Chinese dreams in a new age of strongman politics


Through the first five years of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s rule, one political slogan has stood above the rest.

“The China Dream” is immortalised on billboards, street banners, television ads and on government websites.

Moviegoers cannot watch a film without first seeing an ad featuring Jackie Chan and other stars reciting propaganda lines about the China Dream.

Mr Xi’s signature slogan is inescapable in China.

He’s expected to reiterate it as the Communist Party holds its twice-a-decade Congress this week.

Mr Xi is not only expected to be confirmed as China’s paramount leader for another five years, he is also likely to appoint loyalists to senior positions in a move that could keep him in power much longer.

And while he casts the China Dream as the great rejuvenation of the country, the slogan’s interpretation depends very much on the individual.

“What’s my Chinese Dream? To have my family, to be independent in my work and to not have any trouble with the government.”

Mr Ma has ridden China’s property boom to live out his dream.

At 15 he moved from the relatively poor central province of Henan to the Chinese capital.

After working as a chef, he began renting and selling apartments as a real estate agent.

Beijing’s property market has continued to boom even as smaller cities have slowed, and business has been good for the father of three small children.

“I think things are great. My parents are well, my job is stable and I’ve got a young family,” he said.

But he acknowledges skyrocketing prices in Beijing are crippling some people’s dreams of owning their own house.

“For Chinese people, buying a house gives them a feeling of security. Especially once they marry. This is why everybody cares about house prices so much.”

“I understand the China Dream as 1.3 billion people looking for something in common. My Chinese dream is for the country to become better and better.”

Mr Sima describes himself as a “big 50-cent”, widespread slang for online commentators, usually young, who post nationalistic or pro-government comments online.

The high-profile commentator is seen as a bit of a provocateur in China’s online space.

He believes the country’s economic and military progress has inspired a new mood of national pride.

“Chinese people have become more confident, it’s clearly increased a lot. Online they say ‘my country’,” he said.

“For example, ‘My country’s high speed rail,’ ‘My country’s quantum computers,’ ‘My country’s aircraft,’ etc.

“This is a change. People are optimistic and confident because we are watching our country develop.”

He says the biggest achievement of Xi Jinping’s first five years has been a massive anti-corruption drive that “won people’s hearts”.

“Officials now don’t dare have big banquets or drink pricy liquor,” he said.

“People can see that the Communist Party has disciplined itself.”

“My Chinese Dream is to have a real rule of law country. If so, I think my husband could be released from jail without charge and come home. Then we could live a normal life.”

Ms Li is a reluctant activist caught in an extraordinarily tough situation.

The 32-year-old is married to one of China’s most prominent human rights lawyers, Wang Quanzhang.

Mr Wang’s record of representing people in sensitive cases, such as practitioners of the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong, led to his arrest in a major crackdown on activist lawyers more than two years ago.

The coordinated action was viewed as Mr Xi showing he will not tolerate lawyers who try to push the limits of “rule of law” in China’s courts.

More than two years on, Ms Li has not been able to contact her husband, who has been charged with state subversion and is awaiting trial in China’s Communist Party-controlled courts.

“On the news every day we hear China is a country with rule of law. But from my perspective, if you look at this case, there’s no law at all,” she said.

Ms Li has turned to overseas social media to campaign for her husband, posting photos and videos of her weekly visits to the high court prosecutor’s office, where she attempts to present petitions to complain about the case.

Such action has brought a constant team of people, believed to be employed by state security agencies, who follow and film her, sometimes waiting outside her family’s front door.

“They told landlords not to rent houses to us. I spent ages trying to get my four-year-old son into a kindergarten, only for state security to pressure the school into not accepting him. He still hasn’t attended school,” she said.

The 19th Communist Party congress this week will involve a major reshuffle of senior positions, which could see a new official in charge of China’s legal system.

But Ms Li is not optimistic.

“I don’t know how Chinese law will develop, but I feel in these recent years nothing new is happening,” she said.

“A person can go missing and no one gives you an explanation. I don’t have much hope.”

By Bill Birtles
ABC News


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