This article by Rachel Wang originally appeared on Tea Leaf Nation on March 8, 2013 and is republished as part of a content sharing agreement.
On March 3, an article entitled “Focusing and Building up a ‘Strong Military’ Dream” appeared on the front page of the PLA Daily. At first glance, the article appeared to be a typical propaganda piece, appropriate to publish during China’s Two Sessions, the meeting of China’s congress. The article was replete with slogans like, “Obeying the Party is the soul of a stronger military,” and “Working hard and efficiently is an important sign of solid work.” On a deeper level, however, it may be a political piece echoing the unveiling of the national budget on Tuesday, in which China estimated it would 720.2 billion yuan ($114.3 billion) on its military in 2013, which represents an increase of 10.7%.
The concept of the “Strong Military Dream” might have bigger implications – it could represent the China Dream. A day after the PLA Daily article was published, an article entitled “The China Dream is a Strong Military Dream; a Great Nation Must Have a Strong Military” appeared on several big-name websites, including huanqiu.com, the Chinese-language edition of the Global Times. The article pointed out that the “‘China Dream’ is not a ‘Dream of Riches,’” and that, “On the political world stage, a rich nation is not the same as a strong nation.” The main thrust of the article was that the China Dream was one of a strong nation – and a strong military.
Around the same time as these articles were publicized, China Central Television’s 24-hour English news channel promoted a topic of discussion [zh] on Weibo:
#CHINA DREAM# ‘I have a dream!’ At no other time in history have the Chinese people so openly declared their hopes, their dreams, and their vision of a better future. Millions inside China are nurturing their China Dream, while millions of people outside China are fascinated by life here. Share your China Dream with the world and inspire others!
A short movie entitled “China Dream,” which was made up of individual portraits, was also produced. While the state media was trying hard to push positive statements like, “I want our country to be courageous, and have the vision, and wisdom to overcome difficulties,” reactions to the movie and the China Dream rhetoric in general showed that most Chinese Web users were not buying in. Instead, the phrase gave rise to skepticism, sarcasm, and complaints. One Weibo user with the handle @Paradise Bird 128 (天堂鸟128) wrote [zh]:
My dream is that I will not be invited to ‘drink tea’ [slang for being summoned to meet with government officials] while discussing contemporary Chinese issues.
Another called @If Milk Tea (如果奶茶) commented [zh],
According to my basic knowledge of foreign history, when a dream is attributed to a nation, this dream must be accompanied by a huge wave of immigration, as with the American Dream. We could check with Two Sessions representatives, who are calling for us to protect and realize the China Dream, and ask how many of them or their relatives have already realized the American Dream.
Web users also took the opportunity to comment on the disparity between the state-promoted “China Dream” and their own unrealized hopes. User @Zhou Yiting (周旖婷) wrote [zh],
空气清新点，水质卫生点，食物放心点，奶粉安全点，航班准时点，路面畅通点，油价低一点，税收少一点…不要那么多，只要一点点…I have a dream,just a dream…
Cleaner air, healthier water, safer food, safer baby formula, on-time flights, unimpeded roads, lower gas prices, lower taxes…not a lot, just a little…I have a dream, just a dream.
State media promoted its dream, but failed to define it concretely. According to one article, achieving the China Dream entails “unswervingly following the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics, achieving national development and socialist modernization in a peaceful and civilized way.” Weibo user @Ji Jiaqing (籍佳婧JJJ) felt it was just another empty slogan:
Why do I feel like the recent popular news catchphrase ‘the China Dream’ is a bit hollow, is this an imitation of the ‘American Dream’? Even I can’t stand by the Party this time.
The cold reception that the “China Dream” got from its target audience shows a certain disillusionment with the government’s ability to make dreams come true. Most discussion of these dreams involved calls for new governmental involvement or regulations. As Weibo user @Yu Jianrong (于建嵘), a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences with over one million Weibo followers, commented [zh]:
The ‘American Dream’ represents the dreams of each American, and it is based on the protection of individual rights; the ‘China Dream’ represents the dream of the nation, which is based on re-enforcement of the state’s power.
Harsh realities and a lack of upward mobility might constitute a couple of the reasons that it is difficult to define the “China Dream.” Perhaps an editor from the Henan Business Daily put it best:
In mainland China, for the rich and the powerful ones, the biggest dream is the ‘American Dream,’ while the smallest is the ‘Hong Kong Dream.’ For someone with no money or power, even bringing back baby formula is a just dream.