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Xi Jinping Seen Through the Roadmap of 'Document 9'

A 2012 internal CCP circular known as "Document 9" provides key insights into how Xi Jinping views security and helps understand what drives his decisions.



Chinese President Xi Jinping at the welcome ceremony for Bahrain's King. Beijing, May 31, 2024. (©Reuters/Tingshu Wang/Pool)

Do you want to know why China under Xi Jinping acts the way it does? Instead of listening to the talking heads on TV and the self-serving prognostications of investment bankers and hedge fund managers, you would do better to read an internal document of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP, or Party). It's known among China Watchers as "Document Number 9" or just "Document 9."

This internal, confidential CCP circular is properly named, "Communique on the Current State of the Ideological Sphere." It was widely distributed within the Party from April 2013 on orders of the General Office of the CCP. However, it appears to have been first circulated in July 2012. 

Xi was named general secretary of the CCP in November 2012 and president of China in March 2013. Whether or not Xi had a direct hand in crafting the document, it clearly reflects his thinking. It also reflects his obsession with the fall of the Soviet Union, which he has lamented as "a tragedy too painful to look back upon." 

The secret document was leaked to Mingjing Magazine, a Chinese-language media outlet based in the United States. Mingjing Magazine first published the full text in September 2013. It was subsequently translated into English by ChinaFile

Why Document 9 Matters

What makes Document 9 so important is that it essentially explains the motivations of the Xi regime. The actions it has taken since the beginning of the regime then become clear. That is, seeking to snuff out all dissent and transform China into a security state. 

In Xi's words, "national security" is "the bedrock of national rejuvenation." It is the top priority and trumps all other considerations, including the economy. 

The document's importance is most clearly demonstrated by the draconian crackdown on the democracy movement in Hong Kong in defiance of the "one country, two systems formula. It is followed by the hounding of dissidents in other countries in defiance of Beijing's oft-stated "principle" of non-interference in the domestic affairs of foreign countries. That includes threats regarding their family members in China. It has even manifested itself in interference in free elections in democratic countries. 

President Xi Jinping delivers a speech at the Political Work Conference of the Central Military Commission of China in Yan'an, Shaanxi Province. June 2024 (©Xinhua News Agency/Kyodo News Agency)

What It Seeks to Counter

What then is the gist of Document 9? It lists 7 "false ideological trends, positions and activities" that need to be countered. Namely, they are: 

1: Western Constitutional Democracy:

Promoting Western constitutional democracy is seen as an attempt to undermine current leadership and socialism with Chinese characteristics as a system of government. 

The document calls for cadres to "make work in the ideological sphere a high priority in your daily agenda." It harkens back to the Mao era when following the approved ideological line was essential for survival.

2. 'Universal Values': 

Activities promoting "universal values" are simply an attempt to weaken the theoretical foundations of CCP leadership, according to the government. Therefore it is not allowed.

China's constitution contains a long list of rights that are "guaranteed." However, it is basically worth about as much as the soiled paper floating down with North Korean balloons. Party decisions always have precedence over the constitution. 

Moreover, the CCP has never had any use for bourgeois values. For example, "freedom of speech," "freedom of peaceful assembly" or an independent judiciary. In the words of the communique, it views advocacy of universal values as an attempt "to obscure the essential differences between the West's value system and the value system we advocate." 

Consequently, "issues of right and wrong, what to support and what to oppose" are to be determined by the Party. 

Document 9 explicitly states, "We must not permit the dissemination of opinions that oppose the Party's theory or political line, the publication of views contrary to decisions that represent the central leadership's views, or the spread of political rumors that defame the image of the Party or the nation."

Foreign reporters in recent years have also become very much aware of what can happen to them if they air the Party's dirty laundry. 

3. 'Civil Society': 

China's CCP sees promoting "civil society" as an attempt to dismantle the ruling party's social foundation.

The document declares that civil society is a socio-political theory originating in the West. It notes that the theory holds individual rights as paramount. Advocates of civil society, it charges, are out to squeeze the Party from leading the masses at the local level. 

