The literal word-by-word translation of the ‘Chinese Dream‘ in Mandarin is simply ‘China’ and ‘dream’. How conveniently ambiguous. But in which way should it really be translated? “China’s dream” or “Chinese Dream”? The rhetoric in Xi Jinping’s new slogan kickstarted a flurry of conversation among Chinese liberals and reformers, highlighting the chasm between the aspirations of the party and those of the individual.
A couple of handy definitions:
China’s dream (noun): A single nation’s dream. Better understood as the grand finale in the epic tale of a modern day partial power looking to claw back the glory (and more importantly, the third of global GDP) that it once had back in the good old 19th century days.
Chinese Dream (noun): The Chinese people’s own dreams and hopes for their daily lives. Includes things like the power to buy property, send children to school, or buy condoms with confidence.
Earlier this week, Caijing held an online debate concerning the interpretation of the Chinese Dream and invited comments from Weibo:
@行走的b小调: “The greatest chasm in the world is not life versus death, but my China dream and I.”
@Miss-張璐: “China’s dream is the upwards rise of a great nation; Chinese Dreams on the other hand consist of happiness and health, living in a secure house and being content in one’s job. The foundations of the economy determine the strength of the building, and if it isn’t rooted in the wellbeing of the people, China can put on a dazzling display for outside world, but it would be nothing but a flimsy shell… Power lies with the collective; it’s the driving force for dreams.”
According to Caijing:
This confusion of logic and language lends itself well to arguing for both sides of the coin; it’s just as easy to claim that it’s only ever been about China as a nation as it is to shoehorn the notion of individual dreams into the collective concept. Indeed, The Economist argues that this ambiguity works in Xi Jinping’s favour:
So far [Xi’s “Chinese Dream”] is being left deliberately vague. The unwritten rules of succession politics in China require Mr Xi to keep his policy preferences close to his chest at the beginning of his term in office, and to stick to the guidelines laid down by his predecessors. He is all but obliged to work towards the targets of the five-year economic plan that was adopted under Mr Hu in 2011 (which is strong on the need for more environmentally friendly growth). He has to stick to the party’s longer-term plans as well: the attainment of a “moderately well-off society” by the time of the party’s 100th birthday in 2021 (one year before Mr Xi would have to retire); the creation of a “rich, strong, democratic, civilised and harmonious socialist modern country” by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist nation. (The meaning of these words has never been made clear, but officials are explicit that “democratic” does not involve multi-party politics.) If precedent is any guide, Mr Xi would not begin to start any serious tinkering with policy until a meeting of the party’s central committee in the autumn, a year after his assumption of power.
The vagueness of the “Chinese Dream” slogan allows Mr Xi to embrace these inherited aims while hinting that, under his rule, change is possible. But the lack of specificity also carries risks. It provides a space in which the Chinese can think of their own dreams—which may not coincide with Mr Xi’s. Since November the term has not merely been promulgated. It has been discussed and even argued about across the political spectrum, both in articles published by the official media and in outpourings online. In effect, the public is defining the dream by itself.
The choice of words in the CCP’s new slogan is already a marked departure from its previous ones; and that move in itself is a bold one. What may have initially started out as a nation-centric notion has been fuelled in no doubt by the emotive power of the American Dream and taken on a life of its own.
The key takeaway is that the government is finally allowing their citizens to dream – an activity that was once considered inordinate. Just thirty years ago, being down-to-earth, practical and realistic were the most desirable character traits. On this basis alone, it is hardly surprising that the public are somewhat reluctant to adopt anything as ‘imaginary’, ‘distant’ and ‘hazy’ as a dream. But dream they do. However, judging by the government’s censorship of Southern Weekend’s constitutional dream in their New Year’s newspaper edition, the only condition is that they first have to dream the collective dream. What happens next is anyone’s guess.
By Lisa Wang // Image credit: Tricia Wang