Preserving Stability in China: The Ritualistic Quality of Political Discourse

Date: 13 September 2012, 4pm

Place: 16 Kelburn Parade Room 101, Kelburn Campus, Victoria University

Speaker: Professor Maurizio Marinelli, China Research Centre at the University of Technology Sydney

Seminar overview

This seminar focuses on the political use of formalized language, with particular attention to the possible attainment, via language, of the declared aim of ‘preserving stability’. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership has always invoked the key tenet of ‘preserving stability’ (weiwen).

This concept is profoundly embedded in the traditional political culture: a line of continuity could be traced back to the Confucian canon’s ideal of ‘Great Harmony’ (Datong), that was reedited by the reformer Kang Youwei (1858-1927) with his 1915 visionary utopian treatise entitled exactly Datongshu.

The ideal was then absorbed by Mao Zedong’s post-Cultural Revolution (1974) directive, that emphasised ‘stability and unity’ (anding tuanjie) to reunite the Party, and was skilfully reemployed by the rehabilitated Deng Xiaoping, who championed the ‘anding tuanjie’ formula as a prerequisite for the realization of the Party’s ‘four modernizations’ program. However, during the post-Mao era, ‘stability’ (wending) became the political keyword.

After June 4, 1989, the slogan coined by Deng Xiaoping the same year in February, ‘stability is everything’, became paramount, not only as a short term reaffirmation of the CCP legitimate mandate to rule (and rule by force if necessary), but as the CCP’s absolute priority.

After handing over the baton to Jiang Zemin, the formulation became an self-explanatory truth: ‘Without stability, nothing can be achieved’. Since its ‘peaceful rise’ in 2003, the Hu Jintao-Wen Jiabao government has elaborated the stability formula into the slogan of creating a ‘harmonious society’: ‘one characterized by social cohesion, orderly prosperity and political quiescence’ (Barme’, 2006).

On the eve of the 18th CCP National Congress, this seminar will analyse the evolutionary parable of the political discourse of stability from Mao Zedong to Hu Jintao.

About the speaker

Professor Maurizio Marinelli is Director of the China Research Center at the University of Technology, Sydney. Professor Marinelli specialises in the study of contemporary China’s cultural, intellectual and urban history.

His research investigates how China’s relations with the rest of the world have influenced historical narratives and shaped visual representations within their respective intellectual discourses.

He has been the Principal Investigator of the research project ‘Colonialism in comparative perspective: Tianjin under nine flags, 1860-1945’, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (UK).