Researcher Remarks 

Musings on the 17th CPC National Congress (October 15-21, 2007)

     Commentary by Sergio Ticozzi, PIME


     The Communist Party of China (CPC), with its 2,235 delegates, closed its 17th National Congress on Sunday, October 21, installing a new 371-member Central Committee and a 127-member Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. The Central Committee, on Monday 22, elected its new Standing Committee of nine members. There are old and new faces on the political stage of China. The Congress has been considered “a great success”. The majority of commentators speculate about the political implications of its results: who are the winners, who lost control, etc., but, beside politics, there can be other kinds of concerns.

     My attention was drawn by the resolution to amend the Party Constitution. First, it has enshrined the slogan, frequently proposed by Hu Jintao, of the “scientific outlook on development”. It shows the Party's determination to promote a balance between economic growth, agricultural development and environmental protection. However, the delegates did not decide to insert into the list of the leading ideologies, though quoted few times, the other more popular slogan of the present leadership, “building a socialist harmonious society”. I wonder why this happened. Probably, I guess, the majority of Party delegates, who have been used to speak about ‘revolution’, felt a sense of shame to officially adopt the term ‘harmony’. It sounds too related to Confucius, whom most of them, in the depth of the hearts, do not like very much.

     Another amendment to the Party Constitution drew my attention. For the first time, the term ‘religion’ has been enshrined in it. It was put in the context of the policies and principles to follow on the work related to ethnic and religious affairs. It was motivated and explained with the phrase, “in light of the new circumstances and tasks”. But what are the new circumstances and tasks? They seem to be the following. First, how to deal with the greatly increasing number of believers among the Chinese people and even among Party members: the official number of religious people is 100 million, but a recent poll states that they are three times more. Second, serious new religious issues about the kinds of religious activities to allow to Muslims, the conflicts about the real estates of religious institutions, the issues concerning Tibet, the Dalai Lama and his reincarnation, the new initiatives of the Holy See (the Pope’s Letter and the choice of new bishops), the need to deal properly with the foreign religious athletes and tourists coming for the 2008 Olympics, etc. are all causes of urgent concern and worry for the Party cadres. The underlining basic motivation seems to be the traditional one: how the Party can keep the total control of the situation in these “new circumstances”. I wonder whether some Party delegates did not feel embarrassed even to deal with this issue: How are they, who declare themselves atheist and without religion, capable to decide about the reincarnation of souls, the spiritual qualifications of religious leaders, and the way of performing religious practices? A bit of restraint also here should be welcomed and hoped for.  

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