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20th Party Congress Report Crash Course
"In the corpus of Party documents, the Report to the Congress is arguably the most important."
Dr. Holly Snape (@HollySnapeWang) joined the University of Glasgow’s School of Social and Political Sciences as a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in January 2020. Currently, her main research project at the School attempts to understand the relationship between the Chinese Communist Party and the government. Before Glasgow, she worked in Beijing at the School of Government, Peking University.
What is the report and why should we read it?
The Report to the Party Congress1 is technically the report of the outgoing 19th Central Committee (CC) to the 20th Party Congress.2 It is Xi Jinping’s job, as Party General Secretary, to deliver the report ‘on behalf’ of the 19th CC to the 20th Congress. The report is meant to summarise the Party’s work over the past five years, ‘reporting’ on that work up to the Congress (which is technically the highest Party organisation, above the CC when in session).3
Though part of the report’s job is to look back—summarising the Party’s work of the past five years—most of it will be looking forward. In the corpus of Party documents, the Report to the Congress is arguably the most important. As Alice Miller puts it, this is ‘the most authoritative public recitation of Party policy on all major matters.’4 It is at the apex of the policy system and the basis from which all other documents should flow. The General Secretary’s delivery of the Report is only one point in a process: after the Congress, a long, comprehensive campaign will begin to guide the entire Party membership, government, and beyond in studying it; to have theorists expand on it; and to have policy makers implement policies guided by its ‘spirit.’
Going by past reports to the Congress, it will include sections on: the past five years (2017–2022) (and possibly the past ten, since the ‘New Era’ began); an articulation of key principles of the ‘Thought’ which will guide the Party going forward; and an articulation of the goals for the coming five years (and possibly beyond).
This may be followed by sections on broad-brush policy ideas and principles for the following fields:
Politics and structural/institutional adaptation
Party building and Party leadership (over ‘everything’)
These can be added to or changed according to Party priorities.
How is the Report made?
Drafting the Report is a long process, typically taking about a year.5 The process is a ‘major mechanism of elite deliberation and consensus-building concerning the Party’s platform.’6 It involves research, discussion among top leaders, revisions, and soliciting opinions within a carefully selected scope.7 Beyond the drafting process itself, there can also be a broader process by which a leader who hopes to have his ideas entered into the Report indicates something of those ideas in various ways before a Congress.
The 20th Report may break with a pattern8 that has held consistent over two top leadership transitions. The ‘selected works of leaders’ are dotted with occasional instances of Party leaders discussing the drafting of a Party Congress report, shedding spots of light on this otherwise opaque process. We know, for example, that in February 2002, Jiang Zemin communicated with ‘Comrade [Hu] Jintao’ on the 2002 Report which Jiang would deliver to the 16th Congress.9 For that report, Hu headed the report’s drafting, Jiang delivered the report; then Jiang stepped down and Hu emerged as new General Secretary immediately after the Congress. The same pattern was true of the Report to the 18th Party Congress in 2012: Xi headed the drafting; Hu delivered the report; Hu stepped down and Xi emerged as new General Secretary immediately after the Congress. If there were a successor to Xi as General Secretary in 2022, this loose pattern would suggest that the incoming General Secretary might have headed the Report’s drafting.
But who has been heading the drafting of the Report to the 20th Congress? Reports on the 19th CC Seventh Plenum state that Xi ‘gave an explanation’ (作说明) on the draft for discussion (讨论稿),10 but this is not a definitive answer. If it was Xi who headed the drafting, then this breaks the above pattern. Having completed the Report as head drafter, delivering the Report that he has headed in lieu of an incoming General Secretary would be one of Xi’s final acts before entering his third term as top leader. The thought, guidelines, and goals it contains will not have been developed between outgoing and incoming General Secretary, as in the past two instances since 2002. The Report’s content will be a continuation and development of Xi’s thought in the most direct sense.
What Party materials can we read to help us to understand the Report?
Below I offer a few suggestions on readings from the Party’s vast ‘literature’ to help with understanding the Report. They are based on:
the assumption that Xi has headed the Report’s drafting (an assumption that could be proven wrong);
the Report to the 19th Party Congress (its substance and my experience working on it);11
the Party’s actions, campaigns, and documents over the past year or so (happening just before or during the Report’s drafting); and
what we know about preparation for past Party congresses.
