (三个代表) and Hu Jintao’s “Scientific Outlook on Development” (科学发展观). In fact, Xi Jinping has been extremely productive in his creation of Party discourse, with new phrases like the “Chinese Dream,” “public opinion struggle” and “positive energy.” But nothing yet has become a viable candidate as a unifying Xi Jinping concept.

I suspect we eventually will get our Xi Jinping banner term. But the fact that we don’t have it today means it is still either in the oven or on the kneading table — and that means a degree of uncertainty.

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China’s President Xi Jinping in Beijing, March 3, 2015. Photo: REUTERS/Jason Lee.

Moving on, what can we say about the ideological quality of Xi Jinping’s language today? First off, I would say that there is nothing outstandingly hardline in the overall tone and texture of the speech. The bulk of the speech comprises what we call “light red” terminologies, meaning mainstream Party stock phrases that are not particularly conservative, such as “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

To signal a notable leftward shift, we would look for terms like “public opinion struggle,” “ideological struggle,” or “connecting the two 30 years” (打通两个30年), the last being Xi Jinping’s phrase about the need to accept the value of the first 30 years of CCP rule (including the Cultural Revolution) as much as the second 30 years (of economic reform). We don’t have many of these terms, what we would call “deep red” terms, in today’s speech.

Qian Gang’s spectrum for Chinese political discourse, with “deep red” terms (Maoist/leftist) on the far left, mainstream discourse in light red, non-taboo reform liberal language in light blue, and prohibited language (like “separation of powers”) in dark blue.

However, we should note that the conservative phrase “Four Basic Principles,” or sixiang jiben yuanze (四项基本原则), does appear. For what it’s worth, the phrase was not included in Hu Jintao’s speech for the 90th anniversary back in 2011. So that is new, but we’re treading here into very fine points.

If we look for what we call “blue terms,” those that are more reform-minded — like “constitutionalism,” “civil society” or “political reform” — we are unfortunately not rewarded. The closest we come in the speech to blue territory is when Xi Jinping mentions the constitution:

[We] must secure and establish the authority of the constitution and law throughout society, promoting the spirit of the constitution; any organisation or individual must operate within the scope of the constitution and law, and none can have special rights superseding the constitution and law.

Yes, the constitutional language is there. But it is lukewarm at best. Not at all approaching the level of priority Xi gave to such language in his December 2012 speech commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Constitution’s implementation, in which he spoke of the need to “rule the nation in accord with the constitution” (依宪治国) and “govern in accord with the constitution” (依宪执政). (Read Qian Gang’s analysis of these terms here.)

To recap my key takeaway here, I would say that the failure of this speech to commit to an identifying discourse or program suggests some uncertainty at this point over the direction of the 19th Party Congress.

What does that tell us about Xi Jinping’s standing? Not a great deal, actually. But within the toned-down language of this speech, there are still hints of the aspiring chief-of-everything.

Remember the language of “Xi as the core” that emerged earlier this year? In the past few months, we haven’t seen such language used with the same confidence. But in today’s speech we have this passage:

We must strengthen and regulate political life within the Party, being stricter in the political discipline and political standards of the Party, increasing political spirit, the spirit of the times, the spirit of principle and the spirit of struggle within the political life of the Party, fully cleansing the political ecology within the Party. All comrades in the Party must increase their political consciousness, their consciousness of the overall situation and their consciousness of the core (核心意识) . . . fully achieving respect for the Party, concern for the Party, responsibility for the Party and duty toward the Party.

“Consciousness of the core” can refer to only one person. You get seven guesses — and the first six don’t count.

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That’s it for the analysis for now. But I will leave you with a few idle observations based on the broadcast of today’s speech. Also, don’t miss the partial translation of the speech down below.

It’s fascinating to note how well-scripted these political events are in their public presentation. We know, for example that the current Politburo Standing Committee includes the following 7 members, with Xi Jinping and the top and the others in descending order of importance:

  1. Xi Jinping
  2. Li Keqiang
  3. Zhang Dejiang
  4. Yu Zhengsheng
  5. Liu Yunshan
  6. Wang Qishan
  7. Zhang Gaoli

Here are screen grabs of all of the Standing Committee members as they appear in cutaways in the official broadcast, which you can view here.

Politburo Standing Committee members in order of appearance in official broadcast of Xi Jinping’s July 1 speech. From left to right: Li Keqiang, Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Liu Yunshan, Wang Qishan, Zhang Gaoli.

So no surprises in the lineup of Standing Committee members, which is as we would expect.

To experience the full joys to the scripted Party event, we encourage readers to grab some popcorn and keep an eye out for the tiny hiccups that count for noteworthy events. For example, Yu Zhengsheng having a quick nap before being suddenly brought to attention (Do they have zappers in their seats?). Or this poor woman at 5:36 who is caught on camera fiddling with her mobile phone before hastily tossing it into her desk. We should note that the red book in front of is a “Certificate of Excellence in a Party Member.”

