What does Xi Jinping's China Dream mean?

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File image of the Chinese Children's Choir during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing on 4 August 2008Image source, AP
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Xi Jinping wants his citizens to aim high - but at what?

China and the US are global rivals - yet when it comes to inspirational appeal, China has no match for the American Dream. But that may be changing, as Beijing promotes Xi Jinping's new slogan - the China Dream. The BBC's Martin Patience asks what it means.

In recent months Chinese state media have unleashed a propaganda blitz extolling the virtues of President Xi Jinping's China Dream.

It has rarely been out of the newspapers. So-called "dream walls" have appeared in some schools and universities where students are encouraged to write their own dreams on the wall.

A leading think-tank - the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences - has also called for proposals to research the dream. And the slogan has even inspired a chart-topping folk song.

In the arcane world of Chinese politics, slogans matter. They are the words that are meant to convey a leader's vision for the country.

And when you compare Mr Xi's China Dream with some of his predecessors' slogans - Scientific Development or the Three Representatives, for example - it certainly comes across as more catchy.


But what does the China Dream actually mean? Mr Xi made his first reference to it in November 2012, when he was promoted to the top Communist Party post.

The propaganda storm began in earnest after he became president in 2013. He used the term numerous times in his first address to the nation as head of state on 17 March.

"We must make persistent efforts, press ahead with indomitable will, continue to push forward the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and strive to achieve the Chinese dream of great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation," he said.

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Mr Xi has not specified how to put the dream into practice

"To realise the Chinese road, we must spread the Chinese spirit, which combines the spirit of the nation with patriotism as the core and the spirit of the time with reform and innovation as the core," he went on.

But Mr Xi has been short on specifics and on how to put the dream into practice.

Liu Mingfu, a retired Chinese colonel, believes he has a better idea than most. He published a book called the China Dream: Great Power Thinking and Strategic Posture in the Post-America Era in 2010.

Ever since Mr Xi started using the slogan, Mr Liu's books have been flying off the shelves. He would not say how many books he had sold, but it was clear from the smile on his face that he was doing rather well.

The author believes that China's new leader shares his dream - which is to make China the world's dominant power.

"Since the 19th Century, China has been lagging on the world stage," he said. "President Xi's dream is of a stronger nation with a strong military."

And the symbolism of the surroundings where Mr Xi apparently first used the slogan was hard to ignore. He used the National Museum's Road to Revival exhibition to deliver his message to senior leaders.

The exhibit expounds on China's suffering at the hands of colonial powers in the 19th and 20th Centuries and the subsequent restoration of its greatness under Communist Party rule.

Last year, China launched its first aircraft carrier - a symbol of its intent. But the country's growing military might is making its neighbours nervous. China is also currently embroiled in several territorial disputes in the region.

Broad appeal

But perhaps the appeal of the China Dream is that it is so loosely defined that it can mean almost anything.

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For one student, the China Dream "is perhaps studying hard"

At Xi Jinping's alma mater, the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing, that was certainly the impression.

"For students, the China Dream is perhaps studying hard," said one science student.

"But I think the core of the dream is the same: We Chinese must do something for the country. I want to be a professor in the future. I want to make a contribution to the education sector."

Others are not so optimistic about the China Dream. They see it as a propaganda campaign by the ruling Communist Party to win public affection. It certainly comes as problems mount for China's leaders.

The economy is slowing and more university graduates are now struggling to find jobs. There is also growing anger over official corruption and pollution.

And though the China Dream has not been clearly defined, those in power appear to know what it does not include. Earlier this year, there were rare protests at one of China's most influential newspapers after the authorities censored their front page editorial on the China Dream - which called for the rule of law.

One of the country's best known authors and bloggers, Li Chengpeng, says the problem with the China Dream is that it does not address key issues.

"We cannot mention universal values or an independent judiciary," he said. "We cannot talk about multi-party democracy. What we need is not a magical dream but good politicians."

It gives you some ideas of the pressures facing the party. Using nationalism is of course a powerful unifying force. But the China Dream may be a sign that Mr Xi fears difficult times ahead.