First, in July 2021, the Party marked the centenary of its founding. Xi’s speech on that occasion contained ideas that may reappear and be developed on in the 20th Congress report. The 1st July speech has historically been used as a setting for the incumbent leader to air important ideas. For example, over a year before the 16th Congress introduced the ‘Three Represents’ in 2002, Jiang gave his ‘longest and most important exposition’ on the idea in his 1st July 2001 speech marking the CCP’s 80th anniversary.12 Xi’s 95th CCP anniversary speech on 1st July 2016 was a useful pre-view to the Report to the 19th Congress in 2017. Even if the assumption is correct that Xi has headed the drafting of his own Report to the 20th Congress, he still needs to go through the process of building consensus on the Party’s platform—such speeches are part of that process. Xi’s 1st July speech 2021 may be worth reading before the Report to the 20th Congress.
Second, in November 2021, the 19th CC Sixth Plenum passed the ‘Resolution on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century’ (hereafter ‘2021 History Resolution’). Much of the Resolution focused on the past decade. Xi’s own ‘explanation’ on the Resolution actually highlighted its focus on the period since the beginning of the ‘New Era’ (i.e. since 2012) and stated that this ‘New Era’ focus was endorsed by those whose opinions were solicited during the Resolution’s drafting. The process of drafting the 2021 History Resolution has likely already performed a role toward developing the present Report to the 20th Congress. Xi headed that drafting committee, with Wang Huning and Zhao Leji as his deputy chiefs.13
Specifically, for example, the 2021 History Resolution contains explicit statements on ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’ and what that Thought ‘makes clear’ (明确), setting out 10 points. This swaps the order of, and builds on, the 8 ‘Makes Clears’ in the Report to the 19th Congress (that is, 8 statements all beginning with ‘[the Thought] makes clear’). The 20th Congress Report may build on these points, meaning that to study the Report, it is worth first revisiting the ‘Makes Clears’ in those documents. These points are a good place to start to understand the substance and potential implications of Xi’s ‘Thought’ (whatever name it is given) and adaptations to that ‘Thought’ since the last Congress and even, possibly, since the 2021 History Resolution.
From a historical perspective, in 1982, the Party convened its 12th Party Congress, after a long consensus-building process following Mao’s death and the end of the Cultural Revolution. Part of that consensus-building process was the formulation of the 1980 ‘A Number of Guidelines on Intra-Party Political Life’ (《关于党内政治生活的若干准则》) and the 11th CC Sixth Plenum’s 1981 resolution on history (《关于建国以来党的若干历史问题的决议》). The 18th CC Sixth Plenum in 2016 passed a new set of behavioural guidelines, officially ‘Code of Conduct for Intraparty Political Life under New Circumstances’ (《关于新形势下党内政治生活的若干准则》). The 19th CC Sixth Plenum in 2021 then passed the new History Resolution (《中共中央关于党的百年奋斗重大成就和历史经验的决议》). This time, once again, the 2021 History Resolution’s drafting can be understood as a process of forging consensus, focusing on Xi’s first decade in power and summarising ‘experience’ from that. The drafting process was presumably meant to be undertaken in accordance with the new behavioural rules. The 12th Congress in 1982 introduced a heavily revised Party Charter, and new principles on the Party’s leadership. The 19th Congress in 2017 overhauled those principles through its own Charter revisions, codifying a new mandate for the Party to ‘lead everything.’14
One more set of materials that makes for useful reading before the report is the package of documents and reports produced related to Xi’s speech to a provincial-and ministerial-level leading cadres’ seminar in July (sometimes called the ‘7.26 speech’ [7.26讲话]).15 That seminar was titled ‘Study the Spirit of General Secretary Xi Jinping’s Important Speeches, Welcome the Party’s 20th Congress.’ Before the 19th Party Congress, in 2017, Xi also gave a ‘7.26’ speech at such a seminar.16 In that 2017 speech he underlined the ‘aspirations of the people for a good life’ (‘牢牢把握人民群众对美好生活的向往’),17 elaborating that ‘the people’s desire for a good life has become stronger, and the people’s needs are proving to be diversified, multi-level, and multi-faceted.’ He also made the now familiar claim that, since the 18th Congress, ‘the Chinese nation has realised a historic leap from standing up and getting wealthy to growing great’ (中华民族实现了从站起来、富起来到强起来的历史性飞跃). These statements foreshadowed the 19th Party Congress report’s announcement of the change to the principal contradiction,18 and its assessment that (as of 2012) socialism with Chinese characteristics had entered a ‘New Era,’ in which the Party should work to make China into a ‘great modern socialist country’ (社会主义现代化强国).
