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Xi’s “hot phrases” show his folksy style


Kerry Brown just noted for The Diplomat that President Xi Jinping is far more willing to speak out than his more reserved predecessor, Hu Jintao. China’s domestic media have not been hesitant to draw attention to this fact either – Xi’s remarks and speeches garner widespread coverage. In fact, People’s Daily online just carried a story highlighting 12 “hot phrases” (热词) used by President Xi over the past few years. Hong Kong University’s China Media Project provided an English translation of the bulk of the article.

克里·布朗(Kerry Brown)不久前才为《外交学者》撰文,称与更为含蓄的上一任领导人胡锦涛相比,现任中国国家主席习近平更愿意畅所欲言。中国国内媒体对此的报道上也很直接——习近平的言论和讲话得到了广泛登载。事实上,人民网刚刚发表了一篇文章,重点突出了习近平主席在过去几年里带火的12个“热词”。香港大学的中国传媒研究计划还对文章的大部分内容进行了英文翻译。


The list of catch-phrases is as notable for what’s not included as for what is included. Of the 12 “hot phrases,” only one touches on foreign policy – “one belt and one road,” a reference to Xi’s proposal for a Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road. The phrase “new type of great power relations” – arguably Xi’s first catchphrase, as it emerged during a 2012 visit to the U.S. while he was still vice president – doesn’t even make the list. So what does make People’s Daily’s list of 12 “hot phrases” used by President Xi?



As the China Media Project points out, many of these “hot phrases” are intended mostly to showcase Xi’s folksy style, both in terms of phrasing and subject matter. He uses Internet slang to describe government work styles; he tells Chinese youngsters not to pull all-nighters. The message is that Xi is both relatable and concerned with the issues that dominate Chinese people’s daily lives. But intermixed with these down-to-earth sayings are examples that hint at how Chinese media wants the people to think of their leader.

正如中国传媒研究计划所指,许多热词从措辞和内容上都是为了展示习近平的亲民风格。他使用网络语言描述政府作风;他告诫年轻人不要总熬夜。这其中传达出一 种信息:习近平关心在中国老百姓日常生活占主导地位的议题,并且产生共鸣。但是中国媒体想要通过这些例子暗示老百姓应该如何看待领袖,这与上述的务实说法互相杂糅。


Unsurprisingly, the “Chinese dream” is Xi’s number one “hot phrase.” This concept has percolated down to touch on every single aspect of Xi’s governance of China – anti-corruption, economic reforms, even foreign policy. All of these initiatives are loosely tied to Xi’s vision of realizing the Chinese dream: “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people.”



Xi, as the originator of the phrase, now has a monopoly on defining it. It’s up to Xi to decide which policies and actions are to the benefit of the “Chinese dream” and which are not. Environmental protection, for example, has been folded into the Chinese dream (as seen by another of Xi’s “hot phrases,” “APEC blue”). Turning away from the CCP’s definition of Chinese values, however, is definitely not part of the Chinese dream. Thus another “hot phrase” involves Xi telling students, “In life, you need to get the buttons right from the start” – part of a longer lecture emphasizing that if young Chinese embrace the wrong values, all of society will suffer. It’s a short step from there to the recent campaign for ideological education at China’s universities.

习近平创造了这个短语,并成为其定义的评判者。哪些政策与行动符合“中国梦”的利益,哪些不符,这都由习近平说了算。比如说,环境保护就被纳入“中国梦” 的范畴(在另一个热词“APEC蓝”中就有所体现)。但是,有悖于中共定义的中国价值的,就绝对不是“中国梦”的一部分。因此,另一个热词出现在习近平告诫学生的话中,“人生的扣子从一开始就要扣好”——这出现在一次演讲中,其中强调如果中国青年的价值取向错误,整个社会都将遭殃。这与近期的高校思想教育运动不无相关。


Many of Xi’s other “hot phrases” deal generally with the anti-corruption campaign. Xi’s famous exhortation to battle “tigers and flies” made the list, as did a lesser known pronouncement urging officials to self-reflect (“Look in the mirror, attend to your wardrobe, wash yourself clean, and cure your ailments”). Yet while Xi is unafraid to tackle flaws in China’s government, he insists on absolute Party leadership. He emphasized the importance of the Party holding the “knife handle” (political, legal, and military power). Xi also gave a Facebook-style “like” to the Chinese people for supporting the Party.

其它的许多热词普遍与反腐运动相关。其中包括习近平著名的训导,要“老虎、苍蝇”一起打。同样的还有敦促官员自我反省的表态,不过并不太知名(“照镜子、 正衣冠、洗洗澡、治治病)。尽管习近平勇于直面中国政府的不足,但他坚持中国共产党的绝对领导地位。他强调党牢牢掌握“刀把子”(政治、法律和军事力量) 的重要性。习近平还给中国人民对党的支持点赞。


We often discuss Xi’s ambitious foreign policy vision for China, and rightfully so. But it’s important to remember that – as in any country – it’s Xi’s domestic policies that will make or break his legacy. These “hot phrases” are a handy catalog of what initiatives Chinese state media wants to showcase – anti-corruption, environmental protection, economic reforms – in addition to highlighting Xi’s down-to-earth image. It’s telling that the one foreign policy initiative that made the cut involves economics and China’s “neighborhood diplomacy” – the aspects of foreign policy most likely to directly influence the average Chinese citizen.



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