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A Perspective on Xi Jinping's National Rejuvenation from his Tenure to Date

Self-Reliance and Self-Dependent Rejuvenation

Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in 2016 © Narendra Modi/ Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

In view of the upcoming elections in China, scheduled for mid-October, the question arises whether there will be a new successor to the current PRC president or if Xi Jinping will reaffirm his position and model of governance. For most of China's observers, it is certain that Xi Jinping will remain in office as a key figure for China. A day after the 20th Party Congress, Xi is expected again to be conferred the roles of General Secretary of the Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission. With little change expected in broad policy direction, key outcomes from the Congress will revolve around personnel - who joins Xi on the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC). To better understand the PRC's position to date and the changes brought during these two terms of leader Xi Jinping's tenure, one must look at the changes implemented in the constitution, the new policies, and the rhetoric with which China has strengthened its nationalism, its position of power in the eyes of the world.

Xi Jinping became General Secretary of the Communist Party of China in 2012 and was appointed President of the People's Republic of China the following year. As early as 2013, he already established a tightening of controls on foreign diplomats, journalists, and students in China. A remarkable change towards foreigners was indicated in 'Document No. 9', which warned of the “dangerous values of the West” that would like to “infiltrate the Chinese ideological sphere”. This new anti-Western attitude is also reflected in the PRC's institutional challenge, i.e. that of creating a political regime and a system of governance that can claim full international legitimacy, even vis-à-vis Western democracies and even more so vis-à-vis expressions of 'Chineseness' that cannot be traced back to the PRC. (Adornino, 2021)

Xi's concept of government runs under the slogan of 'self-reliance and self-dependent innovation' (自力更生和自主创新), 'dual circulation' (双循环), 'common prosperity' (共同富裕) or 'unified market system' (统一市场体系). The policy of renewal he promoted, based on Maoist ideas, emphasizes China's urgency to position itself as an alternative to US hegemony through the promotion of Sino-oriented values, also taken up as the rationale for China's judicial system, as on 23 October 2014 the CCP leader announced the campaign to build a “socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics (法律的有中国特色社会主义法治).

The main elements characterizing this renewal are:

  • The implementation of a constant crackdown on existing corruption in the party and in the state: the aim is to reduce rampant administrative corruption by implementing a review and rationalization of existing laws (法治); in addition, supervisory commissions are created, reforms of the administrative judiciary are implemented in a vertical sense, and training of administrative staff is taken care of; (Reddy, 2022)

  • The abolition in 2018 of the two-term limit to increase the centralization of personal power: Xi Jinping will thus be able to remain in force indefinitely; (McDonell, 2018)

  • The determination of convergence between State and Party through the formation of supervisory commissions linked to the CCP's disciplinary commissions. Of particular note among these, there is the inclusion of the Central Steering Group for Education: this is a way to control the subjects introduced into the curriculum of Chinese youth. These initiatives include the Beijing government's introduction of new textbooks for Hong Kong students.

  • The regaining of greater control of the business and the market by putting strong pressure on fundamental rights (especially the freedom of expression). Relevant is the case of Alibaba (Yuan, 2020): the group created by Jack Ma Yun is undergoing a downsizing decided by the political authorities. This is a significant role revision and above all a greater vassalage to the Chinese Communist Party (Corfield, 2022) and the government. It shows the evolution of power and policies at the top of the PRC and raises alarm signals for entrepreneurs and private investors doing business in China, whether Chinese or foreign.

  • The increased use of technology in law is a consequence of the general situation of Chinese society, characterized by: social credit, i.e., centralized profiling of individuals and companies (Pieranni, 2020); legal use of technologies at various levels (computerized chancelleries, judicial use of big data, administrative use to control judges' decisions)

  • The implementation of the New Silk Road project or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a consequence of the new Chinese nationalism.

All these changes effectively demonstrate the willingness of the new Chinese government led by Xi Jinping to promote an autonomous Chinese model with less foreign contamination. In particular, the BRI project expresses the will to export the Chinese model of government abroad. Moreover, Xi Jinping's new government is promoting its model with developing states.

