Chinese people ordered to think like Xi as Communist Party aims to tighten control

Chinese President Xi Jinping appears on a large screen during a dance performance at a mass gala marking the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party in Beijing.

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Hong Kong (CNN)Days after entering its second century, the Chinese Communist Party has set out its priority for the new era -- tightening ideological control over 1.4 billion Chinese people.

This week, the party released a new guideline on ideological and political work, which targets not only its members but also "all of society."
Under President Xi Jinping, the party has waged its toughest ideological crackdown in decades. It has repeatedly warned against the "infiltration" of Western ideas, stoked aggressive nationalism, and stifled academic and press freedoms.
    And now, despite having silenced nearly all forms of dissent, the party appears to worry that it still doesn't command enough ideological and political loyalty -- and is launching a vast effort to redouble education on both fronts.
      "Ideological and political work is the party's fine tradition, distinct characteristic and prominent political advantage -- it's the lifeline of all its work," the guideline said. "(It) has a significant bearing on the future fate of the party, the long-term stability of the country, and the cohesion and unity of the nation."
      A central part of the campaign is focused on the promotion of "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era," the political doctrine of Xi which was written into the party's constitution in 2017. Before Xi, only Chairman Mao Zedong ("Mao Zedong Thought") and paramount leader Deng Xiaoping ("Deng Xiaoping Theory") had their eponymous political philosophies enshrined in the party's theoretical pantheon.
      Since 2017, Xi's doctrine has been frequently studied by party cadres at meetings and on a specially designed propaganda mobile app designed to teach the philosophy.
        And now, the party wants the wider public to enhance their "sense of political, ideological, theoretical and emotional identification" with Xi's ideology, according to the directive.
        Already, a campaign is gathering pace to get Xi's doctrine further "into the textbooks, into the classrooms and into the brains of students," according to the country's Ministry of Education.
        In a statement last week, the ministry said primary and high schools across the country would start using textbooks on "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era" in September. Last fall, dozens of universities -- including top globally-ranked institutions like Peking University and Tsinghua University -- launched introductory courses on it.
        And last month, the party's Central Committee approved seven new research centers on Xi's ideology, adding to the 11 already established. These centers have been set up by top universities and think tanks, provincial governments, and central government ministries.
        The most recent one, launched last week by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, is dedicated to "Xi Jinping Thought on Ecological Civilization." Others were established for the study of "Xi Jinping Economic Thought," "Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy," and "Xi Jinping Thought on Rule of Law."
        Wu Qiang, a political analyst in Beijing, said the campaign is part of Xi's move to further consolidate power and drum up public support before the party's 20th congress next year. At that meeting, Xi is widely expected to stay for a third term, after he abolished presidential term limits in 2018.
        "There are a lot of speculations over whether Xi's doctrine will be officially shortened to 'Xi Jinping Thought' at the 20th congress, and all the ideological and political work is setting the stage for that," Wu said.
        While the international media has long referred to Xi's philosophy as simply "Xi Jinping Thought," its official name has remained unchanged. Its official shortening would put Xi's legacy on an equal rhetorical footing with Mao, who built a cult of personality around himself and ruled China until his death in 1976.
        Ling Li, an expert on Chinese politics and law at the University of Vienna, said unlike in Mao's China, Chinese people now face a deluge of digital information, despite the party's best censorship efforts. "Therefore, if the party is determined to emerge from the information battle as the winner, it is vital for it to reconstruct the lens with which people read and interpret information so that people can always reach the 'correct' conclusion even when being exposed to uncensored information," she said.
        And to do that, the party is looking to tighten ideology in all aspects of society, from the government, companies, schools, rural villages and urban residential communities to the internet, according to the directive.
        Companies, for example, are told to combine ideological and political work with daily production, operation, management and human resources development, so employees can "resolve ideological doubts, quell spiritual worries, quench cultural thirst and relieve psychological pressure."
        In residential communities, the party demands ideological and political work to "deeply permeate into the work and life of the masses." In the countryside, the party wants to nurture "new era farmers with ideals and moral integrity" who are also "well educated and disciplined."
        Some villages, for instance, have doubled down on ideological education by broadcasting party propaganda from loudspeakers installed on the roofs of people's homes. In Xibaipo village in Hebei province which neighbors Beijing, loudspeakers deliver Xi Jinping Thought, party theories and policies to villagers three times a day, according to an article published last week by a party-run social media account.
        In Anhui province, these type of propaganda loudspeakers have been placed in 10,000 villages. "Listening to the loudspeakers and studying the spirits of the General Secretary's [President Xi Jinping] important speeches...has become a new trend among farmers and other rural residents," the article claimed.