Political action and political thinking ('ideology') provide the twin sets of data on which most conventional analyses of the Chinese Communist Party's transformation are made to rest. The twenty-first century's unprecedented concern with information and communication technologies has underscored, however, the need for analysts to upgrade the relevance of political language to any actionable appreciation of an untidy present and forecasting of a potentially turbulent future. A study that focuses on how language and state officialdom intersect in the areas of propaganda and nationalities/ethnic affairs is reported here. Its findings show how in China in the reform-era of the 1980s and 90s, language control and strategic management of political discourse exercised by cadres in the party propaganda apparatus helped forestall a development along Soviet lines ending with the sudden collapse of the socialist state. The findings indicate that the postreform future – which in parts of the country has, in fact, already arrived – is likely to see the contested disappearance of the traditional symbols and rhetoric of socialism 'as we know it', but that this transformation of discourse must be distinguished from the demise of socialism per se.