As a dyed-in-the-wool Leninist, Xi can hardly be expected to view such nascent political opposition favorably. There is no kumbaya for citizen activists in Xi's China, I'm afraid. 

Chinese national flag. (© Sankei)

4. Neoliberalism:

In the Party's view, promoting neoliberalism amounts to an attempt to change China's basic economic system.

Chinese leaders have recently put on a charm offensive to attract foreign investment. Nonetheless, the document has nothing but contempt for the active promotion by disciples of neoliberalism of the "market omnipotence theory." It states succinctly, "These arguments aim to change our country's basic economy infrastructure and weaken the government's control of the national economy." 

Useful idiots with fat wallets beware. 

5. The West's Idea of 'Journalism': 

The West challenges China's principle that the media and publishing system should be subject to Party discipline. In response, the communique charges that promoting the concept of "freedom of the press" is a tactic for undermining "our country's principle that the media should be infused with the spirit of the Party." 

"The ultimate goal of advocating the West's view of the media," it charges, is "to hawk the principle of abstract and absolute freedom of the press, oppose the Party's leadership in the media and gouge out an opening through which to infiltrate our ideology."

Mao Zedong made it quite clear that the primary function of the media was to serve the state and Party. That meant imposing ideological conformity. Furthermore, under Mao, countless journalists and intellectuals suffered imprisonment or even death for defying or merely irritating the Party. The propaganda today may be more subtle, but it is just as all-pervasive. 

Also in China, the media continues to be organized vertically. There are legions of eagle-eyed censors constantly monitoring the print and online media. They are looking for anything the Party might judge as subversive or offensive. That goes for Hong Kong as well. Just ask Jimmy Lai in his jail cell. 

The padlocked and shut offices of the Apple Daily in Hong Kong following the shutdown. (©Sankei by Kinya Fujimoto)

6. 'Historical Nihilism':

The idea of historical nihilism is viewed as an attempt to undermine the history of the CCP and New China.

Just like the Putin regime in Russia, the Xi leadership in China is also determined to control history. It labels those who would observe history objectively and comprehensively as "historical nihilists." 

The Party will decide what is and what is not history; the rest belongs in the trash bin. Thus, there will be no reassessment of the Tiananmen Massacre, at least as long as Xi remains in power. 

In fact, Document 9 reaffirms Maoism. It singles out those who would deny the scientific and guiding value of Mao Zedong thought. This includes those who would "cleave apart" the periods before and after the adoption of Reform and Opening policies. Such individuals, it says, "seek to fundamentally undermine the CCP's historical purpose, which is tantamount to denying the legitimacy of the CCP's long-term political dominance."

In other words, what the Party says is history, and what the Party does not accept is not history. Unfortunately, this cult of "alternative facts" also seems to have all too many adherents in the West. 

7. Questioning the 'Reform and Opening' policy and the Socialist Nature of 'Socialism with Chinese Characteristics':

Despite the title, this section hardly mentions "Reform and Opening Up" itself. Instead, it is basically a long diatribe against foreign and domestic critics of the CCP. Ultimately, it demands greater control of all sources of information from home and abroad. 

In response, Western social media companies, for the most part, have been more than willing to accept Chinese demands for censorship. They willingly avoid hot-button topics such as Xinjiang, Tibet, and corruption among CCP officials. 

The document also warns that Western anti-China forces will "continue to point the spearhead of Westernizing, splitting and 'Color Revolutions' at China. In the face of these threats, we must not let down our guard or decrease our vigilance."

In a nutshell, Document 9 provided the blueprint that the Xi regime has followed in the last two decades. The result is an increasingly militarized security state where the people enjoy less and less freedom and even less hope. 


Author: John Carroll

John Carroll is a Kyoto-based freelance writer and JAPAN Forward contributor. He is currently writing a book on the religious traditions and superstitions of Japan's ancient capital.