The reduction of foreign contamination is also affecting the rule of law, which has always been a theme in China's various reform plans since the 1980s. After Mao's death, measures were implemented to prevent excessive concentration of power and to devolve authority from the Communist Party to government agencies in order to implement stability, harmony, and the rule of law. When China decided to implement foreign investment and international cooperation, it was assumed that it would also accept international norms and that the rule of law in a liberal democratic sense would be implemented during Mao Zedong's rule.

At the 2014 CCP congress, the general theme discussed was the rule of law, which assumed the realization of the Chinese Dream (中国梦) the nation's rejuvenation. However, the situation has changed over time, and since 2018, vague but radical laws and security regulations have been issued. In its first plan to build the rule of law 法治 in China (2020-2025), Beijing set out its vision for a coherent and, above all, exclusively Chinese legal system to establish a “socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics” (法律的有中国特色社会主义法治) that should be realized by 2035. For the Chinese government, the goal is to use the law as a political tool, to make the state more efficient, and reduce the arbitrariness of law enforcement, with the support of advanced technologies (Cavalieri, 2018).

Consequently, the CCP leadership is touted by the government as the fundamental guarantee of the rule of law and only the CCP has the legitimacy to interpret its will. It follows that it is incorrect to translate the term 法治 as 'rule of law', but more correct to translate it as 'rule by law', as Beijing's intention is to create its own Chinese legal system derived from traditional Chinese legal concepts. (Cavalieri, 2018) The rule of law sees expansion and progress in the adoption of the new civil code. On January 1, 2021, the first Civil Code of the People's Republic Of China (中华人民共和国民法典) became effective. Adopted by the 13th National People's Congress on 28 May 2020, it signs the beginning of a new era and represents a big step in the social and technological development of China. This new code is a consolidation of laws that already existed, and thus of the characteristics that civil codes have. It is a very important code because it has several characteristics:

  • It has great symbolic significance, as it represents a great achievement that reveals the maturity and stability of the system;

  • It has great systematic significance because the previous, confusing legislation is finally organized and coordinated in a single act that becomes the pivot of the system;

  • Does not, on the other hand, have great practical significance, as the numerous innovations are not considered to be such as to upset the pre-existing system.

To sum up, the code is the organic product of the aggregation of previous civil and commercial laws and, in the wake of what Xi himself said, it reinforces the rule of law and is the pivot of socialist China, it strengthens its market economy, it establishes regulation of the various commercial and international relations in a safer, more certain, more consistent manner, and it more justly guarantees the rights of people, fostering harmony among citizens and between citizens and the state, it takes care of environmental protection, and it favors the path towards the beauty of the planet.

In conclusion, the code brings to a close a legal journey that began in the past, traversed by political upheavals, social issues, and economic growth, but at the same time opens a new phase of Chinese law as a future world power. Xi Jinping's government, especially in the last years from 2018 to the present, has shown enormous changes and a progressive establishment of the socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics. All the renewal features of his government and the implementation of the rule of law confirm this turning point of China's repositioning among world powers. Having reviewed the main points of Xi Jinping's China rejuvenation policy, all that remains is to wait for the XX National Congress of the CCP and see what happens with the new elections. What is certain, given also the recently implemented anti-foreigner sanctions, is that it will be increasingly difficult for international cooperation to work with China, which is becoming increasingly united, and nationalistic, and is reaffirming in various spheres its China-ness as a world power.

Ardita Osmani holds a master’s in Language, Economics, and the Institution of Asia and North Africa at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and a bachelor’s in Chinese language and culture at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. After living in China as an exchange student in Beijing and Nanjing, she worked as an assistant professor at a university and as a Chinese language teacher. Mainly focused on China’s domestic politics, she is also passionate about SDGs, Climate Change, Sociology, and Environmental studies. You can find Ardita on LinkedIn.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writers and do not represent the views of European Guanxi.

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