China Ink

Dream on

Did Xi Jinping pick up his ‘Chinese Dream’ slogan from a New York Times opinion piece last year?

Where did the term
come from?

Where did the term come from?

The Chinese Dream slogan, which calls for national rejuvenation, burst onto the political scene last November when Xi Jinping brought it up during a speech at an exhibition commemorating China’s recovery from humiliation at the hands of Western powers. State newspapers have been lining up to extol Xi’s vision ever since. “This is the dream of a magnificent spring day,” gushed one editorial in Qiushi earlier this month. “Xi Jinping’s Chinese dream, expounded with deep feeling and discussed profoundly, has become the exalted melody and spiritual banner for Chinese society, and has infused Socialism with Chinese Characteristics with strong new energy.”

Or was it actually prompted by Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, The Economist asked last week. Friedman mentioned the same phrase in a piece last October but China watchers aren’t convinced, pointing to other books that have been authored with very similar titles. “I can’t prove that this correlation is wrong, but (no offence to Friedman) I’d bet any amount of money that it is,” countered James Fallows at The Atlantic magazine. The ‘Dream’ formulation is a familiar one in China, Fallows continued, and has featured in Xi’s own speeches for more than a year. It even cropped up in the ‘One World, One Dream’ motto used for the Beijing Olympics.

How does the Chinese Dream differ from its American counterpart?

It’s being espoused as a collective vision rather than focused on the individual. “The future and the fate of every Chinese person is tightly bound to the future and fate of the state and the nation,” Xi has insisted. “No one will be well off unless the state and the nation are well off.” But early this year Southern Weekend begged to differ in an article headlined: Dream of China, dream of constitutional rule. “It cannot possibly end with national strength alone; it must include self-respect for every person. We will continue to dream until every person, whether high official or peddler on the street, can live in dignity,” it implored. The piece triggered a high-profile row with the censors, which Southern Weekend lost.

“Does the next generation of Chinese leaders have a ‘Chinese Dream’ that is different from the “American Dream?” asked Thomas Friedman in the New York Times article that has been stirring debate in the last few days.

Friedman desperately hoped so: “Because if the next government’s dream for China’s emerging middle class – 300 million people expected to grow to 800 million by 2025 – is just like the American Dream (a big car, a big house and McDonald’s Big Macs for all) then we need another planet.”

And the Chinese Dream has more of a foreign policy angle?

Xi’s early speeches made more mention of a sense of national revival, which raised alarm among some of China’s neighbours. But Xi has been claiming a more universal meaning recently. “The Chinese dream that we have to realise not only makes the Chinese people happy, but also makes the people of all countries happy,” he told students in Moscow in March, before advising an audience in Tanzania that “people in China and Africa should… help each other to make their respective dreams come true.”

Others wonder if Xi’s slogan means too many different things to different people and could even become a dangerous maxim if expectations aren’t met. But this misses the point, Xiang Lanxin, a professor at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, told the South China Morning Post. The doctrine is deliberately ambiguous because it fits Xi’s reputation as a “super-balancer”. Xiang went on: “Thus, we have a one-size-fits-all dream that can attract a maximum number of people.”


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