Xi Jinping, top cadres visit birthplace of China’s Communist Party in Shanghai
Seven members of Politburo Standing Committee cement links to party’s heritage at site of founding fathers’ first congress in 1921
President Xi Jinping made a high-profile visit to the birthplace of China’s Communist Party in Shanghai on Tuesday alongside his colleagues from the new Politburo Standing Committee.
The symbolic visit echoed the call Xi made at the recently concluded 19th national congress for the party to stay true to its founding mission.
And so China’s seven most powerful men flew by private jet from Beijing to the memorial site where the party held its first national congress more than 96 years ago, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
The grey brick building in the tree-lined former French Concession was where Mao Zedong and 12 other delegates met in secret in July 1921. At that time they were representing 57 members of China’s fledging Communist Party, which is now the world’s biggest political group with almost 90 million members, or more than the entire population of Germany.
In the same building on Tuesday, the Standing Committee members took the oath, swearing allegiance to the party and all of its decisions.
A video clip from the state broadcaster showed the six men standing in a row behind Xi, the “core” of the party leadership, facing a hammer and sickle as they repeated Xi’s words.
“It is my will to join the Chinese Communist Party … carry out the party’s decisions, strictly observe party discipline, guard party secrets, be loyal to the party … be ready at all times to sacrifice my all for the party and the people, and never betray the party,” they said.
Tuesday’s trip was Xi’s first outside the capital since he began his second term as the most powerful leader Communist China has seen since Mao.
The state broadcaster also showed Xi strolling outside the historic site with his black-suited entourage. In the background a huge hoarding carried a poster with the words: “Raise high the flag of the Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a New Era. Stay true to the original aspiration and keep the mission firmly in mind”.
The second sentence was a slogan put forward by Xi during his keynote speech at the congress, which ended last week. The party’s founding aspiration and mission, he said, was to seek happiness for the Chinese people and seek rejuvenation for the Chinese nation.
“In the 96 years, our party has never changed our original aspiration to accomplish the historical mission of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, no matter when we were weak or strong, in prosperity or adversity,” he said.
The group then travelled to South Lake in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province. The party’s first national congress was originally held in Shanghai’s French Concession in July 1921, but it was interrupted by police so the cadres moved the gathering to a boat on the lake in Jiaxing.
Xi and his top men visited the “Red Boat” – a replica of the vessel where that first gathering was held, and the party was founded – where Xi gave a speech highlighting loyalty to the party and urging cadres not to forget its founding spirit.
“The tiny red boat that carried the nation’s hopes 96 years ago has become a giant ship that carries the hopes of over 1.3 billion Chinese people,” Xi said. “Only by staying true to the original aspiration, keeping the mission firmly in mind and fighting forever, can we keep the Communist Party young forever.”
Xi’s first trip outside Beijing after coming to power five years ago was to the southern city of Shenzhen, where he placed a wreath at a bronze statue of Deng Xiaoping. The special economic zone was a testing ground and symbol of the economic reforms envisioned by Deng, and Xi’s visit was widely seen as a strong signal of support for greater market-oriented economic policies. Although in recent years many people have been disappointed by the stalled economic reforms and the party’s increased control over the economy.
The destination for Tuesday’s visit was equally symbolic and loaded with political messages, an analyst said.
“The site of the first congress is the birthplace of the party, it is where the party’s first official organisation was founded,” Chen Daoyin, a Shanghai-based political analyst, said.
“This is a strong signal that party building will be a focus of the party’s comprehensive leadership in the coming years.”
Extending and cementing the party’s comprehensive leadership in all aspects of life was a key message of Xi’s speech at the congress.
The museum that now stands as a memorial to the first national party congress is in the Xintiandi area of Shanghai. The area, whose name translates as “new heaven and earth”, is one of the city’s trendiest shopping and entertainment centres and is usually packed with locals and tourists.
On Tuesday, however, the usually bustling area was almost deserted except for dozens of security personnel and a small crowd of well-wishers.
All shops and restaurants were ordered to close, most office workers were told to work from home and public transport was re-routed. A curfew from 10am to noon was even imposed on neighbouring blocks of residential and commercial buildings.
David Lu, a venture capitalist who works at the Shui On Plaza in the neighbourhood, said: “We were asked to work from home, if possible, or keep the windows shut if we were at the office.”
Another local worker said she and her colleagues at an accounting firm had also been asked to work from home.
An employee of Shanghai Bashi Public Transport Group surnamed Gu said she had been on the street since early morning telling people about the changes to bus routes.
“We were only notified last night and there have been no buses on this route since early this morning,” she said.