XI JINPING'S LEADERSHIP STYLE AND PERSONALITY CULT

XI JINPING AS THE LEADER OF CHINA


Xi Jinping became the leader of China in 2013. Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, Xi Jinping “is the sixth man to rule the People’s Republic of China, and the first who was born after the revolution, in 1949. He sits atop a pyramid of eighty-seven million members of the Communist Party, an organization larger than the population of Germany. The Party no longer reaches into every corner of Chinese life, as it did in the nineteen-seventies, but Xi nevertheless presides over an economy that, by one measure, recently surpassed the American economy in size; he holds ultimate authority over every general, judge, editor, and state-company C.E.O. As Lenin ordained, in 1902, “For the center . . . to actually direct the orchestra, it needs to know who plays violin and where, who plays a false note and why.” [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, April 6, 2015]

William Wan wrote in the Washington Post, “Since Xi took control of the party in 2012, he has concentrated his power over almost every aspect of state affairs. In January, he became head of the newly formed national security commission. He leads six other Central Committee groups, personally overseeing overall government reform, cybersecurity, finance and military overhaul. Xi has also launched the most severe anti-corruption campaign in decades. It has brought down high-ranking and low-level officials alike, including senior military officers and ministerial-level leaders. Besides cementing his power within the party, there are signs that he is also tightening his control over civil society, especially on the ideological front. Human rights activists, lawyers and even moderate intellectuals have been harassed, detained and jailed. A slew of campaigns have tightened already strict Internet controls in China — in the name of combating pornography and rumors. Many Chinese, however, say these curbs are a way to silence more liberal voices online. [Source: William Wan, Washington Post, July 25, 2014]

Christopher Bodeen of Associated Press wrote: “Xi is widely seen as having accumulated more power and authority than any Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping in the late 1980s. A cult of personality has also sprung up around him rivaling that of the founder of the Communist state, Mao Zedong, with Xi's slogans, sayings and signature political themes widely disseminated in the media. Yet his reputation has also been called into question by anonymous letters, allegedly from Communist Party members, calling for his resignation. Revelations in the international media about vast wealth accumulated by members of his extended family have flown in the face of his relentless campaign against corruption in the party, military and state industries.” [Source: Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press, April 21, 2016]

When asked why he was more cautious under Xi Jinping, Tan Hecheng, a journalist and independent historian to the NY Review of Books: “It’s because of higher-ups—of the new emperor [Xi Jinping]. His ways of doing things isn’t the same. Hu [Jintao, the party secretary from 2002 to, 2012] is gone, so is Jiang [Zemin, party secretary from 1989 to 2002]. Hu and Jiang were more flexible. Xi is hard. The lower-downs don’t dare do otherwise, so they are hard too. [Source: Ian Johnson, NY Review of Books, January 13, 2017]

“Big Daddy Xi "—China's Leninist Emperor


Zheng Yongnian, the director of the Asia Institute at the Singapore National University, has argued that Xi is the third key leader of post-Revolution China after Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. "Xi is in charge of everything,” Prof. Zneg said. Tom Phillips wrote in The Telegraph, “The rise of “Big Daddy Xi” stems from the president’s apparent conviction that it was the absence of firm leadership that allowed the Soviet Union to crumble. “When the Soviet Party was about to collapse, there was not one person who was man enough to turn back the tide,” Xi reportedly told senior leaders in late 2012. A Vladimir Putin-style strongman is now needed if China is to avoid the same fate, Xi believes. He has welcomed comparisons to Russia’s muscle-flexing president, telling that country’s state-media: “I feel that our personalities are quite similar”. Prince Charles once dismissed China’s leaders as a lifeless collective of “appalling old waxworks”. But the Xi Jinping now being presented to China and the world is a vivid, multi-dimensional character, at once action hero, skilled diplomat and doting father.” [Source: Tom Phillips, The Telegraph, December 8, 2014]

On Xi's impact on the Chinese government, Carl Minzner wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “ China is again slowly turning in on itself. New party slogans stress “traditional” culture and values. The language of Confucianism is increasingly being invoked to legitimize a new dynasty of red emperors. Windows are being shut. State researchers are being warned against foreign collaboration. Archives previously open to Western scholars are being closed off. And Beijing is reaching for a fly swatter — or a hammer — to deal with influences it perceives as threats. Liberal public interest lawyers are being subjected to a chilling crackdown; Christian churches in Zhejiang province to a selective demolition campaign; Hong Kong pro-democracy media to increasing intimidation.” [Source: Carl Minzner, Los Angeles Times, October 20, 2014]

