Xi Jinping's ideas have conquered China. Now he has his eyes on a bigger prize—the rest of the worldby Isabel Hilton / May 14, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
In April 2015, Gao Yu, a 70-year-old female journalist, was found guilty in Beijing’s Third Intermediate People’s Court on charges of leaking state secrets to foreign media. The “secrets” were contained in an internal Communist Party document that had been published on overseas Chinese news websites. The harsh seven-year sentence had the collateral effect of confirming the document’s authenticity.
The document’s full title was A Communiqué on the Current State of the Ideological Sphere, but as the ninth paper in a General Office of the Party series in early 2013, it soon earned the more popular name, Document Nine. Blessed by the central leadership, it was distributed to government and party officials at all levels, plus the armed forces. It identified, and made “suggestions” to counter, the seven most important threats to the Party’s grip on power—a list of the liberal values and norms that are foundational for western democracies. It decried “constituionalism,” which is—very roughly—what we call the rule of law. Civil society made the list, too, as did the free press and “nihilistic” history—that is, history that failed to put the Party centre-stage as the engine of China’s success.
Meanwhile, it labelled elections, independent judiciaries and national armies (the People’s Liberation Army serves the Party, not the state) as the hallmarks of “anti-China forces.” Universal values and human rights were defined as threats promoted by the same sinister alliance of internal “dissidents” and hostile outsiders, who demanded such inconvenient things as the release of “political prisoners” and anti-corruption reforms.
Though focused on China’s domestic politics, Document Nine can also be read as a map of the ruling Communist Party’s anxieties as it pursues its global ambitions; five years later it reads as an early signal of what is fast becoming a global battle of ideas. The document urged vigilance against the “infiltration” of those dangerous, foreign ideas; today, as China’s global ambitions grow, it is increasingly taking the battle to the source, deploying its formidable economic resources and political muscle to challenge ideas and shape perceptions in the campuses, the communities and the media of the west, and using its weight to bring states and corporations into line with state propaganda.