BRADLEY JAMES CAVANAGH WRITES – As the Chinese Communist Party seeks to keep itself relevant in the 21st century, it has a committed cheerleader in President Xi Jinping. Over the Lunar New Year, Xi made a rare round of appearances on major state-run networks to preach his message of revitalization and relevance to the Chinese people.

As a young man, the Party defined Xi. Despite his father’s once-high ranking position, during the Cultural Revolution he enjoyed no special privileges. With his father purged along with millions of others, Xi labored for seven years with peasants in Liangjiahe, a village near the provincial borders of Sichuan and Gansu in Western China.

There, the young Xi helped improve the lives of China’s poorest by building irrigation projects and working the land. And where others might have become embittered at having their youth snatched away by the state apparatus, the president instead looks back with great pride at his service.

Today, Xi asks young Chinese men and women to do something similar: to dream. Xi asks the youth to contribute to the prosperity of the collective in a drive to make China a fully modern nation.

Yet, today’s Chinese youth do not know the same struggle Xi endured. Instead, they live in a different, but equally bizarre reality, one which brings many to question the relevance of Communism in the 21st century.

A great problem the Communist Party faces is the newfound concept of individuality and the endless choices that come with it. Decades ago, Xi had no option but to work in the countryside. Today, far removed from the influence of Mao, many people feel there is no clear path or objective purpose in their lives. Xi says he will reform the Communist Party, into one that the people can get behind. In his vision, the party works to better ordinary people’s lives and fight corruption, standing for the moral soul of the nation. He needs the youth to believe in his China.

There is debate as to whether the CCTV appearance is a sign of Xi’s mass popularity or his attempt to shore up an uncertain political future in the face of shifting economic sands. Whether his anticorruption drive can retain legitimacy, or will come to an abrupt end at the hands of lurking rivals, if China’s economy continues to struggle under Xi’s lead, this ideological drive will come head to head with the demands of economic reform.