It looks like the new leader of China may have borrowed a propaganda slogan from mustachioed New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, who repeats "Chinese dream" like a mantra, ushered in a wave of "Chinese dream" contests, projects and hit pop songs in the country this year. The slogan bears a striking resemblance to an edition of Friedman's ongoing advice column to the world, titled "China Needs Its Own Dream," which ran in the Times on October 2 and was subsequently translated for Reference News, the Xinhua News Agency's translation of articles collected from global news outlets. Update: And Friedman himself tells Foreign Policy's Isaac Stone Fish, " I only deserve part credit. The concept of 'China Dream' was created by my friend Peggy Liu, as the motto for her NGO about how to introduce Chinese to the concept of sustainability."
The Economist spotted the similarity, and it could very well be the first time an entire country has listened to Thomas Friedman. Here's a snippet of Friedman's advice to Xi:
Does Xi have a “Chinese Dream” that is different from the “American Dream?” Because if Xi’s dream for China’s emerging middle class — 300 million people expected to grow to 800 million by 2025 — is just like the American Dream (a big car, a big house and Big Macs for all) then we need another planet.
Shortly after Friedman's column appeared, the phrase began to show up in Xi's rhetoric, with some directly crediting it to Friedman's column. In December 2012, "dream" was dubbed the Chinese character of the year. While the government has not acknowledged Friedman as an inspiration, The Economist notes that the phrase is kind of all over everything in China right now:
Schools have been organising Chinese-dream speaking competitions. Some have put up “dream walls” on which students can stick notes describing their visions of the future. Party officials have selected model dreamers to tour workplaces and inspire others with their achievements. Academics are being encouraged to offer “Chinese dream” research proposals. Newspapers refer to it more and more...the party’s propaganda chief, Liu Yunshan, ordered that the concept of the Chinese dream be written into school textbooks to make sure that it “enters students’ brains”.
Given the bland slogans adopted by previous Chinese leaders, Xi gets credit for at least choosing something catchier than Hu Jintao's rousing “scientific-development outlook.”
Update: Our colleagues at TheAtlantic.com's China channel are are inclined to believe the sudden upsurge in 'Chinese dream' rhetoric is coincidental with the Friedman's column. James Fallows, who's written a post on the background on the uses of the "China dream" phrase , writes in comments below:
For what it's worth, the current Chinese-leadership push on 'Chinese dream' themes is worth noting, but the likelihood that this is related to anything in the NYT or the US press is vanishingly small.
The idea of a 'Chinese dream' has been around for a long time. The slogan of the Beijing Olympics five years ago was "One World, One Dream," and in the years before and after the games there was a lot of related Chinese-dream discussion. Back in 2006 I did an Atlantic article with a big section on "What is the Chinese dream?" Lots of other people did similar things. So: the 'dream theme' is important, but nobody in the foreign press is responsible for that push.
Update again: At TheAtlantic.com, Jim Fallows has a post that explains more about the context of the phrase "China dream." While over at Foreign Policy,