This time around, the 2022 ‘7.26 speech’ is not publicly available in full online, but there is plenty to glean about its content from CCTV and Xinhua reporting,19 a series of People’s Daily articles (人民日报评论文章), and various commentaries and analyses (such as attempts to compare available parts of the text with those of previous seminars).20 The first part of the speech covers the past ten years; the latter part covers the future. It states the assessment that China has successfully promoted ‘Chinese-style modernisation’ (成功推进和拓展了中国式现代化) and must continue to do so.21 It reminds that the 20th Congress is happening at a point when China is embarking on a new journey—the Party has already declared the completion of the long-term goal of creating a ‘moderately prosperous society’—and announces that the Congress must set out the macro-level vision for accomplishing the two-step ‘strategic arrangements’ (goals for 2035 and mid-century).22 It underlines that the Congress needs to make deployments for tackling ‘unbalanced and inadequate development’ (要紧紧抓住解决不平衡不充分的发展问题) and that the ‘strict, comprehensive governing of the Party’ will not let up: ‘there must be no sentiment of it being time to relax and put your feet up, or of getting sick of the fight’ (决不能有松劲歇脚、疲劳厌战的情绪).
At the outset, the speech states the need to ‘clearly proclaim what banner, what path, what kind of state of spirit, and what kind of goal’ this new journey would involve (举什么旗、走什么路、以什么样的精神状态、朝着什么样的目标). In its closing section Xi reminds that ‘the Party is key’: it ‘must always have the clarity of mind and resolve of one “about to sit the exam of their life”’ (必须永葆“赶考”的清醒和坚定).23 This might resonate with Party members and historians. In 1949, Party leaders prepared in Xibaipo, Hebei, to enter Beiping to declare the founding of the People’s Republic of China and their new role as the ruling party. This was a time when they were discussing ‘what kind of state to build,’ the transformation in the nature of the work ahead of them, and the need to retain strict Party ‘work style.’ History books recall Mao Zedong telling Zhou Enlai ‘today is the day we enter the capital to “sit the exam”’ (今天是进京赶考).24 The 20th Congress report may be used as a vehicle to set out the Party’s plans for itself and its state, doubling down on ‘rules-based governing of the Party’25 and the ‘Party leading everything’ to the end of achieving the ‘great modern socialist country’ and ‘national rejuvenation.’
Reading these texts before the 20th Congress Report is not so much a matter of trying to divine what will be in it as it is a reminder of the need to think about the Report in context. There has been a long drafting process that has involved pre-exposing high-level leaders, and others through the People’s Daily, to the ideas that it will contain—setting out the basic thinking, and garnering support. It also reminds us of the continuing need of the leader to build legitimacy and support within the Party by transferring his preferences into collectively endorsed decisions.26
Finally, more broadly, it is worth remembering that the drafting process for the Report to the 20th Congress has unfolded in the context of various developments that make it more difficult to voice views that contradict the Central Committee’s current line. Specifically, this includes a regularised, institutionalised campaign to ‘Study the Party Charter and Party Regulations, Study the Series of Important Speeches [by Xi Jinping], and Be an Up-to-Scratch Party Member’ (两学一做).27 It also includes a redefined notion of ‘correct’ democratic centralism, explained by Politburo Standing Committee hopeful Ding Xuexiang as being to uphold the authority of the Central Committee with Xi as its Core.28 In other words, debate itself is confined within the bounds of performed (or genuine) consistency with the current Core.
List of Materials
CCTV 13 coverage of 2022.7.26 speech, 28th July 2022, https://tv.cctv.com/2022/07/28/VIDENyEJuHJzai3l8nwmZ0yq220728.shtml
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This usually gets shortened to ‘Congress Report’ ([第几]大报告) but for the sake of clarity, it is a Central Committee report to the Congress.
Listening to and reviewing the report is a power of the Congress, stipulated in the Charter (Art.20).
The current version of the Charter reads ‘when the National Party Congress is not in session, the Central Committee executes the resolutions of the Congress...’ (Art.22, stress added).
Miller, Alice. 2017. ‘How to Read Xi Jinping’s 19th Party Congress Political Report’, China Leadership Monitor, no.53, available at: https://www.hoover.org/sites/default/files/research/docs/clm53am.pdf.
For example, the Report to the 16th Congress in November 2002 began with the Politburo Standing Committee deciding to establish a drafting group in December 2001 see ‘马克思主义的纲领性文献——党的十六大报告诞生记’ 党员之友, 2002 (23) pp.17–21; the Report to the 17th Congress in October 2007 was begun with the decision to appoint a drafting group in December 2006, see 党的十七大报告诞生记 31 October 2007, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/hqzg/2007-10/31/content_6220251.htm. See also Ibid Miller; Wu, Guoguang. 2015. China’s Party Congress: Power, Legitimacy, and Institutional Manipulation Cambridge University Press.
Wu, Guoguang. 2015. China’s Party Congress: Power, Legitimacy, and Institutional Manipulation Cambridge University Press pp.136–137.
