China's image shines brighter as it marches toward modernization goal
Published: Oct 21, 2022 08:04 PM Updated: Oct 21, 2022 10:42 PM
Landscape in Baise, South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region attracts visitors.

Landscape in Baise, South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region attracts visitors.


Editor's Note:

In a report delivered to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) on October 16, Xi Jinping expounded on the missions and tasks of the CPC on the new journey of the new era.

The tasks were specified to realize the Second Centenary Goal of building China into a great modern socialist country in all respects and to advance the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation on all fronts through a Chinese path to modernization.

The country's modernization has deep implications for how China presents itself to the world and how the world perceives China, observers said.

This is the sixth installment of the Global Times' special coverage of the special event. Here are the first, and second installments on China's xiaokang, third on Chinese modernization, fourth and fifth on Chinese contributions of wisdom.

Expounding on the "great socialist modern country" as "prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful", Xi noted at the opening session on Sunday the need to better tell China's stories, make China's voice heard, and present a China that is credible, appealing, and respectable."We will strengthen our international communication capabilities, make our communication more effective, and strive to strengthen China's voice in international affairs so it is commensurate with our composite national strength and international status," he said.

How will China realize its socialist modernization and present an image that is commensurate with this idea?

Observers said the country's international image and appeal are ultimately defined not only by the course of its progress, but also by its means of development and how it engages with and what it brings to the global community.

Decoding China's vision of a socialist modern country, we should know that the idea is deeply rooted in the country's rich culture and traditional philosophies, while organically combines universal values and China's own development experience.

The soft power of a country ultimately lies in its moral appeal, which comes from what it has promised and achieved both at home and internationally, experts said, holding the belief that China's sound internal governance and strategic credibility in foreign policy will enhance Chinese appeal and ensure that the ideal image is presented.

A staff member tests devices at an exhibition booth during a media preview of the 2022 World 5G Convention in Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, Aug 9, 2022. Photo:Xinhua

A staff member tests devices at an exhibition booth during a media preview of the 2022 World 5G Convention in Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, Aug 9, 2022. Photo:Xinhua

Prosperous and strong

In 2012, China had already surpassed Japan to become the world's second largest economy only behind the US, but nearly 100 million Chinese still lived in poverty.

Ten years later, China has successfully shaken off "poverty" and realized the long-cherished dream of xiaokang, moderate prosperity in all respects.

Different people will have different answers on what constitute the "icons of China," but skyscrapers in Beijing and Shanghai, intertwined highways and high-speed railways, e-commerce and convenient mobile payment, will frequently feature in those answers, painting the picture of an economic miracle.

China also has a greater ambition of high-quality development, with objectives including boosting China's strength in manufacturing, product quality, aerospace, transportation, cyberspace, and digital development, advancing rural revitalization across the board and promoting high-standard opening-up.

Smart factories facilitated by 5G, lunar and Mars probes and space stations, electric vehicles and pilotless automobiles and booming eco-tourism in villages are becoming new name cards for China.

Zhang Yiwu, a professor at Peking University, told the Global Times that the progress made in material modernization has greatly boosted Chinese people's confidence in and capability of presenting a real and multidimensional China.

China's rising economic strength is also making its image more visible and meaningful to the world.

In October 2021, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres thanked China for its role in shaping and implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, as evidenced by its strong commitment and significant progress in eradicating poverty in all forms and dimensions.

China's achievements provide valuable lessons in poverty alleviation that are being shared with other countries through South-South Cooperation, Guterres said.

As China vows to promote the high-quality development of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in its future opening-up, the initiative, first put forward by Xi in 2013 and inspired by exchanges between ancient civilizations, also epitomizes the way that China's development benefits the world, experts said, citing Chinese-constructed CBD project in the capital of Egypt, and the new stadium in Cambodia.

They predicted that the BRI, along with other China-proposed development initiatives, will continue to play an integral part in shaping the international perception of China.

Deputies to the 13th National People's Congress (NPC) attend the second plenary meeting of the fifth session of the 13th NPC at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, March 8, 2022. Photo:Xinhua

Deputies to the 13th National People's Congress (NPC) attend the second plenary meeting of the fifth session of the 13th NPC at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, March 8, 2022. Photo:Xinhua


In the political realm, China's image has long been smeared as "authoritarian" and "undemocratic", because the narrative of democracy has been monopolized by the US and the West.

In the Western sense, multiple parties vying for power and governing in turn and universal suffrage are essential parts of democracy.

It was only recently that China started to elaborate on and explain to the world its concept and practices of democracy - the whole-process people's democracy - a term Xi brought up in 2019 during his visit to a civic center in Shanghai where legislation was being discussed at the local community level.

Whole-process people's democracy is a combination of electoral democracy and consultative democracy, and is applied through a combination of elections, consultations, decision-making, management and oversight, according to a white paper issued in December 2021 on the concept.

