Explaining the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China: Jiangshan

A painted visualization of Mao Zedong's poety, Snow – to the tune of Chin Yuan Chun (1936), by late painters Fu Baoshi and Guan Shanyue (1959). Public domain – historical image.

The 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China convened on October 16, with the party's Chief Secretary and Chinese President Xi Jinping giving the opening address. 

Under the single-party political system, the CPC Congress, attended by 2,296 delegates who represent 96.7 million members, will elect around Central Committee members which would approve a list of 25 top party officials in the Politburo and its Standing Committee, the party's most powerful decision-making organ, headed by the Chief Secretary. 

Hence, the “successful” opening of Congress implies that Xi will most likely secure an unprecedented third term as president and further consolidate his power in the CPC’s Politburo, as explained by several media outlets.

In 2018, the National People's Congress approved the removal of the two-term limit on the presidency in China's constitution. The change allows Xi to renew his leadership indefinitely.

For China’s observers, the official documents and public addresses during the week-long Congress offered clues to China’s political trajectory for the next 5 years. One analytical method is by examining key political terms

In this series of 5 posts, Global Voices will explain the meaning and context, as well as local responses to some of the key terms that appeared or vanished during the 20th CPC Congress. 

The first term for this series is Jiangshan (江山), which literally means river and mountain in English, and it is officially translated as “a country” by Chinese state-owned media outlets.

The term appears in Xi Jinping’s opening address to establish the legitimacy of the CPC’s leadership in China. The transcript and video of Xi’s Jiangshan narratives,  some with official English translations, have been promoted by official media outlets on all Chinese social media platforms.

Translation debates

Zhang Lifan, a mainland Chinese historian, embedded the video clip on Twitter:

[Official translation] This country is its people; the people are the country. As the Communist Party of China has led the people in fighting to establish and develop the People’s Republic, it has really been fighting for their support.

The Twitter-based translator-activist group, the Great Translation Movement, rebuked the official Chinese translation and pointed out that the translation of 打江山, which can be literary translated as “beat and conquer river and land,” should be “conquer the country” rather than “fight to establish.”

Other spontaneous reactions from the Chinese-speaking communities rest on the logic of the expression. Twitter user @srpnmamtf highlighted the problem:

[Isn’t this an illogical sentence?!] I really can’t understand the logic of the top leader. If people are the country, why do we need to beat and conquer Jiangshan [the lands and rivers]? We should “love Jiangshan [the country]” And we shouldn’t beat and conquer the people! […]

Some also posted photos or videos showing how Chinese law enforcement authorities beat up people to ridicule the party's leadership in “beat and conquer Jiangshan.”

Exiled Chinese human right activist @tengbiao pointed to another translation problem and argued that the term Jiangshan should not be translated as “country.”

The official translation beatifies the expression of Jiangshan as the country. In fact, the term is referred to the regime (political system).

The land and power of ancient Chinese emperors

Under Tengbiao’s Twitter thread, more joined in delineating the meaning of the Chinese term. Many pointed out that the use of the term reflects the mentality of the ancient Chinese emperors.

@TaylorEvan6839, for example, explains: 

“江山”这个词作为一个政治术语,是有浓厚的中国古代政治含义在里面的,这种含义意味着政权有对土地和土地上的人民的私有权和管辖权,而不是现代意义上,建立契约之上的现代国家(state)的含义。

The term “Jiangshan” when used as a political expression, resonates with ancient Chinese politics and implies the regime’s absolute power over its lands, people and prosperity under its territories.   

jerry16789 explains the term in common language:

 “江山”含义比较复杂,即指政权,也指领地。跟黑社会抢地盘最接近,我抢来就是我的,可以收保护费了。

The meaning of “Jiangshan is complicated. It can refer to the regime or its territories. It is similar to the idea of turf among the Mafia. Once the Mafia conquer a turf, they can extract illegal revenues from it.

