China’s leader urges party to learn from sages of the past

China’s ruling Communist Party will only be able to mark its 100th birthday in eight years time if officials can learn from the selfless sages of the past, party chief Xi Jinping has said as he prepares to assume leadership of the vast country this week.

Mr Xi, who will take over the reins of state power from outgoing president Hu Jintao at this month’s annual full session of parliament, has made fighting pervasive corruption a central theme since assuming the top job in the party and military in November.

The Communist Party marks the 100th anniversary of its founding in 2021, one year before the second of Mr Xi’s two five-year term ends and he steps down as party chief.

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“Only if the capabilities of all party members unceasingly continue to strengthen, can the goal of ‘two 100 years’ and ‘the dream’ of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people be realised,” Mr Xi said in a speech marking the 80th anniversary of the Central Party School, which trains rising officials.

“Two 100 years” refers to both the party and the People’s Republic of China lasting at least a century each. The People’s Republic turns 100 in 2049. The Communists swept to power and founded the republic in 1949 after winning a civil war and forcing Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang, or Nationalist, troops to flee to Taiwan, which Beijing still claims as its own.

The concept of “two 100 years” has been alluded to in state media over the past few weeks, but this is the first time Mr Xi explicitly mentioned it in his speech on Friday, which was carried in whole yesterday by the People’s Daily, the party mouthpiece.

Mr Xi has warned in the past that corruption threatens the party’s very survival and launched a campaign to prevent waste and fraud. He also banned the 2.3 million-strong People’s Liberation Army from binge drinking and told it to be 

The Chinese leader peppered his latest speech with references to aphorisms from virtuous officials and philosophers from ancient China, including Confucian philosopher Mencius (372 to 289 BC) and Zhuge Liang (181 to 234 AD), a statesman and strategist lauded to this day for his wisdom and devotion to his monarch.

“Leaders and officials must study China’s fine traditional culture … which contains extensive knowledge and profound scholarship,” Mr Xi said.

“Spare no effort in the performance of one’s duty until the end of one’s days … I will do whatever it takes to serve my country even at the cost of my own life, regardless of fortune or misfortune to myself,” he added, quoting two classical texts.

Stability and survival remain the Communist Party’s watchwords as the world’s second-largest economy grapples with an upsurge of protests and social tensions over growing inequality, environmental degradation and corruption.

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Ensuring the party makes it to its 100th anniversary and does not go down as just a footnote in China’s long history is one of Mr Xi’s key challenges.

“Even the Nationalist Party is over 100 years,” one source with ties to China’s leadership said, referring to Taiwan’s ruling party and onetime rival to the Communists in running all of China which was founded in 1912.

“If the Communist Party cannot reach 100, it would only be a dot in China’s 5,000-year history,” the source said, requesting anonymity.