Celebrating the Communist Party's 90th anniversary on Friday, Chinese President Hu Jintao said that its ability to adapt made China affluent and powerful and that the party must fight corruption to retain public support and continue its uncontested rule.
In a 90-minute nationally televised speech, the political highlight of several events marking the party's founding, Hu said that decades of economic growth are transforming Chinese society, producing conflicts that the party must navigate to preserve stability.
He glossed over the radical campaigns and policies that led to tens of millions of deaths in the first decades of communist rule. But he said the party endured because it learned from its mistakes.
"In some historical periods, we once made mistakes and even suffered severe setbacks, the root cause of which was that our guiding thought then was divorced from China's reality. Our party managed to correct the mistakes by the strength of itself and the people, rose up amid the setbacks and continued to go forward victoriously," Hu told the several thousand party stalwarts inside the Great Hall of the People.
Unlike recent years when party anniversaries were largely for party members, this year's celebrations have sought to include and excite the public. Events have included a star-studded feature film about the party's founding, a torrent of documentaries and serialized historic dramas on television and mass sing-a-longs of "red" songs.
The purpose is to inspire patriotism and loyalty to the party and reinforce a now well-practiced narrative: that after a century of civil war, dynastic collapse and foreign invasion, the Communist Party has returned China to greatness and restored its rightful place as a world leader.
Chinese leaders have increasingly turned to grand public spectacles like the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic in 2009 to bolster the party's legitimacy as economic growth has brought social ills like a rich-poor gap and rampant corruption.
"In some ways we can see that with the Communist Party that they are trying to elevate this to a sacred event," said Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a historian at the University of California, Irvine.
The need to find new rationales for rule has grown as the party itself has evolved from an underground group of hardcore revolutionaries to a vast organization of 80 million members bound together more by ambition, power and connections than ideology.
Many among the public laud the party leadership for steering China to a more prosperous today yet vilify local officials as venal, at best indifferent and at worst abusive.
Chinese leaders have called corruption a life-and-death struggle for over a decade. Hu also sounded the alarm.
"If corruption does not get solved effectively, the party will lose the people's trust and support. The entire party should stay alert and fully appreciate the long-term complexity and arduousness of the fight against corruption, and make more efforts in fighting corruption and building a clean government," Hu said.
Like his predecessors and in keeping with his own nine years in power, Hu, however, did not call for institutional reforms, like creating an investigating entity independent from the party, that many experts say are necessary to rooting out endemic graft.
Similarly, though Hu several times mentioned the need for political reform, he did so in formulaic language that so far has not heralded a loosening of the party's grip on almost all public institutions.