BEIJING -- As Chinese President Xi Jinping begins his second term leading an Asian giant facing myriad challenges, he has young, model Communist Party members as evangelists for his vision of a modern and powerful socialist China.
Young party members who work ordinary jobs were among the 2,300 representatives at the twice-in-a-decade National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October, where Xi solidified his power for his next five-year term as president and party chief.
Today, these young people are back at their workplaces and spreading Xi's vision of China to their coworkers. By promoting the dream of a better future, they are helping the party ensure social stability amid slowing economic growth and other uncertainties.
Spreading the gospel
Wu Na, 29, has been working as a security agent at Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport since she graduated from a vocational school 11 years ago. Having been commended as a model worker for her efforts to minimize traveler inconvenience while ensuring security, Wu enjoys a celebrity status at the airport. The "Wu Na Lane" is the name some have given to the No. 9 lane she works at. Her superior told her in June that she was chosen to attend the party congress.
People like Wu serve as the party's crucial link to ordinary citizens. "The difference between a big nation and a powerful nation is a matter of quality," she said without hesitation when asked about how she understands Xi's vision of a modern and powerful socialist China.
People tend to associate "power" with military might, such as China's growing assertion of control over surrounding waters and military buildup. But Xi's concept of "powerful nation" covers culture and other nonmilitary aspects as well.
Wu says this means that each person can contribute to the realization of the leader's vision by improving what they do at work. In her role at the airport, for instance, it is making sure travelers leave Shanghai with a good image while ensuring air safety.
"Eliminating hidden dangers while also being considerate to travelers who go through body checks -- doing these small things well will help China transform into a powerful nation from a big country," Wu said.
Returning from the party congress, Wu has been giving speeches at her workplace, as well as at schools and labor unions in and around Shanghai, talking about what she took away from the meeting.
"Everyone will gain opportunities to better themselves if they work hard," she tells her audiences. "It is fortunate for young people to be able to dedicate their youth, taking part in the grand project of the revival of the Chinese race."
Such words from Wu, one of a small elite chosen from the 89 million-member Communist Party, must make a strong impact on her audience. And that is what Xi expects.
Through these speaking engagements, people like Wu disseminate party policy to the public. Soon after the October congress, Xi reshuffled the leadership team at the central body organizing those speeches and installed some of his close allies. The move illustrates his focus on a propaganda effort to bring together China's 1.4 billion people.
Since coming to power, Xi has repeatedly ordered the apparatus to focus more on front-line operations at the local level. He apparently is concerned about the distance between the party and the general public.
In any country, people have some dissatisfaction with their government. If they live in a democratic country, they can vent frustration through voting. But this escape valve does not exist in China, where the Community Party enjoys absolute rule, leaving people's grievances to fester below the surface and turn into a hidden risk for social unrest.
The Chinese dream
With slower growth and the aging of the population, China's future prospects are not bright. That is precisely why Beijing needs to give the people the dream of a strong nation and encourage their contribution.
Xi's vision of a modern and powerful socialist China is a long-term goal spanning 30 years or so into the future. But his shorter-term goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all aspects calls for its realization in 2020.
One of keys to achieving the goal is eradication of poverty, but China had 43.35 million people living in poverty as of the end of last year. The Communist Party needs people like Wu selling a rosy picture because the reality remains quite tough for many ordinary citizens.