Timothy Garton Ash wrote in the Los Angeles Times, President Xi Jinping is leading an extraordinary political experiment in China. In essence, he is trying to turn his nation into an advanced economy and three-dimensional superpower, drawing on the energies of capitalism, patriotism and Chinese traditions, yet all still under the control of what remains, at its core, a Leninist party-state. He may be a Chinese emperor, but he is also a Leninist emperor. This is the most surprising and important political experiment on Earth. No one will be unaffected by its success or failure. In 1989, as communism was trembling in Warsaw, Berlin, Moscow and Beijing, who would have predicted that 25 years later we would be poring neo-Sovietologically over the 60-point decision of the Third Plenum of the 18th Communist Party Congress. [Source: Timothy Garton Ash, Los Angeles Times, April 4, 2014 \~]

“Xi has moved decisively to strengthen central party power and his own position. Besides taking the traditional commanding roles in the military, state and party more rapidly than his predecessors, he has created at least four other central command committees — on economic reform, state security, military reform and, tellingly, the Internet. "More than Mao!" cries one disgruntled party reformer. His anticorruption drive” has taken “down a former boss of the national security apparatus and high-ranking party member, Zhou Yongkang. This may be taken as a token of seriousness about tackling rampant corruption at the highest levels. Or it could be seen as part of the traditional maneuvers of a new leader securing his power over real or potential factions inside the party.

Xi Jinping's Image


Carrie Gracie of the BBC wrote: “In general the president's spin doctors do a very slick job of presenting him as a man of the people. He tours leaky back alley homes, ducking through washing lines and wearing no face mask - the message that this is a leader prepared to breathe the same polluted air as you. He talks to his public in earthy prose, telling students that life is like a shirt with buttons where you have to get the first few right or the rest will all go wrong. He queues up in an ordinary dumpling shop for lunch and pays for his own meal. Message - he is neither greedy nor showy. [Source: Carrie Gracie, BBC, October 18, 2015 ^^^]

“We'd arrived at the heart of the president's creation myth. Nearly five decades ago, the 15-year-old Xi fled from the chaos of the capital to this bleak and breathtaking landscape of yellow canyons, caves and mountains. Millions of Chinese city kids were doing the same thing. Chairman Mao had decreed they should spend time in the countryside, learning from the hard life of the peasants, and Xi Jinping says he did learn. The spin doctors have turned his teenage trauma into triumph. This village has become a shrine to its most famous son, a vital part of the president's image. I left my heart in Liangjiahe. Liangjiahe made me, he likes to claim. ^^^

“There aren't many 21st Century leaders of whom you can say that they lived in a cave and made it as a farmer before clawing their way to the political summit. But in control-conscious China, those facts could not possibly be allowed to speak for themselves. So I was marched round a museum extolling the good deeds that Xi did for his fellow villagers, and whenever my attention flagged a gushing guide stepped forward to fill in narrative gaps, and I soon realised that what I'd mistaken for phalanxes of communist party pilgrims were actually propaganda officials. Also keeping an eye on me rather than the museum exhibits, a liberal sprinkling of plainclothes police. Why the paranoia? Why does the history have to be sanitised, all trace of real personality expunged? I wasn't looking for revelations of youthful depravity or character flaws. But everywhere I turned the memories were so carefully crafted it was hard to work out whether any of them were real. And all the while, the propaganda chief's glassy pallor worsened. Eventually he asked me to sign a document promising that every word the BBC said about President Xi would be positive.

In a 22-page hagiography called “Man of the People” Xi is described as “a mild person” and “man of compassion” who has “brought a fresh breeze through the country’s political life”. “Sometimes he stays up late watching sports on television,” the profile says. In an interview he said as a young man he watched “The Godfather” by Francis Ford Coppola. [Source: Tom Phillips, The Telegraph, December 8, 2014]

Xi Jinping’s Early Charm Offensive


Xi with young pioneers

In January 2014, Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Chinese President Xi Jinping has a new year’s resolution for the Communist Party: Be more charming. In a nation where senior leaders have long seemed distant and remote, revealing few personal details, interacting minimally with ordinary people and enjoying privileges remote from the masses, Xi seems to be trying to loosen the stylistic straight jacket. On Saturday, he paid a surprise visit to a Beijing dumpling shop, lining up and paying for his own $3.50 lunch. News of his visit quickly went viral, and his order — six steamed buns, a plate of stewed pig intestines and steamed vegetables — has quickly become known as the "President's Combo." [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, January 2, 2014 \^/]

Then, a day later, “he delivered his first televised new year’s address, a speech notably more informal than the ones given by his predecessor, Hu Jintao. Though perhaps still stiff by U.S. political standards. Xi’s address was relaxed and friendly. He sat behind a large desk in his office — apparently the first public glimpse inside the chamber — with family snapshots on the bookshelves behind him. One showed the president riding his bike with his daughter; another pictured him pushing his father in a wheelchair; a third had him kicking a soccer ball. State-run television even released close-up versions of the photos, apparently in response to popular demand.\^/

