Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Opinion: Is President Xi Jinping's Chinese dream fantasy or reality?

By Tao Xie, professor of political science, Beijing Foreign Studies University
updated 12:30 AM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
In Beijing, citizens walk by a large banner reading
In Beijing, citizens walk by a large banner reading "Chinese dream."
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • March 14 marks one year since Xi Jinping was officially appointed China's president
  • After Xi's first presidential speech, the "Chinese dream" became a household phrase
  • Xi's campaign against corruption can be seen as the first steps to restore public trust, says Xie
  • Xie says reforms will enable all people in China to be truly proud of the Chinese dream

Editor's note: Tao XIE is a professor of political science at the School of English and International Studies, Beijing Foreign Studies University. He is the author of U.S.-China Relations: China Policy on Capitol Hill and co-author of Living with the Dragon: How the American Public Views the Rise of China. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely his.

Beijing (CNN) -- I was at the last public speech by the former U.S. ambassador to China Gary Locke. During the Q & A session, a Chinese student asked the outgoing ambassador to compare the Chinese dream and the American dream. The ambassador said he didn't know much about the Chinese dream, so he talked instead about the American dream.

Like Americans, the Chinese people also have their dreams -- a powerful country, a good education, a happy family, or a bountiful harvest. Yet the dreams of the ordinary Chinese have never been articulated as powerfully and eloquently as the American dream, until Xi Jinping came into power.

OPINION: China's awkward 'banana' slip

What is the 'Chinese Dream?'
Achieving the 'Chinese dream'
'On China:' Political reform needed

Xi first mentioned the term "the Chinese dream" during his tour of an exhibit at the National Museum of China in November 2012, shortly after he became leader of the Chinese Communist Party. That exhibit is called the Road to National Rejuvenation, and Xi said the Chinese dream is the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

Then on March 17, 2013, Xi fully spelled out his thoughts about the Chinese dream in his first public speech as the newly elected president of China. "The Chinese dream is the dream of the whole nation, as well as of every individual," he said. "The Chinese dream, after all, is the dream of the people. We must realize it by closely depending on the people, and we must incessantly bring benefits to the people."

Publicity campaign

After his speech, the Chinese dream has entered the daily discourse of both the Chinese government and the ordinary Chinese, thanks in no small part to the government's massive publicity campaign. There were countless speeches, contests, essay competitions, scholarly conferences, and TV shows that had the Chinese dream as the central theme. If there had been a contest for the most popular Chinese phrase in 2013, the Chinese dreams would probably have won the title.

Apart from nationwide publicity, there are other reasons why the Chinese dream has become a household phrase. It is much less elusive than Mao Zedong's Thoughts, Deng Xiaoping's Theories, Jiang Zemin's Three Represents, or Hu Jintao's Harmonious Society; it is a term that can be understood by any Chinese. Besides, who doesn't have dreams? Thus it easily resonates with the Chinese people. Finally, Xi promised to realize the dream by depending more on the people and bringing more benefits to them. Thus Xi's dream, at least in its rhetorical form, is a dream for the people, by the people, and of the people. Who doesn't like such a dream?

Reforms

And Xi meant what he said, at least in one area and that is corruption, the most urgent issue facing the Chinese community party. He has launched an unprecedented crackdown on corruption, and 20 high-ranking officials -- vice-minister level and above -- have been investigated or punished within a little more than year.

He also signed two documents -- Eight Regulations and Six Bans -- that have significantly improved bureaucratic efficiency and sharply reduced public expenses on receptions, overseas travel, and vehicle purchases. Because of Xi's tough campaign, China's entertainment businesses, particularly top-end restaurants, clubs, and hotels, have suffered enormous losses, over which the ordinary Chinese are rightfully gloating.

A prosperous and powerful China should be a land of opportunities for its people, but actually it appears to have become a land of anger and despair for an increasing number of Chinese.

Rampant corruption, be it bribery, buying and selling offices, illegal land grabs, or abuse of power, is certainly the biggest scourge of China today, leading to rising discontent and unrest as well as declining public trust in government. Most importantly, corruption seems to have made it increasingly difficult for the ordinary Chinese to have their dreams come true.

