Xi Jinping thought: watch for the possessive suffix

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Ding Xueliang, a professor of PRC history and contemporary Chinese politics at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, has called attention to the difference between

Máo Zédōng sīxiǎng 毛泽东思想 ("Mao Zedong thought")


Máo Zédōng de sīxiǎng 毛泽东的思想 ("Mao Zedong's thought")

Similarly, there is a significant difference between

Xí Jìnpíng sīxiǎng 习近平思想 ("Xi Jinping thought")


Xí Jìnpíng de sīxiǎng 习近平的思想 ("Xi Jinping's thought")

The grammatical particle "de 的", the fourth character in the second and fourth sentences cited above, is the possessive / adjectival / relativizing suffix in Mandarin.  It is far and away the most frequent character in written Modern Standard Mandarin [MSM]), accounting for more than four per cent of total occurrences.

Máo Zédōng de sīxiǎng 毛泽东的思想 ("Mao Zedong's thought") is the fallible thinking of the man Mao, whereas Máo Zédōng sīxiǎng 毛泽东思想 ("Mao Zedong thought") is transcendent, infallible ideology.

Ding is quoted in this BBC article in Chinese (9/1/17) on the forthcoming 19th Party Congress that will be convened in Beijing on October 18.

During the Congress, CCP watchers will be keeping a sharp eye open for the use of "Xí Jìnpíng sīxiǎng 习近平思想" ("Xi Jinping thought"), rather than Xí Jìnpíng de sīxiǎng 习近平的思想 ("Xi Jinping's thought").  If reference is made to "Xí Jìnpíng sīxiǎng 习近平思想" ("Xi Jinping thought"), this will be clear indication that Xi's way of thinking has become a sanctified ideology, and Xi himself will no longer be a mere mortal, but will been elevated to the celestial realms of Maohood.  His words will thenceforth be enshrined in Party scripture, and people will recite them the way they recite quotations from Mao's "On Guerilla Warfare", "On Protracted War", "On Contradiction", and so forth.

Already we have Xi's The Governance of China (available in Chinese, English, Thai, Khmer, Urdu, Turkish, and Hungarian) to draw upon.  If that's not enough, those who wish to consecrate Xi Jinping thought in the CCP canon can also make use of the Chairman's 2001 doctoral dissertation, Zhōngguó nóngcūn shìchǎnghuà yánjiū 中国农村市场化研究 ("Tentative Study of Agricultural Marketization"), for which see this remarkable post on the "Dim Sums" blog.  And then there are "important / major speeches" delivered in China and throughout the world.  By now, there's plenty enough material to assemble a little book of Xi's most ethereal evocations, but what color will the cover be?  It can't be red, and you know very well why.  It can't be yellow either, since that has already been used for SpongeBob and for several other Chinese leaders who did not make it into the most exalted realms.  I vote for green.

[Thanks to Perry Link, Yixue Yang, and Jinyi Cai]


  1. hanmeng said,

    September 2, 2017 @ 12:35 pm

    The Green Book was Muammar Gaddafi's. Now let's compare Xi the two.

  2. Victor Mair said,

    September 2, 2017 @ 12:54 pm

    Mark Metcalf wonders when we'll start seeing the first folio of hymns. Something catchy from this genre, perhaps (note especially the fourth line and the last line):

    "Dàhǎi hángxíng kào duòshǒu 大海航行靠舵手" ("Sailing the Seas Depends on the Helmsman"):

    dàhǎi hángxíng kào duòshǒu,
    Sailing the seas depends on the helmsman,

    wànwù shēngzhǎng kào tàiyáng.
    The growth of all living beings depends on the sun.

    yǔlù zīrùn hémiáo zhuàng,
    Rain and dew nourish young seedlings,

    gàn* gémìng kào de shì Máo Zédōng Sīxiǎng.
    Conducting revolution depends on Mao Zedong Thought.

    yú'ér lí bù kāi shuǐ ya,
    Fish cannot leave the water,

    guā'ér lí bù kāi yāng.
    Melons cannot leave the vine.

    gémìng qúnzhòng lí bù kāi Gòngchǎn Dǎng.
    The revolutionary masses cannot do without the Communist Party.

    Máo Zédōng Sīxiǎng shì bù luò de taiyáng.
    Mao Zedong Thought is a sun that never sets.

    *VHM: "Conducting" is a polite, elevated way to translate gàn 干 ("do", with vulgar undertones). See:

    "Comrades, 'hike up your skirts for a hard shag'" (7/23/17)


    "GAN4 ('Do it!')" (8/11/17)


  3. Victor Mair said,

    September 2, 2017 @ 12:59 pm



    The Green Book (Arabic: الكتاب الأخضر‎‎ al-Kitāb al-Aḫḍar) is a short book setting out the political philosophy of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The book was first published in 1975. It was "intended to be read for all people." It is said to have been inspired in part by The Little Red Book (Quotations from Chairman Mao). Both were widely distributed both inside and outside their country of origin, and "written in a simple, understandable style with many memorable slogans." An English translation was issued by the Libyan People's Committee, and a bilingual English/Arabic edition was issued in London by Martin, Brian & O'Keeffe in 1976. During the Libyan Civil War, copies of the book were burned by anti-Gaddafi demonstrators.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    September 2, 2017 @ 6:27 pm

    From a PRC graduate student:

    I find that without "的", “习近平思想” is upgraded into a proper noun, with much more authority, as compared to “习近平的思想” a general reference to Xi's talks, ideas, articles, etc.

