This week Chinese President Xi Jinping will lay out his vision for the China Dream in his state of the union address at the Communist Party congress; with the goal of making the country proud, prosperous and powerful in its quest to become the world’s number one power.
The congress is being tagged as Xi Jinping’s “coronation” by China specialists.
About half of the leadership elite will be replaced by his men. Mr Xi is hoping to appoint four out of the seven members of China’s top decision-making body, the standing politburo, giving him absolute power to set the direction of China for the next decade.
At an elite club in south-eastern Beijing, two-and-a-half-year-old Doudou gets a pony lesson as his proud parents look on; mother Zhang Zhi Wei and father Duan Hui Ping.
Doudou is almost trilingual, Mandarin is his first language but he understands English and is now learning French.
In many ways, the Duan’s are the model Chinese family born into poverty but now upper class in one generation.
Hui Ping was born in a cave in Shanxi and now runs an energy company in Beijing and Zhang Zhi Wei’s parents were peasants. She worked herself up to be a government official.
Zhi Wei said both their parents gave them a fighting spirit and the drive to do better.
“Our parents lived through the cultural revolution and didn’t have the chance to study so they put their hope into us, pushed us to study and we both graduated from top Beijing universities,” she said.
“My husband and I don’t like to lose and we don’t have fear of failure, this is from the Chinese spirit.
“We believe in working hard and believe our efforts will make us excellent.”
Chinese told the 21st century belongs to them
And that Chinese spirit is now being passed onto their son Duoduo. They want more for him and the nation, Mr Duan said.
“The Chinese economy has been a big achievement but now we have to focus on Chinese culture and a better education and better environment,” he said.
In many ways, the Duan family epitomises the China Dream. Since the 1980s China has moved about half a billion people out of a dollar-a-day poverty.
The social contract the Communist Party had with the people back then was not about revolution but to make them rich and prosperous.
Now President Xi Jinping is injecting a hyper-nationalism into the China Dream.
Gone are the days of “bide your time, hide your power” of former leader Deng Xiaoping.
The Chinese are now told the 21st century belongs to them and it is the time to make China great again, to bring back the power and the glory that was lost. Mr Duan recited the new national narrative.
“Since the opium wars we went through the shame of being invaded by Western countries. For more than a hundred years we suffered, now we want our glory back,” he said.
Like most, the Duan family says the China Dream can only be achieved with the Communist Party and Xi Jinping as the absolute leader.
As Ms Zhang said: “One party rule unites the spirit and gives the people more cohesion. The party with a great leader guarantees stability.”
Xi Jinping to stack leadership group with his own men
At this week’s party congress, Mr Xi will replace most of the leadership elite with his men. In his first five years as President, Mr Xi has been busy purging political elites and old power bases with his anti-corruption drive. The campaign has seen an estimated 300,000 lose positions, punished or jailed.
Xi Jinping will then have the absolute power to execute his vision and ensure China’s rise over the next decade.
Experienced China watcher Professor Willy Lam from the Chinese University of Hong Kong said the Congress will be a triumphant moment for the President.
“It will be Xi Jinping as emperor for life. His thoughts will be enshrined in the party constitution,” Professor Lam said.
“He will become the paramount leader because he regards himself as the Mao Zedong of the 21st century. The second-most-important leader since the formation of the party in 1921.”
Professor Lam is convinced Mr Xi will stay on longer than two terms, which is the convention now for the top Chinese leader.
“I’m convinced he will stay number one until the 21st party congress in 2027,” he said.
“He is a big fan of Putin so he will try to use the so-called Putin model by staying on the scene by remaining on the scene.”
Another China expert, Professor David Zweig from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology who has studied communist party politics for decades, said Mr Xi, the son of a revolutionary, believes it is his destiny to lead China to greatness again.
“It’s all about making China great again, just like Trump is ‘making the US great again’ Xi is trying to make China great again,” Professor Zweig said.
“The China Dream is an important part for him, he has laid out this idea that China is back and he is the man that will make it happen.”
Hyped-up version of nationalism already resonating
For the nation, the China Dream means a bolder foreign policy backed up by a modernised military ready to enforce territorial claims over Taiwan and the South China Sea … and that could conflict with Australia’s foreign policy and its alliance with America.
In July at a military parade, the President, dressed in combat fatigues, declared; “The Party would make the Chinese military the top army in the world.”
It is also about gaining greater control of the world economy as China marches towards the number one position.
China is changing the rules with new institutions such as the Asia Infrastructure Investment bank, and championing free trade as America steps back.
Professor Lam said China will become the new Middle Kingdom.
“It will become a rule-setter in international finance and commerce,” he said.
“With the additional power [Mr Xi] will get at party congress he will use this to project both hard and soft power overseas.
“Through One Belt One Road, China will play a much bigger role in UN, World bank and G20 and so forth.”
Mr Xi’s hyped-up version of nationalism is already resonating.
The Chinese are rallying around their President as the man who will keep their hopes dreams on track.
The propaganda machine is making sure that is the case. Signs and billboards are starting to appear all over Beijing imploring absolute loyalty to Xi Jinping and his mission of the great rejuvenation of China.
By Matthew Carney