Mao Zedong,  the former CPC leader and the founder of the People’s Republic of China, also used the term “Jiangshan” to express his political ambition in his most popular poem, “Snow – to the tune of Chin Yuan Chun” (1936). Here is the translation of the second verse of the poetry via Marxist.org:

江山如此多娇 – This land so rich in beauty 
引无数英雄竞折腰 – Has made countless heroes bow in homage. 
惜秦皇汉武 – But alas! Chin Shih-huang [the first emperor of a unified China] and Han Wu-ti [the emperor who ruled for 54 years during Han Dynasty and established the Han Chinese civilization] 
略输文采 – Were lacking in literary grace,
唐宗宋祖 – And Tang Tai-tsung [an emperor from Tang Dynasty whose political reform led China into a golden era] Sung Tai-tsu [the first emperor of the Song Dynasty]
稍逊风骚 – Had little poetry in their souls;
一代天骄 成吉思汗 – And Genghis Khan, Proud Son of Heaven for a day, 
只识弯弓射大雕 – Knew only shooting eagles, bow outstretched 
俱往矣 – All are past and gone! 
数风流人物 – For truly great men  
还看今朝 – Look to this age alone. 

In 1959, the late painters Fu Baoshi and Guan Shanyue created artwork to accompany “Snow – to the tune of Chin Yuan Chun” to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the PRC. The sun in the painting represents the CPC, and the painting has been hanging in the Great Hall of the People ever since.

The reign of the single-party state

After the establishment of the PRC, the connection between the people, Jiangshan, and the CPC was tightened. “Socialism is Good,” a propaganda song written in 1958 under Mao's era, is the best example of the single party's ideological frame. Here are the last two verses of the popular political song: 

社會主義好,社會主義好!社會主義江山人民保。人民江山坐得牢,反動分子想反也反不了。社會主義社會一定勝利,共產主義社會一定來到,一定來到!
共產黨好!共產黨好!共產黨領導中國富強了。人民江山坐得牢,反動分子想反也反不了。社會主義社會一定勝利,共產主義社會一定來到,一定來到!

Socialism is good, socialism is good! The Socialist system (Jingshan) protects the people. People’s regime (Jingshan) consolidated, reactionaries cannot overturn [the regime]. Socialist society will definitely gain victory, and communist society will definitely come true.

Communist Party is good! The Communist party is good! The Communist party leads China on the way to prosperity and strength. People’s regime (Jingshan) consolidated, reactionaries cannot overturn [the regime]. Socialist society will definitely gain victory, and communist society will definitely come true.

Xi Jinping has taken up Mao's legacy, particularly in his political vision of the Jiangshan. It was no coincidence that the China Post revived Mao's “Snow – to the tune of Chin Yuan Chun” by reading it aloud over a 3D cartoon and adding it to a miniature stamp in September 2021.

Xi’ speech about Jiangshan in the 20th Congress also follows the CPC convention in combing ancient Chinese political conventions with modern political terms — this time with the emphasis on “fighting to establish” or “conquering” the Jiangshan.

The political rhetoric, which reflects the determination of the party to safeguard the single-party regime with force, however, has become less and less appealing as people wish to move forward rather than back. On Weibo, there have been very few critiques as well as resonations on Xi's Jiangshan quote thanks to strict censorship measures. But screenshots of critical comments, such as this one, are still circulating: 

打江山!你不打,它永遠也在那裏,河還是那個河…打的那些人已經成為塵埃…你的守,你守啥?你不守,它們能跑路嗎?只有你們這些的家伙行才能跑路。你們的子孫後代把江山上的礦偷走了…變成美元偷走了,藏起來了,藏到大洋彼岸去了。[…]

Fight and conquer the rivers and mountains! They continue to exist without your fighting for it, the rivers continue flowing… Those who fought turned into ashes… You safeguard what? Without your safeguard, they won't run away. Only you and your gangs can run away. Your offspring have stolen the mines in the lands and rivers… turned them into USD and hid them on the other side of the Pacific Ocean…

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