Data analysis: China’s sixth plenum veers in a new direction

Protocol's text-mining across nearly two decades' worth of plenum documents shows just how different this year's was from its predecessors.

Xi Jinping claps.

This year's outcome was unusual in a number of ways, with a focus on celebrating China's history not seen before.

Photo: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

On Nov. 11, the Communist Party of China concluded this year's plenum, the annual meeting of the leading Central Committee, and released a brief communique detailing what senior leaders discussed and agreed upon. A Protocol data analysis of 27 previous plenum communiques in Chinese from 2002 to 2021, totaling over 27,000 words, shows that this year's outcome was unusual in a number of ways, with a focus on celebrating China's history not seen before.

A newly 'historic' document

There are typically seven plenary sessions in every five-year Party Congress, with each generally serving a unique purpose; sixth plenums are usually dedicated to intra-Party affairs and cultural policies. This year's communique seemingly dispensed with much of that, focusing instead on the Party's achievements and enshrining Xi's place not only in the Party, but in history. Still, promoting Party discipline remains the core focus.

This is clearly reflected in the chart below, which uses the "term frequency — inverse document frequency" statistic to measure which words are most relevant to recent sixth-plenum communiques.

Previous sessions chaired by former President Hu Jintao urged "systemic reform" in the cultural industry (深化文化体制改革) to promote socialist values, while the most recent 18th Party Congress under Xi focused on intra-Party discipline.

By contrast, this year's sixth plenum was uniquely focused on both Xi and the Party's success.

  • "History" (历史) appeared almost 25 times in this communique, more times than all of the last 20 plenum communiques combined.
  • "Leap" (飞跃) also stands out as a unique focus of this year's communique. "Leap" has never before been used in any of the previous 27 plenum communiques across the last four Party Congresses. The use of "leap" implicitly demotes Deng Xiaoping in comparison to Mao Zedong and Xi by crediting Xi with two "leaps" and Mao with one, and as Bill Bishop of Sinocism has noted, overwrites an earlier state media reference crediting Deng with one of those leaps.

This plenum's unusual historical focus is especially clear when we compare its word choices to the three preceding sixth plenums. In the chart below, words above the dotted line are more unique to this year's plenum, while words below the line are more strongly associated with sixth plenums from previous Party Congresses.

  • Words like "era," "history," "revival" or "rejuvenation," "struggle" and "achievement" are more strongly associated with this year's document, evincing a nationalist shift.
  • "China" itself is mentioned more often than usual, and there is more focus on the military and defense.
  • "Reform," once a major stated priority of Xi's administration, is subtly de-emphasized: It is still mentioned multiple times, but carries less proportional weight given the length of this year's communique.

Not everything here breaks the mold. Mentions of "rule by law" increased slightly but were still similar to previous sixth plenums. Though discussion of reform decreased in general, references to "reform and opening" specifically remained consistent.

While the focus on celebrating Party history is unique for a sixth plenum, the primary goal is still ensuring intra-Party discipline, as enshrining Xi's place in history also builds ideological cohesion.

Tech and China's national strength

"Science and technology" (科技) are mentioned three times in this document, a small number that's nonetheless notable because, in the last four Party Congresses, tech was very rarely included in the sixth plenum communique at all. And the unusual focus on tech in last year's fifth plenum preceded China's coming tech crackdown, making any mentions worthy of attention.

All three references to science and technology frame them as sources of national strength. Last year's fifth plenum called for China to develop "technological self-reliance" to support national development, and this year advances in technological self-reliance lead the list of achievements that opens the document, signaling this remains a priority.

Xi's the man

As widely reported, Xi is the star of this document, and his elevation has been a central theme each year of the 19th Party Congress. But just how unusual is Xi's centrality to recent plenum communiques?

This document mentions Xi Jinping 17 times, threefold that any of the previous sixth plenums reviewed by Protocol mentioned any Party chair.

China's next, seventh plenum in 2022 is slated to focus on logistics for the new 20th Party Congress, one expected to cement Xi as chairman for yet another term. Seventh plenums are usually brief and administrative, but if this year is any guide, expect future plenums to be more about Xi, and his place in history, than ever before. That will mark a break from the more predictable, technocratic plenums of years past. Ironically, for a CCP leadership obsessed with history, the Party's past practice is becoming a fuzzier guide to its future.


Musk’s texts reveal what tech’s most powerful people really want

From Jack Dorsey to Joe Rogan, Musk’s texts are chock-full of überpowerful people, bending a knee to Twitter’s once and (still maybe?) future king.

“Maybe Oprah would be interested in joining the Twitter board if my bid succeeds,” one text reads.

Photo illustration: Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images; Protocol

Elon Musk’s text inbox is a rarefied space. It’s a place where tech’s wealthiest casually commit to spending billions of dollars with little more than a thumbs-up emoji and trade tips on how to rewrite the rules for how hundreds of millions of people around the world communicate.

Now, Musk’s ongoing legal battle with Twitter is giving the rest of us a fleeting glimpse into that world. The collection of Musk’s private texts that was made public this week is chock-full of tech power brokers. While the messages are meant to reveal something about Musk’s motivations — and they do — they also say a lot about how things get done and deals get made among some of the most powerful people in the world.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.

Circle’s CEO: This is not the time to ‘go crazy’

Jeremy Allaire is leading the stablecoin powerhouse in a time of heightened regulation.

“It’s a complex environment. So every CEO and every board has to be a little bit cautious, because there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire told Protocol at Converge22.

Photo: Circle

Sitting solo on a San Francisco stage, Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire asked tennis superstar Serena Williams what it’s like to face “unrelenting skepticism.”

“What do you do when someone says you can’t do this?” Allaire asked the athlete turned VC, who was beaming into Circle’s Converge22 convention by video.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.


Is Salesforce still a growth company? Investors are skeptical

Salesforce is betting that customer data platform Genie and new Slack features can push the company to $50 billion in revenue by 2026. But investors are skeptical about the company’s ability to deliver.

Photo: Marlena Sloss/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Salesforce has long been enterprise tech’s golden child. The company said everything customers wanted to hear and did everything investors wanted to see: It produced robust, consistent growth from groundbreaking products combined with an aggressive M&A strategy and a cherished culture, all operating under the helm of a bombastic, but respected, CEO and team of well-coiffed executives.

Dreamforce is the embodiment of that success. Every year, alongside frustrating San Francisco residents, the over-the-top celebration serves as a battle cry to the enterprise software industry, reminding everyone that Marc Benioff’s mighty fiefdom is poised to expand even deeper into your corporate IT stack.

Keep Reading Show less
Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a writer-at-large at Protocol. He previously covered enterprise software for Protocol, Bloomberg and Business Insider. Joe can be reached at To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or


The US and EU are splitting on tech policy. That’s putting the web at risk.

A conversation with Cédric O, the former French minister of state for digital.

“With the difficulty of the U.S. in finding political agreement or political basis to legislate more, we are facing a risk of decoupling in the long term between the EU and the U.S.”

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Cédric O, France’s former minister of state for digital, has been an advocate of Europe’s approach to tech and at the forefront of the continent’s relations with U.S. giants. Protocol caught up with O last week at a conference in New York focusing on social media’s negative effects on society and the possibilities of blockchain-based protocols for alternative networks.

O said watching the U.S. lag in tech policy — even as some states pass their own measures and federal bills gain momentum — has made him worry about the EU and U.S. decoupling. While not as drastic as a disentangling of economic fortunes between the West and China, such a divergence, as O describes it, could still make it functionally impossible for companies to serve users on both sides of the Atlantic with the same product.

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Latest Stories