One hundred years ago, a handful of young pioneers helped form the Chinese Communist Party in search of a way out of the country’s myriad troubles at the time, including a corrupt dictatorship, poverty and foreign invasion. Yesterday, President Xi Jinping, party general secretary, led the nation in celebrating the centenary of their vision which, finally, has been fulfilled under 72 years of party rule with victory over absolute poverty earlier this year. The founders, including Mao Zedong, first leader of the People’s Republic of China, could not have foreseen then, in the wake of the influenza pandemic that killed millions, that nearly 100 years later their party would have to pass a test of its political legitimacy in its handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The theme of Xi’s hour-long speech at a ceremony in Tiananmen Square demonstrated his confidence that the party could lead China to even greater success in the next 100 years of development, whatever the internal and external challenges. Xi’s confidence that China has chosen the right path sends a clear message to the United States that it is not going to change its political system. While the party welcomed helpful suggestions and constructive criticism, “we will not, however, accept sanctimonious preaching from those who feel they have the right to lecture us”, he said. In another message to the US and the current Taiwan government, Xi issued a strong warning against any attempt to separate the self-ruled island from China, including not to underestimate China’s strength and resolve. Addressing a wider audience, Xi said the nation did not carry aggressive or hegemonic traits in its genes, but warned that the Chinese people would never allow any foreign forces to bully, oppress or enslave them. Xi warns foreign powers will ‘have their heads cracked and bleeding’ Party plays central role The president stressed the party’s central role in the country’s past, present and future. He recalled its original mission in 1921 to revive the nation’s fortunes and save it from collapse after other formulas failed, thereby linking its fate to that of China. The message is that the nation, its people and the party are inseparable. He reaffirmed Beijing’ assertion of comprehensive jurisdiction over Hong Kong and Macau and commitment to upholding the “one country, two systems” governance principle. His pledge to ensure stability with the implementation and enforcement of legal systems and mechanisms while safeguarding national security and sovereignty reflects the ruling party’s higher-profile presence in Hong Kong. It is a reminder that most people here should learn more about the party. They do not need to identify with or agree with it, but have to recognise its leadership role. There is no harm in acquiring a basic understanding of it because it may affect everyday lives. The fledgling Communist Party soon asserted itself as a political force, characterised by a readiness to adapt to change. It repeatedly confounded critics who predicted its demise. But it has to be remembered that since taking power it has made and also admitted serious mistakes, a reference to the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76 and the famine of 1958-62. By the time the party seized power in 1949, its founders’ idealistic vision had evolved into the goal of a “people’s democratic dictatorship”, now enshrined in the constitution. This was the ruling framework for handling life-changing events that lay ahead, such as the opening up and policy reform that unleashed stellar growth; and humanitarian policy disasters that forged extraordinary resilience and enterprise among survivors. That said, the party’s achievements in the past 100 years are quite remarkable. With victory in the civil war ending many years of conflict and foreign occupation, the party restored pride to the Chinese people. To many, it made the pain and suffering during troubled times worthwhile. Xi tries to build symbolic bridge between Communist Party’s past and future The challenges ahead After Mao’s death and the end of the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping refocused minds on economic development and wealth creation. Rather than material gain, the wealth creation story is first and foremost about the reinterpretation of ideology and opening up China’s door to foreign investment, learning from exchanges with the outside world and reducing control of many economic and social aspects of life, such as going abroad to study or setting up a business. That said, material gains will prompt people to entertain higher aspirations and expectations. How to develop a system that anticipates these demands, rather than plays catch-up, is a challenge for party leaders. Xi made a powerful speech, projecting determination and confidence in China’s future path of development, even though he apparently sees tougher challenges ahead from the United States and its allies. With relations between the world’s two major powers at a new low, China’s development in the coming years is unlikely to be smooth sailing. Confidence also means accepting constructive criticism. Xi may have welcomed it, but China needs to demonstrate more tolerance of it. The US, on the other hand, needs to accept the reality in future dealings with China that Xi and the party’s leadership will not change.