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The following is a partial translation of Xi Jinping’s speech, which was released around 1pm Friday. This is roughly one-quarter of the speech and is a preamble of sorts setting the context and tone of his remarks.

Comrades and friends! Today we gather here solemnly to celebrate the 95th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, and to the glorious course of the unremitting struggle on which the Chinese Communist Party has united in leading China; to look ahead to the bright future of the endeavours of the Party and the people; to celebrate the excellent members of the CCP across the country, the excellent workers (工作者) of the Party, the advanced grassroots Party organisations — and to mobilise the various peoples of the entire Party and the entire nation in surging forward with confidence toward the objective of our struggle, which is realising the full building of a moderately well-off society (全面建成小康社会), moving forward victoriously toward the realisation of the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people (中华民族伟大复兴的中国梦).

Comrades and friends! Over several thousand years of historical development, the Chinese people created a long and splendid civilisation (悠久灿烂的中华文明), making outstanding contributions to humankind, and becoming a great people of the world. After modern times, however, owing to invasion by Western powers, owing to the corruption of feudal rule (封建统治的腐败), China gradually became a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society (半殖民地半封建社会), the land was broken and there was great suffering — so that the Chinese people experienced hardship such as they never had before.

Facing this hardship, the people of China did not yield, but stood up and fought back, and in a spirit of never yielding in the face of setbacks, they engaged in a heroic struggle, and wrote epic poem after epic poem such as might provoke praise and tears (谱写了一曲曲可歌可泣的史诗).

In 1921, after the May Fourth Movement, in the midst of domestic trouble and foreign invasion, as the crisis in society was deeper than it had ever been, as Marxism-Leninism joined forces with movements of Chinese workers, the Chinese Communist Party was born.

For the Chinese Communist Party to emerge in China was an epoch-making event. This epoch-making event deeply transformed the direction and process of the development of the Chinese people in modern times, deeply transformed the prospect and fate (前途和命运) of the Chinese people, and deeply transformed the current and pattern of world development.

Over these 95 years, as we have surged forward, the Chinese Communist Party has relied firmly on the people, passing over ravine after ravine, achieving victory after victory, making great historical contributions for the Chinese people (中华民族).

These great historical contributions meant our Party leading the people of China to fight 28 years of bloody battles, defeating Japanese imperialism, overthrowing the reactionary rule of the Kuomintang (反动统治), achieving a new democratic revolution, and establishing the People’s Republic of China.

The significance of these great historical contributions was to thoroughly end the history of China as a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society, to end the situation of old China as a tray of loose sand (旧中国一盘散沙的局面), to abolish all special rights of that the unequal treaties and imperialism forced upon China, and to realise the great leap from thousands of years of feudal autocratic politics (封建专制政治) to people’s democracy (人民民主).

The significance of these great historical contributions was for our Party to unite the Chinese people in achieving a socialist revolution, in establishing a basic socialist system, in annihilating all systems of exploitation, and in advancing the construction of socialism. The significance of these historical contributions was to achieve the most vast and profound social transformation of the Chinese people in history, to make firm the basic foundation of political conditions and systems for China’s development, prosperity and strength, to make firm the foundation for the people of China to live in prosperity, to achieve a turn in fate against decline for the Chinese people, so they could continue their great leap (伟大飞跃) toward prosperity and strength.

These great historical contributions meant that our Party united in leading the people of China to carry out a new great revolution through reform and opening, greatly inspiring the creativity of the broad masses of people, greatly liberating and developing the forces of production in society, greatly increasing the vitality of social development, so that people’s lives were clearly improved, comprehensive nation power was clearly increased, and [our] international status was clearly raised.

The significance of these great historical contributions was to open up the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics (中国特色社会主义), to create a theoretical system of socialism with Chinese characteristics, to establish the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics, to bring China in step with the times (赶上了时代), to achieve the great leap of the Chinese people from standing up to being prosperous and strong (从站起来到富起来, 强起来).

The great victories achieved by the Chinese Communist Party in leading the Chinese people (中国人民) have meant that a Chinese people (中华民族) with more than 5,000 years of civilisation and history have fully marched toward modernisation, allowing Chinese civilisation to find new vitality in the modernisation process; allowing socialist views with their 500-year history to find a highly practical and workable correct path in the world’s most populous country; allowing scientific socialism to find new vitality in the 21st century; allowing a new China with its 60-year history to achieve results that have drawn the eyes of the world. China, the world’s largest developing nation has, in a short 30 years, thrown off poverty and risen to become the world’s second-largest economy, thoroughly throwing off the danger of being lost to the world, and creating a development miracle that is more earthshaking than anything in the history of human social development, so that the Chinese people glow with newfound vitality.

