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Forget the American dream. In China, the latest official slogan is the Chinese dream. It invokes a glorious past to rally people around the country's new leadership. But its meaning is not entirely clear.

NPR's Louisa Lim has been chasing this new dream.

LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: In China right now, the big buzzword is the Chinese dream. It owes its rise to the new president, Xi Jinping.

PRESIDENT XI JINPING: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: He's defined the Chinese dream as realizing a prosperous and strong country, the rejuvenation of the nation and the well-being of the people. So it's a slightly fuzzy concept covering a number of bases. But everyone is talking about it, even visiting Secretary of State John Kerry.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: I heard today very specific discussion from the president of China about the China dream.

LIM: So what does it mean? Well, my first stop is the state-run media. And I've got a pile of articles from the People's Daily here. And in a single one-week period, the Chinese dream was mentioned 24 times on the front page of this party mouthpiece. It tells me that Taiwanese should unite with mainlanders to strive for the Chinese dream. It says journalists should be the builders of the Chinese dream. But I'm not clearer about what it really means. So I'm going to ask the man who made the phrase famous.

LIU MINGFU: (Through translator) First, it means being number one in the world. And second, it's the rejuvenation of the nation.

LIM: Senior Colonel Liu Mingfu wrote a book called the Chinese Dream three years ago. In it, he argues China needs to return to its former glory - as the world's top superpower. He's sure that the president's version of the China dream is the same as his.

LIU: (Through translator) I'm a scholar at the National Defense University, but when I talked about China wanting to be number one in the world, Americans were very unhappy. If China's president talked about being number one in the world, Americans would be unable to bear it. We can't use the same language. But my Chinese dream and the president's Chinese dream are, in essence, the same.

LIM: That's what he believes, but the official interpretation doesn't seem to be the same. Back with my pile of news cuttings, I found one article from The Global Times debunking ten misconceptions about the Chinese dream. This says it's not just about China's rise. It's a misconception, it says, to believe it's just about human rights and democracy. Now I'm really getting confused. This piece spells out all the things that the China dream isn't, but annoyingly, it doesn't really tell me what the Chinese dream is.

My next stop on my quest to understand the Chinese dream is here, Peking University. It's lunch hour and the campus is just full of students rushing to the canteens. The new propaganda chief has said the Chinese dream needs to be included in all the textbooks.

As he put it, it needs to go into students' brains. Well, I've been asking students here, what their Chinese dreams are.

ZHANG YIYING: The air can be more clean and the environment can be better.

CUN RUI: My dream is to find a good job and to realize my values. Previously Chinese don't have dream, I think. For example, for students, they just follow their parents.

LIM: Cun Rui and before him, Zhang Yiying. The students I've been talking to like the idea of a Chinese dream. They see it as a unifying force. But critics say it's paternalistic.

ZHAO CHU: (Through translator) The power of defining this dream is in the hands of the government, the rulers. So this dream itself is a very extreme form of nationalism.

LIM: That's Zhao Chu, an independent commentator who posted a sharply worded essay online about the Chinese dream. He compares it to the American dream, which is all about the power of the individual. But, he says, the Chinese dream is imposed from above, depriving ordinary people of the right to dream their own dreams.

He describes what happened to his critique of the China dream.

ZHAO: (Through translator) It was deleted. This is good evidence to show that the dream that unites the people is such a hypocritical concept. When this dream cannot be discussed, how can it be a real dream?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LIM: It's not the only Chinese dream to be deleted by censors. So, too, was this song by former factory worker Li Lei. The Chinese dream is not a dream of dictatorship, he sings. The Chinese dream is not a dream of corrupt officials. It's a dream of the people, of democracy and freedom. Apparently, the authorities don't agree with his view. His Chinese dream is yet another one that's deemed unsuitable for the public. Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.

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