Behind the scenes

Inside the plans for the Chinese Communist Party’s 100th anniversary

Centennial show of strength to include ‘patriotic films’ and ‘mass weddings’

China is gearing up for a nationwide display of patriotism to mark the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Officials across the country have gone into “overdrive to make sure commemorations go off without a hitch”, with planned events to include “patriotic films, history lessons and mass weddings”, The New York Times (NYT) reports.

As well as celebrating a centenary of the CCP, President Xi Jinping’s government intends to “hammer home the message that the party alone can restore China to what Beijing considers the country’s rightful place as a global power”, the paper adds.

‘Patriotic extravaganza’ 

Records show that the first CCP congress was held in Shanghai on 23 July 1921. However, 1 July was later designated as the “anniversary of foundation”, because party founder Mao Zedong “merely remembered that the first party congress had been convened ‘in July’ when the CCP decided” on that date in the 1930s, Nikkei Asia reports.

“A celebratory mood is growing in China” ahead of the celebration, which is being advertised with the slogan “follow the party forever”, the magazine adds. According to the state-owned Global Times, the festivities will kick off with a “grand ceremony” during which “outstanding party members will be awarded with ‘July 1 Medals’ for the first time”.

The medals will be awarded to individuals “who made extraordinary contributions to the party”, the paper continues, with plans in place for “other outstanding party members, party affairs workers, community-level party organisations and senior party members who have been members for 50 years” to also receive awards.

The CCP-owned paper also refers to “party history education”, which the NYT says includes cinemas “being ordered to screen patriotic films with titles like ‘The Sacrifice’ and ‘The Red Sun’”. Cinema bosses have been told to “schedule and actively promote at least two screenings of propaganda films per week” until the end of the year, Variety reports. 

A diktat from China’s National Film Administration said the films are “closely focused on the themes of loving the party, loving the nation and loving socialism”, and “sing the praises of... and eulogise the party, the motherland, its people and its heroes”, the magazine adds.

Meanwhile, students at schools in some cities are “being told to create paintings and calligraphy extolling the ‘Chinese dream’”, says the NYT, and “buses and subways are broadcasting nationalistic messages about revolutionary heroes”.

Officials in the southern city of Nanjing are also offering an opportunity for up to 100 couples to marry for free in a mass ceremony. Yan Dianjian, an official in Nanjing, told the NYT that the mega wedding was intended to be “a tribute” to the party on its birthday.

During a recent call with political leaders, President Xi said that the centenary was an opportunity “to educate and guide the whole party to vigorously carry forward the red tradition”, according to the state-owned People’s Daily.

Indeed, while “much of the focus will be on the past” during the “patriotic extravaganza”, the NYT adds, the event also holds “significant repercussions for China’s future”. 

Chinese century

The outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan last year “forced the Chinese leadership into an unprecedented predicament”, says Nikkei. A “strict gag rule” from Beijing has been blamed for the rapid early spread of the virus, “arousing criticism against the CCP’s one-party control”.

Since then, however, China has “virtually contained the virus”, in contrast to many Western nations, the news site adds - a success attributed largely to Beijing’s “iron-fisted rule”, which saw the regime imposing tough Covid measures and restrictions on its citizens. Xi’s government has also begun a vaccine diplomacy push, increasing its leverage over countries through the delivery of affordable vaccines, albeit that these jabs have low efficacy.

President Xi Jinping at the National People’s Congress in March 2021

President Xi Jinping at the National People’s Congress in March 2021

Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

China’s economy has bounced back too, growing by 2.3% in 2020.  In fact, China was “the only major world economy to grow in what was a pandemic-ravaged year”, The Wall Street Journal reports.

As Xi basks in the glow of those successes, the 100th anniversary celebration is seen as an opportunity for the president - who also holds the title of CCP general secretary - to “present himself as a transformative figure on par with Mao Zedong”, the NYT says.

The Chinese leader is maneuvering himself to remain in power indefinitely as the authorities “step up efforts to limit dissent” in a signal that officials know “the party must do more to strengthen public loyalty and fortify its control of society”, the paper adds.

China’s military, known as the People’s Liberation Army, will have a starring role in the celebrations, highlighting the need to keep “the party’s absolute leadership over the army” and positioning them as “a heroic army that the party and the people can trust”, reports the Global Times. 

The display will also be evidence of the military’s “absolute loyalty to the party”, says the paper - a goal that highlights Xi’s belief that he must remain vigilant to domestic threats to remain in power.

The president has “long warned that Communist rule could disintegrate if the party does not assert control across society”, says the NYT. And the 100th anniversary offers a perfect opportunity to strengthen his iron grip.

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