China has been decades away from strongman politics and many Chinese, myself included, no long pin our hopes on any leaders. Leaders come and go, but the ones who remain are we the people.
However, as China becomes richer and society more diversified, we the people are not as homogeneous as we used to be. We have become differentiated people, with some more affluent while others vulnerable, and some with more say than others. Although we still embrace the concept that the people are the masters of the People’s Republic of China, the people as a political term seemed to fade away in our political language for quite some time.
That is why I was touched while listening to Xi Jinping’s televised address at the closure of the First Session of the 12th National People’s Congress on March 17. In his first speech on his mission and vision as the new president of the republic, Xi once again reached out to us the people to deliver the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation.
“The Chinese dream, after all, is the dream of the people,” Xi said to some 3,000 deputies, to the country’s top legislature and through TV to the millions watching the event. “All Chinese people deserve equal opportunities to enjoy a prosperous life, see their dreams come true and benefit together from the country’s development.”
Of course there is still a distance from the realization of what Xi put out in words and we should not be naive or overjoyed at just a speech, however aspiring it sounds. Yet we cannot deny Xi’s sincerity to involve all the Chinese people into the drive to realize the Chinese dream and rejuvenate the nation. This is a departure from the concept of governing by relying on a few elites that has prevailed in China for quite some time. This is also a positive intention which could transform the vision of Chinese dream into the people’s shared desire and action.
In our exploration of China’s modernization, we tried different roads and means. As the country was at a low stage of development and poverty-stricken, we followed the planning economy to concentrate the national resources on our reconstruction. At one time, it worked to inspire the people’s tremendous enthusiasm and we accomplished the initial industrialization in a short period of time. While we managed to feed and clothe the world’s most populous nation, the people in general were not rich. For example, I once felt that traveling abroad was an unreachable dream.
Then China tried the road of market economy, which emphasized more on individual efforts and encouraged some people to get rich before others. We managed to become the world’s second largest economy in three decades, and many people entered the middle class. A large number of people like me, who do not belong to the top rich, can now afford to travel abroad at least once a year. But we also have many new social problems, like social disparity and polarization, as we have never seen before. Some from so-called vulnerable groups seemed to be excluded in the nation’s modernization drive.
Since the Chinese dream is the people’s dream, no one should be left behind in its delivery. We the people should include every individual of society, regardless of his or her income, education, ethnicity, sex or social ranking. If some groups of people are reduced to a vulnerable status and have to bear the country’s growing pains all the time, the Chinese dream will be empty talk and doomed.
China’s 1.3 billion people are its richest resource, if well mobilized. After all, the people, and the people only, are the motivating force of history. When the 1.3 billion Chinese converge in their pursuit of individual dreams into that of the Chinese dream, our national rejuvenation is at hand.
In this context, it is good to see China’s new leaders value the people as a whole. In fact, it is the power of the people that forms the foundation of their confidence in everything. And their integration with the people, the people in grassroots in particular, is the only way to get the people of our 56 ethnic groups into one to push for the realization of the Chinese dream.
Xiong Lei is a guest professor of journalism at Renmin University of China.