Chinese leader decries speechifying - in long-winded speech

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping urged fellow members of the ruling Communist party to end the tradition of giving long-winded speeches – though his address failed to follow his own advice.

Janerik Henriksson/Scanpix/AP
In this March 29 photo, China's vice president Xi Jinping speaks at the Sweden - China Business Cooperation and Innovation Forum at the City Hall in Stockholm, Sweden. Mr. Xi urged Communist party members, he decreed in a speech published Sunday, to end the tradition of giving long-winded speeches.

It has been quite a while since the Communist party of China has been really revolutionary, but Vice President Xi Jinping evidently intends to shake things up.

Party officials, he decreed in a speech published Sunday, should rid their speeches and documents of “empty words” and political jargon.

If that happened, most Chinese party hacks would be left literally speechless. Empty words and political jargon are standard fare in a political culture where the longer you speak the more important you must be.

That attitude spreads beyond politics in China. A former teacher I know recalls speeches by the chairman of her start-of-term school’s board of governors that lasted an entire day, broken only for lunch.

“I would just take a book,” she remembers. “Everyone knows you are not expected to listen, you are just expected to sit there to show respect.”

That was pretty much what delegates to the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament, were doing in March, as they sat through Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s annual work report. That lasted a droning two hours and two minutes, although that was pithy compared to the hours-long speeches that Mao Zedong would sometimes indulge in.

Mr. Xi, heir apparent to President Hu Jintao, told new students at the Party School of the Central Committee that they should deliver “short, concise, and straightforward speeches” using “colloquial idiom,” according to Xinhua, the official news agency.

So what do you make of this? “We need to commit ourselves to the Scientific Outlook on Development that puts the people first and focuses on comprehensive, balanced, and sustainable development. We need to handle the issue of environment and development extremely seriously and with a historic sense of mission, and need to adhere to the path of sustainable development.”

Yes, you’ve guessed it. That was Xi addressing a conference last month. Perhaps the revolution is not around the corner after all.

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