Xi Jinping Urges China's Youth to Embrace Nationalism on Key Anniversary

(Bloomberg) -- President Xi Jinping urged China’s youth to maintain self-reliance in a nationalist-themed address to mark the 100th anniversary of a popular uprising against the government’s failure to stop foreign interference.

Xi spoke before an audience of young Chinese in Beijing on Tuesday, ahead of the anniversary of the May Fourth Movement, during which college students led mass protests in the capital. The demonstrations were triggered by negotiations in France over how divvy up Germany’s colonial possessions, with Chinese settlements such as the port of Qingdao -- then Tsingtao -- going to Japan.

Xi presented the ruling Communist Party as the legitimate heir to the aspirations of the May Fourth -- and a China in which patriotism and revolutionary fervor are best channeled through the ruling party. The movement played a part in inspiring later protests, including the Tiananmen Square demonstrations 30 years ago.

“The youth of the new era must maintain composure in the face of external temptations, uphold the rules,” Xi told a crowd that including top party leaders at the Great Hall the People. “Refuse to be opportunistic and stay away from thinking oneself too clever. Think about where your happiness comes from and understand how to repay it with a grateful heart. Thank the party, thank the country and thank society and the people.”

“Through the May Fourth Movement, the youth of China discovered their own power. The Chinese people and the Chinese nation discovered their own power,” Xi said.

He added that the Chinese people “have unprecedented confidence in their path, in their theory, in their system, and in their culture,” a reference to the doctrine of self-confidence that has been part of his efforts to centralize power.

Xi is tightening his grip on power ahead of a series of politically sensitive anniversaries for the country. June 4 will mark 30 years since the bloody Tiananmen massacre, whose commemoration will be prohibited. The 70th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s founding of the People’s Republic of China, in October, will be widely celebrated.

Key Anniversary

The student-led movement against the Treaty of Versailles talks helped inspired future communist revolutionaries including a young Mao and Zhou Enlai, and modeled the kind of grassroots patriotism the party has long hoped to inculcate in the country’s youth.

But spontaneous student protests are hardly something the government wants to encourage just a month before the anniversary of Tiananmen, which saw tanks quash student-led calls for democracy. The party has spent almost three decades teaching the virtues of patriotism after launching a patriotic education campaign in the aftermath of Tiananmen.

In his speech, Xi called on young Chinese to integrate their “narrow conceptions of themselves into a broader conception of the nation.”

“China’s youth must continue to uphold the spirit of May Fourth and take the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation as their duty,” Xi said.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.