BEIJING (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping urged the 88-million-strong Communist Party to embrace its Marxist roots on Friday as he delivered an emphatic call for ideological discipline and a vigorous defense of party rule.
The televised speech on the party's 95th anniversary represented one of Xi's most pointed and lengthy addresses laying out his orthodox ideology, and again repudiated the belief held among some observers four years ago that Xi's ascent might usher in greater reform.
Xi said that history has proven correct the party's leadership of 1.3 billion people and that its stewardship remains essential for China to realize its "great rejuvenation," a central theme of his administration.
"History tells us the Chinese people's choice of the Communist Party to lead them toward the civilization's great rejuvenation been correct, and that the party's path of socialism with Chinese characteristics is also correct," Xi told his audience of cadres gathered in Beijing's Great Hall of the People.
"Marxism must be the basic fundamental, guiding principle," he said, "or the party would lose its soul and direction."
Challenged by a slowing economy, Xi has made increasingly frequent appeals for ideological unity, a throwback approach that contrasts with recent Chinese leaders who emphasized delivering economic growth as continued justification for Communist rule.
Since taking power in 2012, Xi has repeatedly called on the party rank-and-file, from officials to academics to journalists, to study Marxism while urging universities to stave off the infiltration of harmful foreign ideas, such as Western liberal democracy.
Although he has been more guarded about his opinions on free-market economics or the role of the state in the market, Xi has assertively pushed his political vision of highly centralized power. He has tightened his grip over numerous aspects of Chinese society, attacking liberal thinking within the party, cracking down on public dissent and demanding far greater control over the media and academic institutions.
Despite quoting Deng Xiaoping, China's market-oriented reformer, in a brief passage about the importance of economic development, the Chinese leader did not delve extensively into how his Marxist ideology would influence economic policy at a time when the proper role and size of state enterprises remains one of the most hotly debated issues within official circles.
But in broad strokes larded with nationalism and soaring references to the blood and tears that the party had sacrificed for China, he said China would never abandon the communist struggle.
"We must never forget our original aspirations and continue forward," Xi said. "We must remember that from our party's founding our guiding principle was to struggle for socialism, for communism."
Victor Shih, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego, said the speech underscored the dyed-in-the-wool politics of the Xi administration compared to his technocrat predecessors who more often dressed up economic reforms in Marxist language.
"The longer President Xi has ruled, the more he has revealed his orthodox Marxist-Leninist perspective," Shih said. "There's nothing like the previous administrations, like Jiang Zemin, with an emphasis on modernizing or reinterpreting Marxism — that was very flexible."
Drawing on the historical language of socialist-led utopia, the Chinese leader also said China would seek to help the international community but not seek spheres of influence. He called for an international order in which every nation would discuss matters "and not allow one side or a small group to dominate."
He won the biggest applause, however, when he warned foreign countries that China would never sacrifice its core interests, sovereignty, security or development plans.
Follow Shih on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@gerryshih