Earlier this month, in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, there were dazzling choreographed performances, fighter jets flying in the sky, and a carefully vetted crowdnationalist songs to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Communist Party of China (CPC). But, more than anything else, President Xi Jingping stole the show. It was his speech, specifically.
“Foreign powers will be beaten if they try to bully or influence the country.”
The 70,000-person crowd erupted in cheers and applause in response to this warning. It was a message aimed squarely at the United States and its ally. Xi’s message was clear: China is not the same as it was a century ago, when foreign powers bullied it, took over parts of its territory, and waged war against it. The CPC was founded in 1921 to oppose the nationalist government, with whom it fought a bloody civil war until the former’s victory in 1949. At the time, China had just witnessed the fall of the Qing dynasty, which had been attacked by a number of foreign powers, including the British. It had to give up one of its areas (Hong Kong) and lost its glory days as the “Middle Kingdom.” China still considers this period of its history to be humiliating.
After 100 years, China is in a completely different position. It is an emerging superpower that has surpassed the United States in almost every conceivable indicator – economic or otherwise. As a result, it was not unusual for Xi to sing the praises of the new China during his speech. His threat to the “foreign powers” that their “heads would be bashed” came in the context of the West’s maneuvering in recent years to discredit China by raising issues of human rights and implementing sanctions against it in the aftermath of the Hong Kong crackdown. The Chinese leader’s message suggested that they didn’t care what the West thought of China, and that if it crossed the line, it would not be afraid to retaliate.
Aside from that, the subtle messages in Xi’s speech were also intriguing. Xi emphasized the role of the party in China’s development, saying that it has been central to the country’s growth and that attempts to separate it from the people would fail. To the old guards, some of whom see Xi as developing his own personality cult akin to Mao’s, the Chinese leader demonstrated his commitment to the party’s values by saying that “only socialism with Chinese characteristics” – the party’s official ideology – could save China and develop China. He emphasized China’s glorious 5,000-year history, which came to an end with the West’s intervention. Xi emphasized his desire to restore the country’s glory days.
The Chinese President’s strong message came not only from his speech, but also, and perhaps most importantly, from his choice of uniform. Typically dressed in an elegant suit, he appeared in the famous ‘Mao suit’ – a dress that was previously known as the Zhongshan suit in the country but became known as the Mao suit due to the Chinese leader’s fondness for it. Xi wearing the ‘Mao suit’ sent a message that he was committed to the party’s values, looked up to the country’s beloved leader, and demonstrated that he was following in the footsteps of the country’s greatest leader. Even in the crowd, the carefully crafted message could be seen. Nobody in the 70,000-person crowd was wearing a mask. Using the centennial celebrations, the party attempted to emphasize its superiority over Covid-19.
As a result, the centennial celebration event was more than just a party. It was an event designed to send a clear message to the West and its allies. The West should pay attention. Instead of attempting to ‘corner’ Beijing in the future, it would be in their best interests to cooperate with it. If they do not do so, they will come to regret their decision.