Just a minor note on dreams, American and Chinese

There is plenty written on the American Dream. We all have an idea of what that means. It is part of our civil religion, as Robert Bellah might have suggested in his 1967 Civil Religion in America.

The term "American Dream" was popularized by James Truslow Adams in 1931, saying that "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.

In our cynical age, much of that writing notes how unattainable might be a story of improving generational prosperity. It nevertheless remains that every year millions of people still seek to come here and if fewer of them are European than before, it need only mean that the dream values of democracy, freedom, and the possibility of individual achievement away from government approval have taken firm root in Europe. The Dream persists.

There is plenty written on the Chinese Dream Zhōngguó Mèng. The term was used before, but only became part of ideology when articulated by Xi Jinping in 2012. The dream, he said, is the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation – under guidance of CCP. Xi's formulation was translated in English as “the dream of the people.” But in fact it is pushed by CCP, in which the people are the workhorses to make China great. Pointedly, no one is moving to China to take advantage of democracy, freedom, and the possibility of individual achievement. And the Chinese Dream is one defined by CCP. It is not by the people, for the people, or of the people.

The Chinese Dream is intimately linked to both traditional Chinese culture and governance by CCP. Xi made the point in his July, 2021 speech marking the centenary of CCP. Bill Bishop makes the point in Sinocism - The result is what is now being sold to the Chinese as an inspirational and — for the purposes of foreign policy — globally inspiring “new form of human civilization” (人类文明新形势). The China Dream is the CCP Dream for China and for the world.

Making China great again is absolutely akin to the dreams of the Trump MAGA crowd – make America great again. Both are nationalistic narcissistic pronouncements coming from a top leader that ignore individuals in favor of authoritarian rule. Both use the ideas of the indispensable and exceptional nation in foreign affairs.

CCP has sought to make Confucianism a basis for a Chinese Dream interpreted by CCP. Confucian scholars will have none of that, of course. But CCP now puts Confucius to work locally, in China -

In China ... the contemporary politico-religious narrative appeals on the Chinese citizens as heirs of a divine tradition, and as responsible to bring the divine mission of the nation to a good end. Expressions, symbols, and rituals that are part of a collective “Confucian” memory are used as part of a Confucian “civil religion” that has to affirm, among other things, the CCP’s “religious legitimation” as the highest political authority, and, in line with the concept of “cosmological Confucianism”, this authority is presented as only being able to fulfill its mission of realizing the “Chinese Dream” with the support of the people, that is, loyalty to the Party. Confucianism thus is an instrument that presents the modern Chinese nation-state and its policies as sacred institutions under the divine rulership of the CCP.

Bart Dessein. Faith and Politics: (New) Confucianism as Civil Religion. Asian Studies II (XVIII), 1 (2014), pp. 39–64. Available at https://www.academia.edu/41679522/MODERN_NEW_CONFUCIANISM_AND_CHINESE_MODERNITY_Special_issue_of_Asian_Studies_Vol_2_No_1


The international version of Make China Great Again is the Community of Common Destiny, the CCP version of Pax Sinica. Despite protests to the contrary, it is hard to see Xi's community of common destiny for mankind as anything but a replacement for established international order with a unity of nations whose economic dependence on China leads them to defer to Chinese political demands. (See Liza Tobin Xi's Vision for Transforming Global Governance: A Strategic Challenge for Washington and its Allies and Rush Doshi The Long Game: China's Grand Strategy to Displace American Order). 

It’s a good idea to read some of what comes out of CCP regarding the Chinese Dream, and there is no one better at pronouncing it than Xi himself. Xi’s speech on cultural inheritance and development was published this year in Qiushi Journal, the flagship magazine of the CCP Central Committee. From Xinhua - The article summarizes five prominent features regarding Chinese civilization -- continuity, innovativeness, unity, inclusiveness, and peaceful nature.

Integrating the basic tenets of Marxism with China's specific realities and fine traditional culture is the path that must be taken to explore and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics within the Chinese civilization, which has stretched for more than 5,000 years, the Xinhua article says, adding that this integration is the most important tool for the Party to achieve its success. More excerpts from Sinocism here.

Xi doesn’t mention the Chinese Dream in this speech, but the components of the Dream are everywhere in his words - Chinese civilization has outstanding continuity. Chinese civilization has outstanding innovation. Chinese civilization has outstanding unity. Chinese civilization has outstanding inclusiveness. Chinese civilization has outstanding peacefulness.

Ignoring the blatant misrepresentations of historical continuity, unity, and inclusiveness, and the  outrageously false notion of peacefulness, we note that all of these aspects are collective or national aspirations, with no role for the individual except as a cog in the machine.

As to the failures of the American Dream to apply to all – yes to the slavery and racism and Native Americans and a thousand other failings. We discuss those failings, and imperfectly and over too long a time we seek to do better – as individuals, regardless of what the government does or does not do.

There is no open discussion in China of Uighurs, or Mao’s Great Famine, or murders of landlords in the early days of CCP, or murders at Tian’anmen or disappearances of those who object to CCP.  In any case, the Chinese Dream makes no note of individuals. They are not part of the Dream and pointedly, individuals cannot openly discuss that which is forbidden to discuss.

The Statue of Liberty reminds us that we have achieved liberty, and the rest of our future is up to us. CCP exhorts us to love the Party, which will guide us toward the goals CCP sets. Therein lies the difference in the dreams.