    Another ancestral tablet added…

  5. Endymion Wilkinson said,

    September 3, 2017 @ 3:58 am

    I did quite a few translations of this and that in Beijing in the early 1960s mostly for teaching materials but also a book for the Foreign Languages Press. I remember being told that I was wrong to translate 毛泽东思想 as Mao Zedong thought because he was still alive (and his thinking was still developing). The correct translation up to his death was therefore Mao Zedong thinking. Once he was gone, it became Thought. Therefore should not 习近平思想 be Xi Jinping thinking rather than thought?
    [Just a thought]!

  6. Victor Mair said,

    September 3, 2017 @ 2:04 pm

    From another PRC graduate student:

    In my understanding, "毛泽东的思想" is like "some thoughts/thinking of Mao", but "毛泽东思想" is more like "the Mao thinking". The big difference I could think of is, once the "的" is removed, the "Mao thinking" becomes a thinking that can stand by itself. With the "的" being attached, the "thinking" of Mao is still his personal thoughts. But without the "的", the thinking becomes public.

  7. Jichang Lulu said,

    September 3, 2017 @ 3:05 pm

    "Already we have Xi's The Governance of China (available in Chinese, English, Thai, Khmer, Urdu, Turkish, and Hungarian) to draw upon."

    We have all that, and more. It has also been translated into French, German, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Nepali, Arabic, Portuguese, Tibetan, Mongolian and Kazakh (twice). There's no indication that the list is exhaustive. There's also a more recent book.

    The title is hard to translate idiomatically and marketably. In Chinese, Xi's magnum opus (actually just a collection of speeches, likely all available online) is called 《习近平谈治国理政》 Xí Jínpíng tán zhì guó lǐ zhèng, literally 'Xi Jinping talks about ruling [the] country and administering the government' (~the state), a permutation of 治理国政 zhìlǐ guózhèng 'govern/rule/administer national government/politics'. Xu Mingqiang 徐明强, "one of the heroes behind the translation" of the literary monument, says the translation team considered all manner of English titles, before settling on governance, a choice posthumously supported by Harold Wilson:

    "为了说服大家都能接受这个词,我找到了一本书,就是英国原首相写的一本书叫“ The Governance of Britain”,所以一下就都说服大家了,最后就采用了这个名字。"

    Then there's The Governance of England, a 19th-century translation of a Latin treatise by John Fortescue, also known as The Difference between an Absolute and a Limited Monarchy. That's not irrelevant to Xi's status as Absolute Core of Everything.

    In other languages, some translations follow the English example (La gouvernance de la Chine), some keep the syntax of the Chinese title (시진핑 국정운영을 말하다, 習近平 国政運営を語る), and others try something new: (China regieren, О государственном управлении).

    The Mongolian (which as far as I know exists only in the traditional script, i.e. for Inner Mongolian consumption) is an adpositional phrase, quite similar to the Russian above: ᠲᠥᠷᠦ ᠵᠢ ᠵᠠᠰᠠᠬᠤ ᠲᠤᠬᠠᠢ Törö-yi jasaqu tuqai (for which the Cyrillic would be Төрийг засах тухай). The Tibetan is basically talks-about (like the Chinese-type translations above), only nominalised: rGyal srid skyong lugs skor gleng ba རྒྱལ་སྲིད་སྐྱོང་ལུགས་སྐོར་གླེང་བ།

    It's not immediately clear if the book is selling well, or at all. What there is ample evidence for is that they've been giving it away by the cartload. At multiple events, attendants were given not just free copies, but bundles of five, which would be atypical for an item in high demand. Since it's not possible to insert images in these comments, I'll describe two such instances in words.

    In this example, four people, presumably Korean, have each been given a bundle of five Korean Governances bundle and made to stand on a stage, flanked by two bundleless individuals, possibly to prevent them from leaving without their bundles.

    In this other example, Wang Zhengwei 王正伟, director of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission, is giving a bundle to an "ethnic minority representative". Director Wang is smiling, as if saying come on, have some more. The ethnic minority representative has an OK-if-you-don't-want-it smile. In the background, another ethnic minority representative getting his Governance pack is smiling a just-what-I-needed-to-level-the-washing-machine smile. Director Wang was later dismissed, after an unusually short tenure for a SEAC director, perhaps due to failure to fulfill his Governance-disposal quota.

  8. Jonathan Smith said,

    September 3, 2017 @ 5:56 pm

    In early PRC propaganda mention of "毛泽东思想" is of course very often preceded by "马克思主义" and "列宁主义" or some combination thereof; perhaps these were the model for [Person]思想? And interesting that we seem never to hear of 毛泽东主义, "Maoism", in the PRC…

  9. DMT said,

    September 4, 2017 @ 3:38 am

    I believe the full sequence of official ideology is defined as: Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, Important Thought of “Three Represents”, and Scientific Outlook on Development (马克思列宁主义、毛泽东思想、邓小平理论、“三个代表”重要思想、科学发展观).
    In this hierarchy of ideologies, only Mao Zedong's ideas are referred to as "Thought" (思想). So if the 19th Party Congress does indeed make a pronouncement on "Xi Jinping Thought" (习近平思想), would this be tantamount to an official declaration that Xi's ideological contribution surpasses that of all party leaders since Mao?

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