Ewan Smith makes some excellent points about the need to be cautious about overstating ‘norms’ or ‘rules’ in the Party. See Smith, Ewan. 2021. ‘On the Informal Rules of the Chinese Communist Party.’ The China Quarterly 248, no.1 pp.141–160.
关于十六大报告起草工作的批示 (Comments on Drafting Work for the 16th Party Congress Report) 18 February 2002, In 《江泽民文选》 第三卷 2006, Beijing: People’s Publishing House pp.439–441; Jiang also spoke to the drafting group in September 2002 对十六大报告稿的几点意见 (Several Views on the Draft 16th Party Congress Report) see 《江泽民文选》 第三卷 pp.514–518.
See中国共产党第十九届中央委员会第七次全体会议在京召开, 9 October 2022, http://politics.people.com.cn/n1/2022/1009/c1024-32541591.html.
As part of the team from the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau tasked with managing the translation of the report into English in 2017.
Fewsmith, Joseph. 2003. ‘Studying the Three Represents’ China Leadership Monitor, No.8.
See Xi Explainer on the Resolution on History, listed below.
Snape, Holly. 2022. ‘Party Leadership and Legislating: Party Documents through a Party-State Relationship Lens’ Chinese Law and Government 51(5–6).
There have been at least 5 such seminars since the 19th Congress, see 习近平在省部级主要领导干部专题研讨班开班式上的历次重要讲话, 28th July 2022, https://www.12371.cn/2022/01/11/ARTI1641905635172764.shtml.
See Xi Jinping, 习近平：高举中国特色社会主义伟大旗帜 为决胜全面小康社会实现中国梦而奋斗28th July 2017, http://cpc.people.com.cn/n1/2017/0728/c64094-29433645.html.
The wording about aspirations for a good life was not new: Xi used it when appearing with the then new Politburo Standing Committee after the 18th Congress, 15 November 2012, and it was selected for the title of the first excerpt in the 人民对美好生活的向往， 就是我们的奋斗目标 (The People’s Wish for a Good Life Is Our Goal).
To ‘the contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s growing needs for a good life.’
See CCTV, 28th July 2022, https://tv.cctv.com/2022/07/28/VIDENyEJuHJzai3l8nwmZ0yq220728.shtml; and Xinhua, 27th July 2022, 习近平在省部级主要领导干部专题研讨班上发表重要讲话 https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/Ich2bGUsVdn76-rS5QEgHg.
See for example ‘对比两次726讲话’, 学习批注, 23rd September 2022 https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/_zpJgr6hEA_Qh_qQAbVMXw.
It argues that ‘there is no one ultimate authority of a modernisation model or modernisation standards that are right everywhere’ (既不存在定于一尊的现代化模式，也不存在放之四海而皆准的现代化标准).
These were set out in the 19th Congress report: achieving basic modernisation by 2035 and the goal of ‘a great modern socialist country’ by mid-century.
‘赶考’ refers to going to the capital to sit the civil service examination in imperial China.
See 《西柏坡》中共河北省委宣传部、河北省出版总社、西柏坡纪念馆eds., 河北美术出版社p.115; 1949年9月27日：人民决定北平改名北京 http://www.zgdsw.com/article/901.html.
Xi spoke at Xibaibo in 2013, reportedly declaring, ‘the is the place where rules were made’ see Lu Renquan陆仁权. 2015. ‘“这里是立规矩的地方”——学习习近平2013年7月在西柏坡座谈时的新判断 .河北学刊, 35(2) pp.180–184.
See Wu, Guoguang. 1995. ‘“Documentary Politics”: Hypotheses, Process, and Case Studies’ In Carol Lee Hamrin and Suisheng Zhao eds., Decision-Making in Deng’s China: Perspectives from Insiders (Studies on Contemporary China) New York: M.E. Sharpe, pp.24–38.
See《关于在全体党员中开展“学党章党规、学系列讲话，做合格党员”学习教育方案》(Plan on Launching the Campaign to ‘Study the Party Charter and Party Regulations, Study the Series of Important Speeches [by Xi Jinping], and Be an Up-to-Scratch Party Member’ Throughout the Entire Party Membership). This requirement is now stipulated throughout various Party rules.
Politburo member Ding is director of the CCP General Office, which is responsible for interpreting the Central Committee Work Regulations. See 完善坚定维护党中央权威和集中统一领导的各项制度 (Improving each of the systems for resolutely protecting Party Centre authority and unified leadership), Central Research Institute for Party History and Literature, 25 November 2019, available at: https://www.dswxyjy.org.cn/n1/2019/1125/c430907-31473228.html.