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The awakening of Xi’s Chinese Dream

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In Brief

The ‘China Dream’, a signature slogan of President Xi Jinping, has drawn worldwide attention. At a time when the growing assertiveness of China is being linked to the revival of the idea of Sino-centrism, the resurgence of a once ‘humiliated’ nation is being viewed by some countries with much apprehension.


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But what exactly is Xi’s vision of the ‘China Dream’?

The Chinese Dream, according to President Xi, refers to the collective aspiration of ‘the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation’ as well as the personal dreams of the individual citizens of China to attain productive, healthy and happy lives. Xi has emphasised that the ‘China Dream’ is a dream of the Chinese people that can only be attained through ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’.

Internationally, the Chinese Dream can be viewed as a continuation of the country’s peaceful development strategy. It is a key component of China’s soft power campaign, which seeks to counter the theory that China is a threat to regional peace and security and promote instead a benign and positive image of the country. To quote President Xi: ‘We Chinese love peace. No matter how much stronger it may become, China will never seek hegemony or expansion. It will never inflict its past suffering on any other nation.’

Over the years, China has moved away from Deng Xiaoping’s strategy of ‘lie low, bide your time’ and has adopted an assertive foreign policy approach. The Chinese Dream discourse has been designed to institute a robust foundation for the development of a new overarching diplomatic strategy. The goal is to not only promote a renewal of the nation, but also enhance China’s international appeal to the rest of the world and, in turn, its stature in world politics.

A key step towards this end is fostering China’s relationships with other developing countries, particularly in Latin America and Africa. President Xi’s visits to South Africa, Tanzania and the Republic of Congo as part of his first overseas trip emphasised the importance of these countries in China’s foreign policy agenda. Strengthening relations with Latin American and African countries would benefit China in terms of securing energy resources, which is vital to sustaining its economic boom.

The Chinese leadership also seeks to promote a new type of major power relations with the United States ostensibly based on the principles of non-confrontation, mutual respect and mutual benefit. And China has broadened its cooperation with the other major global players, including the European Union, and has deepened its strategic trust with Russia.

President Xi has proclaimed China’s commitment to the idea of multilateralism and has stressed the importance of key multilateral bodies such as the UN. China has taken keen interest in fostering synergy between the BRICS nations — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — resulting in the establishment of a BRICS Development Bank. This is part of a broader drive towards a new and a more ‘equitable’ international and political order.

But how do those outside China view Xi’s Chinese Dream?

The Chinese Dream discourse has been a subject of much speculation in the West. It is commonly viewed as a nationalist doctrine that is likely to hold perilous implications for international security in the future. Western nations are apprehensive about the more assertive and expansionist foreign policy approach seemingly implied by the Chinese Dream, particularly as it relates to China’s increasing military assertiveness in the South and East China Seas.

Critics also suggest that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to realise the Chinese Dream. This is both due to China’s economic slowdown and, more importantly, the reality that it is unlikely that ‘each Chinese person’ will dream the same dream, and that that dream will be consistent with that of the Chinese Communist Party. The 2014 pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong demonstrated the fragile foundation of a unified Chinese dream. In mainland China, the Chinese leadership is also confronted by widespread public resentment against instances of injustice and corruption.

Xi’s ‘China Dream’ is ultimately founded on his determination to both preserve the dominance of the Communist Party and persuade Chinese citizens to look beyond the immediate challenges to an image of Chinese national rejuvenation. How successful this dream will be, both at home and abroad, remains to be seen.

Shaheli Das is a PhD candidate at the Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

4 responses to “The awakening of Xi’s Chinese Dream”

  1. I think the West is afraid of competition from both India and China just like England and France were afraid of a rising economic, military country called Germany back in the last 19th and early 20th centuries.

    Chinese Dream? Sounds like the American Dream in the USA; however, that dream fell apart when Reagan got elected in 1980.

  2. To me, the China or Chinese dream, as advocated by President Xi, is largely domestic oriented as opposed to be used as a key principle in its external diplomatic relations. It is a way to unify and inspire the Chinese people, with a key focus on the mainland people, but also those Chinese in other Chinese regions, such as Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. It is a domestic narrative, connecting to the past both long (the ancient glories when China was estimated to be among the world best) and short (the past decades particularly the reform era) with the aspiring future (a projected reaching to high income countries).
    The so called socialism with Chinese characters could be interpreted in a number of different ways, as China has undergone so many reforms and changes yet at each stage it has always been said to be socialism with Chinese characteristics.
    Yes, given that the Communist party has always been in power, one of the most common interpretations is under communism rule, although one needs to bear in mind those reforms and changes in China and the huge differences between China now and China nearly a few decades ago.
    My interpretation of the Chinese dream is, similar to the author’s, that it has both individual and collective two dimensions as opposed to the largely individualistic approach embedded in the American dream. This has something to do not only with the current Communist rule, but also rooted to a degree in its history of Confucius tradition where the State was given a very important role as compared to individualism.
    Does that mean communist rule forever? No one knows for sure, because it is difficult to predict what the socialism with Chinese characteristics will be in 20 to 30 years in the future, similar to the situations back 35 years ago!

    • I agree with you Lintong Feng about the State playing an important role whereas in the USA you have too many business people who don’t believe in a strong government role in the country unless it aligns with their own viewpoints.

  3. China’s activities in the South China Sea suggest that Xi’s claims of not wanting hegemony and of striving for multilateralism are hollow, at best.

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