Restoring confidence

China is becoming economically and militarily much more powerful, and the average Chinese is living a much better life. Yet at the same time more and more Chinese seem to have lost faith in the government and the future of China. A prosperous and powerful China should be a land of opportunities for its people, but actually it appears to have become a land of anger and despair for an increasing number of Chinese.

Thus Xi's articulation of the Chinese dream and his campaign against corruption can be viewed as the first steps by the new Chinese leadership to restore public confidence in the party and the government. Thus far, his policies have won enthusiastic support among most Chinese, and Xi has become arguably the most popular leader since Deng Xiaoping.

If the dreams of the ordinary Chinese today -- like those of their ancestors in ancient China -- depend on the good luck of having a sage leader, however, that means China is still under the rule of man, not rule of law. When that leader steps down, or if that leader makes disastrous decisions, the dreams of the Chinese people will be in jeopardy.

With immense popular support at the moment, President Xi should initiate institutional reforms that empower every Chinese to have dreams and to have those dreams come true. These reforms will not only set China on a path of sustainable political and economic development, but also enable the Chinese people to be truly proud of the Chinese dream, just as Americans are proud of the American dream.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tao Xie.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
See CNN's complete coverage on China.
updated 10:30 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Some savvy individuals in China are claiming naming rights to valuable foreign brands. Here's how companies can combat them.
updated 5:11 AM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Is Xi Jinping a true reformist or merely a "dictator" in disguise? CNN's Beijing bureau chief Jaime FlorCruz dissects the leader's policies
updated 11:44 PM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
With a population of 1.3 billion, you'd think that there would be 11 people in China who are good enough to put up a fight on the football pitch.
updated 2:31 AM EDT, Fri July 4, 2014
26-year-old Ji Cheng is the first rider from China to compete for competitive cycling's highest honor.
updated 7:24 AM EDT, Mon July 7, 2014
China's richest man, Wang Jianlin, may not yet be a household name outside of China, but that could be about to change.
updated 12:14 AM EDT, Fri July 4, 2014
Hong Kong's narrow streets were once a dazzling gallery of neon, where banks and even bordellos plied their trade under sizzling tubular signs.
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
When President Xi Jinping arrives in Seoul this week, the Chinese leader will have passed over North Korea in favor of its arch rival.
updated 7:59 AM EDT, Thu July 3, 2014
Three more officials have been given the chop as part of China's anti-corruption drive, including former aides to the retired security chief.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
As thousands of Hong Kongers prepare for an annual protest, voices in China's press warn pro-democracy activism is a bad idea.
updated 12:37 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
Hong Kongers are demanding the right to directly elect their next leader, setting up a face-off with Beijing.
updated 2:56 AM EDT, Tue July 1, 2014
The push for democratic reform in Hong Kong is testing China's "one country, two systems" model.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon June 30, 2014
Along a winding Chinese mountain road dotted with inns and restaurants is Jinan Orphanage, a place of refuge and site for troubled parents to dump unwanted children.
updated 4:36 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
CNN's Kristie Lu Stout invites Isaac Mao, Han Dongfang, and James Miles to discuss the rise of civil society in China and social media's crucial role.
updated 11:34 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
Chen Guangbiao wants rich people to give more to charity and he'll do anything to get their attention, including buying lunch for poor New Yorkers.
updated 7:44 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Architects are planning to build the future world's tallest towers in China. They're going to come in pretty colors.
updated 7:47 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
Anna Coren visits Yulin's annual dog meat festival. Dogs are part of the daily diet here, with an estimated 10,000 dogs killed for the festival alone.
updated 2:38 AM EDT, Thu June 19, 2014
People know little about sex, but are having plenty of it. We take a look at the ramifications of a lack of sex education in China.
updated 4:12 AM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
Hong Kongers have reacted angrily to a Chinese government white paper affirming Beijing's control over the territory.
The emphasis on national glory -- rather than purely personal achievement -- is key.
updated 12:14 PM EDT, Mon June 16, 2014
A replica of the Effel Tower in Tianducheng, a luxury real estate development located in Hangzhou, east China's Zhejiang province.
What's the Eiffel Tower doing in China? Replica towns of the world's most famous monuments spring up all over China.
updated 8:13 PM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
Rapid development hasn't just boosted the economy -- it has opened up vast swathes of the country, says a man who has spent much of his life exploring it.
updated 2:54 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
The World Cup is apparently making a lot of people "ill" in China.
ADVERTISEMENT