History tells us that without the guidance of advanced theories, that without the leadership of an advanced ruling Party armed with advanced theories, that without an advanced ruling Party meeting historical trends, and courageously taking on historical responsibility, daring to make great sacrifices, there is no way for the people of China to defeat the various reactionary groups pressing down on their own heads, and there is no way for the Chinese people to change the fate of being oppressed and enslaved. And there would be no way for our country to achieve unity, and to move toward prosperity and strength on the socialist path.

History tells us that over the past 95 years, the process China has traveled, the process the people of China (中国人民) and the Chinese people (中华民族) have traveled, was written into being by the fresh blood, sweat and tears of the Chinese Communist Party and the people of China — full of difficulty and glory, setbacks and victories, costs and benefits. This has been a chapter in the history of the Chinese people that must not be forgotten (不能忘却) and must not be denied (不容否定), and it is the foundation on which the people of China and the Chinese people will forge ahead into the future, advancing courageously.

History also tells us that history and the people were correct in choosing the Chinese Communist Party to lead the task of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people, and this must be adhered to in the long term, never faltering; the Chinese Communist Party is correct in leading the people of China in opening the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and this must be adhered to in the long term, never faltering. Rooted in the great land of China, and drawing on the excellent fruits of human civilisation, the Chinese Communist Party and the people of China are correct in maintaining independence in their national development strategy, and this must be adhered to in the long term, never faltering.

Comrades and friends! All of the achievements we have made over the past 95 years have been the result of the struggles of generation after generation of people in the Chinese Communist Party with the people of China. Three generations of leadership with Comrade Mao Zedong, Comrade Deng Xiaoping and Comrade Jiang Zemin as the cores, [and then] with the Party Central Committee under Comrade Hu Jintao as general secretary, all unified in leading the whole Party and the various peoples of the whole nation, overcoming difficulties and challenges that are hard even to imagine, so that the Chinese people could see the bright prospect of realising the great rejuvenation.

On this solemn and glorious occasion, we celebrate those who made great contributions to the Chinese revolution, construction and reform, and to the building, strengthening and development of the Chinese Communist Party — to comrades Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi, Zhu De, Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun and other predecessors. . . . Their deeds for the motherland and for the building of our people will go down in the annals of history! And their great spirits will be forever remembered in the hearts of the people!

The people are the creators of history, and the true heroes. Here, I represent the Party’s central leading body in offering my highest respects to the workers of our country, the farmers, the intellectuals, to the various democratic parties, to the various people’s groups, to patriots of all quarters, to the commanders and fighters of the People’s Liberation Army, to the officers of the armed police and the civil police! To our brethren in the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau, and to our brethren in Taiwan, I offer my regards! To all those people and friends of various nations who are friends of the people of China, and who care about and support the Chinese revolution, construction and reform, I offer my warmest thanks!

Over the past 95 years, generation after generation of excellent people in the Chinese Communist Party has served selflessly for the motherland, vividly displaying the noble spirit of solicitation for the people. . . .

Comrades and friends! “Just as the borrowed light of the mirror can illuminate our faces, so can the light of history illuminate the present” (明镜所以照形,古事所以知今). Today, we look back on history, not to seek solace in our successes — even less to rest on our laurels and find excuses for the difficulties and problems we face today — but rather to sum up our historical experiences, to grasp the principles of history, so that we have the strength and courage to advance.

The Party’s 18th Congress point out that adhering to and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics is a long and arduous historical task, and that we must be prepared to carry out a great struggle with many new historical characteristics. Here I must warn the whole Party, that we must be ready at all times to meet huge challenges, withstand major risks, deal with major impediments, resolve major contradictions, adhering to and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics, adhering to and solidifying the Party’s leadership status and governing status, so that our Party, our country and our people can remain ever invincible.

History must always move forward, and history never waits for those who hesitate, those who look on, those who are idle, or those who are weak. Only those who keep step with history, who set their fate by the times, can win a bright future.

Our Party has already been through a process of 95 years, but we will always maintain the fighting spirit of those who founded the Chinese Communist Party, and will always maintain the purest of hearts toward the people. Even as all moves forward, we must not forget the path we have travelled; even when we have traveled farther and traveled on to a brighter future, we must not forget the past we have traveled, and we cannot forget why we set out in the first place. In facing the future, and facing challenges, all of the comrades of the Party must move forward while never forgetting our intentions (不忘初心、继续前进).

Persisting in moving forward while never forgetting our intentions mean adhering to the leading role of Marxism, adhering to a close unity of Marxist principles and the characteristics of present-day China and the times, promoting theoretical innovation and practical innovation, steadily promoting the advancement of the sinicization of Marxism.

Leading ideologies are the spiritual banners of a political party. Over the past 95 years, the Chinese Communist Party has been able to achieve the momentous tasks that other political forces were unable to achieve in modern times because it has taken Marxist theory as the compass of its actions, and has always sought to enrich and develop Marxism in practice.

David is the co-director of the China Media Project, a research and fellowship program with the Journalism & Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong. A frequent commentator on Chinese media, his writings have appeared in Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, Index on Censorship, the SCMP and others.