Xi said on Sunday at the opening session of the 20th CPC National Congress that whole-process people's democracy is the defining feature of socialist democracy; it is democracy in its broadest, most genuine, and most effective form.

"We will improve the system of institutions through which the people run the country," said Xi.

"This country is its people; the people are the country," Xi noted.

The people-centered ideal that the CPC embraces has its roots in traditional Chinese culture and the governance philosophy of Confucianism, while its connotation and relevant practices are suited to contemporary China, analysts said.

Zheng Yongnian, a noted Chinese political scientist, said democracy is sustainable when it is compatible with a country's economic, social and cultural reality. Democracy lasts longer when it is born from inside rather than imposed by outside forces.

As for the future, Xi said China will also encourage the people's orderly participation in political affairs and guarantee their ability to engage in democratic elections, consultations, decision-making, management, and oversight in accordance with the law.

"We will inspire the people's motivation, initiative, and creativity, so as to consolidate and develop a lively, stable, and united political atmosphere," he said.

While China forges ahead on its unique path of democracy, Western-style democracy is on the verge of collapse, with the US Capitol riots in 2021 as a prominent example.

Not only do Chinese people have stronger confidence in their democracy and political path, as a poll in 2021 suggested, but more and more people around the world are also starting to realize and daring to speak out the simple truth that democracy is not like Coca-Cola, tasting the same everywhere in the world.

An Egyptian tourist wearing an opera costume learns Peking Opera from the owner of an opera-themed cafe in Beijing on September 23, 2022. Photo: VCG
An Egyptian tourist wearing an opera costume learns Peking Opera from the owner of an opera-themed cafe in Beijing on September 23, 2022. Photo: VCG

Culturally advanced

"To build a modern socialist country in all respects, we must develop a socialist culture with Chinese characteristics and be more confident in our culture," Xi said in the report.

No one can deny the richness of Chinese culture, said Zhang Yiwu from Peking University, but the issue is how we present it and whether the message gets delivered.

Zhang pointed out a notable trend of Chinese people taking greater initiative in defending their traditional culture and showing greater confidence in revitalizing their own culture through interpretations in pace with the times.

Besides the continuing debates over the foreign "high fashion" taste of Chinese models with slanted eyes, one latest example could be the protest against Dior's suspected copying of a classic design in traditional Chinese attire known as mamian, or "horse face" skirt.

Dior described the mid-length skirt as "a hallmark Dior silhouette" but Hanfu lovers found in it many details similar to mamian, which was most popular during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Traditional design can be used in modern clothes and many Hanfu stores have been selling mamian-inspired skirts for years as a way to present traditional Chinese fashion in a modern way.

Chen Ziqi, 28, who joined the protest at a Dior store in Sydney, told the Global Times that the Dior controversy involves cultural appropriation, but also taught us that we need to keep the richness of traditional culture alive today and effectively convey it to the world.

"It is the mission of our time, of our generation."

TV dramas and novels have also been playing an important role in bringing innovation to the delivery of Chinese culture worldwide.

Chinese costume dramas have always been popular in East and Southeast Asia and in recent years, fantasy and realistic genres are also becoming better-received, Zhang said.

In 2022, the time-loop suspense Reset and anti-drug trafficking series Being A Hero became hits in the costume-drama dominated overseas markets. A revamped version of a Chinese street dance variety show has become a hit in Vietnam, marking a step forward for China's own TV IPs.

Industry observers stressed that in addition to cultural appeal, popularity is being facilitated by Chinese video platforms' overseas exploration and an open mind for cultural exchanges in society.

A similar pattern can be seen in online literature.

Qu Chang, a veteran translator who previously translated into Chinese the hit book series A Song of Ice and Fire, told the Global Times in an earlier interview that the development of Chinese online literature is leading the world, as China now has a mature mechanism for publishing online literature.

"Many overseas readers are curious about the culture of China such as Taoism, martial arts and e-sports," he added. This has prompted a wave of translations of Chinese works.

These practices are all going in the direction pointed out at the key Party Congress: rallying public support, fostering a new generation of young people, developing Chinese culture, and better presenting China to the world.

Analysts noted that the BRI is often mistakenly seen as only being about infrastructure. However, under the BRI, Chinese culture is holding exchanges with other cultures through film festivals, cultural co-productions and many other formats.

Enhancing archaeological cooperation with BRI countries was also written into China's 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25).

Aerial photo taken on May 13, 2022 shows a view of Zhangzehu national wetland park in Changzhi, north China's Shanxi Province. Photo:Xinhua

Aerial photo taken on May 13, 2022 shows a view of Zhangzehu national wetland park in Changzhi, north China's Shanxi Province. Photo:Xinhua

Harmonious and beautiful

At the 20th CPC National Congress, Xi called for the pursuit of green development and the promotion of harmony between humanity and nature.

