Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 04/2011

Tradition in Chinese politics: The Party-state's reinvention of the past and the critical response from public intellectuals

Jyrki Kallio

February 2011

Finnish Institute for International Affairs


This study discusses the role of history and tradition in the legitimization of the state in the People’s Republic of China. In Chinese political debate, history has traditionally been the most important source of argumentation. Today, the Party-state is reinventing history and tradition to bolster its legitimacy, but the project has met with opposition. Th is study introduces and analyzes the related debate, ongoing among various actors in different public fora in China, and engaged in both by those affi liated with the Partystate and those outside the establishment. This discussion is particularly relevant because of wide agreement that there is a spiritual vacuum in China today. Communism no longer provides the foundation for values as China has, in effect, become a wholly capitalist economy. This weakens the legitimacy of the ruling party and even endangers unity, which is the central concept in the Chinese political creed.