China’s Xi Jinping goes back to Marx and the classics to push a modern green agenda
Chinese President Xi Jinping has turned to Karl Marx and Chinese classic teachings to justify his battle against pollution.
Qiushi, the Communist Party’s journal, published in its January issue a speech Xi delivered in May in which he quoted extensively from Marx and Chinese classics such as the I Ching, or Book of Changes, and Tao Te Ching to stress that human must live in harmony with nature.
“To learn from Marx, [we] must learn Marxist thought on human and nature,” Xi said.
“If mankind conquers nature with science and creativity, nature will take revenge on mankind,” he added, paraphrasing Marx and fellow writer Friedrich Engels.
Xi went on to cite Engels’ Dialectics of Nature, saying that the ancient inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Greece, Anatolia all saw their homelands become deserts after turning too many forests into fields.
Xi also cited the I Ching, a foundation text for feng shui masters, to make his point on the significance of preserving the environment.
He said also that Chinese thinkers such as Lao Tzu and Mencius highlighted the need to conserve the environment.
Although Xi gave the speech nine months ago, its full text was only made public by Qiushi.
Xi may be more focused on conservation than any state leader in the country’s past. He has made it a key part of officials’ appraisals and last year named it as one of the three “battles” – along with political and financial risks and poverty alleviation – the country has to fight.
Conservation was also named as one of five target areas for achieving the president’s “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.
Xi’s focus on the environment was also highlighted by a political earthquake in two provinces in recent years – shake-ups that were carried out in the name of environmentalism.
In Shaanxi province in the country’s northwest, a provincial party chief and a handful of other officials have been sacked for corruption in the past two years, with state media accusing them of ignoring Xi’s instructions to demolish a string of villas encroaching on the Qin Mountains.
And in neighbouring Gansu to the west, the provincial party boss was sacked in 2017, castigated on state television for turning a deaf ear to Xi’s repeated instructions to handle a pollution site.
Xi also vowed to make an example of other unnamed top officials who condoned pollution.
“Certain regional chiefs were not only exempted from punishment but were promoted despite frequent ecological problems under their watch,” he said. “[We] must resolutely a handful of typical cases who did damage to the ecology.”
Xi’s emphasis on conservation comes after decades of breakneck economic growth that has raised incomes for many but at a huge cost to the environment and human health. Demand is growing for the damage to be reversed, and Xi’s environmental policies could go some way towards that – if he can deliver on them.
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And while the US has withdrawn from the Paris Agreement on climate change, Xi has pledged that China will keep its commitments and continue to invest in renewable energy and phase out carbon fuels as sources of energy.
Chen Daoyin, a Shanghai-based political scientist, said that by hearkening back to Marxism and traditional Chinese culture, Xi was trying to legitimise his green policies.
“He is trying to elevate his policy preference to the level of philosophy, which is the science of all science,” Chen said.
“He shows a strong preference for resorting to the ideology of communism and Chinese traditions for legitimacy of his policies.”