Respecting, adapting to, and protecting nature is essential for building China into a modern socialist country in all respects, he said, calling for the Beautiful China Initiative to be advanced.

For a long period of time, China's development was trapped in a cycle of "pollution first, treatment after," and the economic miracle was marred by the environmental costs it incurred.

But with the belief of "lucid waters and lush mountains are invaluable assets," China's pursuit for green development, as well as its commitment to global carbon reduction goals, is being recognized.

Zou Yi, a Beijing resident, may have a bigger say than others on the capital city's air pollution control, as he has documented through pictures the Beijing CBD's skies everyday for 10 years.

Looking through thousands of photos of Beijing's skies, the pictures were generally gray, gloomy, and foggy in 2013, but gradually, they transitioned to a clearer blue, and were sometimes crystal clear.

Since 2018, city-, county-, township-, and provincial-level river and lake chiefs have inspected rivers and lakes an average of 7 million times per year to eliminate dark water bodies. Cross-provincial mechanisms have been established and joint inspections and law enforcement carried out, forming a strong synergy in river and lake management and protection.

The ideal of human-nature harmony was well demonstrated in a famous journey made by a wandering herd of wild Asian elephants in the Southwest China province of Yunnan, which drew global attention.

The journey reflected and also further boosted public awareness of ecological protection, accelerating more elephant protection measures, including habitat restoration and studies on the species. The results are promising - elephants in Yunnan are seeing a baby boom, protectors said.

China also put in place a 10-year fishing ban on the Yangtze River starting in 2020 to tackle pollution and biodiversity decline problems of this "mother river."

In the past decade, China raised its proportion of clean energy to 16.6 percent of all energy consumption, became a major pillar in adding green to the world, and actively participated in global cooperation to deal with climate change.

Summarizing its past experience, China will develop a holistic and systematic approach to the conservation and improvement of mountains, waters, forests, farmlands, grasslands, and deserts.

China will prioritize ecological protection, conserve resources and use them efficiently, and pursue green and low-carbon development, Xi said.

What will China look like in 2035? Here's a closer look. Graphic: GT

What will China look like in 2035? Here's a closer look. Graphic: GT

Image of modernization

The Chinese pursuit of modernization, in the eyes of domestic and global observers, has deep roots in its culture.

The xiaokang goal, the idea that "people are masters of the country," the concept of harmony, all came from ancient classics and were interpreted and adapted to suit modern times.

Noted British scholar Martin Jacques mentioned the Chinese concept of tianxia, or "all under heaven," which is integral to the history of Chinese civilization, in a previous interview with the Global Times.

In the era of globalization and climate change, a concept of the world, rather than just the nation-state, is essential. That is why the Chinese proposition for a "shared destiny for mankind" is fundamental to a new way of thinking about the world and democracy, Jacques said.

Some analysts also believe that China's development vision reflects the traditional neisheng waiwang thought adopted by Confucianism. The concept, which literally translates as "internal saint, external king", holds that a country should improve its domestic governance to realize leadership among others.

Yan Xuetong, a renowned expert on international relations at Tsinghua University, believes the core of a country's soft power is its moral appeal.

In an interview in 2021 with Princeton University Press China, he said the morality or moral actions of a government are reflected in being responsible for people's interests, winning their trust and safeguarding international order, as well as having strategic credibility.

The continuous improvement of people's well-being in China, Chinese people's satisfaction with their government's performance being at over 90 percent for consecutive years and the pledges to build a modern socialist country in all respects, are all part of China's pursuit of internal morality, analysts said.

In the interview, Yan pointed out that whether a country is moral or not does not come from what the country says, but from others' evaluation of its actions. Therefore, soft power should come from a country's success and role model effect, rather than the values it boasts about or the uniqueness of its culture.

This logic explains why the US is losing popularity among not only developing countries but also among many of its allies: chaotic internal governance and hegemonic foreign policy are mutually consuming and have diminished the US' moral appeal, analysts said.

At the same time, it is noted that "the CPC does not exert its model on other parties or countries, or point fingers at the affairs of political parties from other countries," Shen Beili, vice minister of the International Department of the CPC Central Committee, reiterated at a Thursday press briefing on the sidelines of the 20th CPC National Congress.

Each country must figure out its own path that is suited to its conditions. Expounding on Chinese modernization is about making pledges to the Chinese people, and the unfolding of Chinese modernization could serve as inspiration and reference for other countries on their exploratory paths, analysts said.

Diversity is the nature of the world, and development is not about using one system or civilization to replace another. That is why China upholds the belief in dialogue between civilizations and a world with differences, Zhang Yiwu said.

By exploring, studying and deepening understanding of Chinese civilization, the Chinese nation is overcoming challenges as it has done throughout history, and is reforming itself to adapt to the times, he said.

An image of a "prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful China" is emerging from the modernization of Chinese civilization.