“The public appears to be responding. In a monthly survey by China Youth Daily, respondents ranked Xi’s visit to the dumpling shop as the story they were “most satisfied” with in December — even ahead of the government’s decision to abolish labor camps (#2) and the nation’s successful landing of a rover on the moon (#6). “It’s brave to express this kind of style; it goes against the traditional ‘official behavior’ that’s expected of politicians. It’s not the traditional mysterious politics,” said Hu Xingdou, professor of economics at the Beijing Institute of Technology. “But in the end, it’s actions that are the most important. Can the problems be solved? Will the rich-poor gap be narrowed? In past decades, there have been lots of brainwashing-type messages,” but people are watching for results now. \^/

“In recent months, Xi has also demonstrated his more common touch by traveling with his wife on overseas trips and referencing popular singers and TV shows in media appearances. In a speech before the Politburo’s Central Committee, Xi told senior leaders that China needs to work on its charm game as it becomes a more powerful country. Xi said it’s key that China be portrayed as a “civilized country featuring rich history, ethnic unity and cultural diversity, and as an Oriental power with good government, developed economy, cultural prosperity, national unity and beautiful mountains and rivers,” the official New China News Agency reported.

Xi Jinping Beijing Alley Stroll

In the winter of 2014, Gillian Wong of Associated Press wrote: “He visited a subway control room in Beijing last week and called on factory workers, one of whom was moved to tears. He strolled along traditional alleyways and chatted with residents in their living rooms, asking them afterward if they wanted "a group photo." "I grew up near here, so today I'm here to see the old neighborhood," Xi said. In January 2014, he put on padded winter military fatigues and braved frigid temperatures and deep snow to shake hands with army troops patrolling China's border with Mongolia. Hu Xingdou, a political economist at the Beijing Institute of Technology, said Xi's appearances generate enthusiastic coverage by Chinese state media not because Xi is trying to build a personality cult, but simply because he's much more congenial than his predecessors. [Source: Gillian Wong, Associated Press, March 3, 2014]


Xi's New Year's speech

On his hutong stroll, In February 2014, Associated Press reported: “Chinese President Xi Jinping braved Beijing’s choking smog, making an unannounced visit to a trendy alley and sitting with residents in his latest public relations effort to be seen as a man of the people. Xi wore a black jacket and pants and was followed by a posse of similarly plainly suited Beijing city officials for his short stroll through part of a traditional alleyway popular with tourists and fashionable youth. [Source: Associated Press, February 25, 2014 *]

“Guan Shiyue, a 69-year-old retiree who lives in a small, sparsely furnished home on a nearby alley, said Xi visited him and sat between him and his wife on their living room sofa. Guan said he was impressed by the president. “He’s a good leader of the ordinary people … I think he does things in a particularly practical way,” Guan told The Associated Press. “The leaders of this new generation are capable.” *\ “Such visits are extremely rare for top Chinese leaders, who are not known for mingling with the public other than at scheduled events. Given Xi’s status and China’s conservative political culture, his appearance was likely stage-managed to some degree beforehand. Photos apparently taken by onlookers of Xi’s visit ricocheted around Chinese social media sites, triggering a flurry of comments. Some Internet users expressed support for “Uncle Xi” while others mocked the public relations effort, saying he should prioritize fixing the city’s air pollution woes over visiting residents. *\

Xi Jinping and CCTV 2015 Chinese New Year’s Gala

Josh Shin of the Wall Street Journal wrote: “With the Lunar New Year drawing near, China’s state broadcaster used one of its most tightly managed and overtly political Spring Festival galas in recent memory to deliver a message to the country’s 1.3 billion people on behalf of the Communist Party: Our hearts are yours. With Chinese President Xi Jinping eager to tighten the Communist Party’s grip on public discourse, the messages this year were clear.[Source: Josh Chin, China Real Time, Wall Street Journal, February 19, 2015 |+|]

“For the first time, the gala featured a host from the majority Muslim Uyghur ethnic minority, Negmat Rahman, whose appearance helped reinforce a message of ethnic unity following a year of escalating violence in the Uyghur homeland of Xinjiang. A number of skits and songs addressed the lives of the ordinary people, who were also featured prominently in the studio audience, recalling Mr. Xi’s “mass line” campaign urging officials to better understand regular folk. The gala was also notable for featuring a pair of comedy routines dealing with corruption – an unusually sensitive topic for the show, but one that dovetails with Mr. Xi’s wide-ranging anti-corruption drive. “Some irony or scoffing at corruption cases in an innocuous way would resonate with the public,” the state-run China Daily newspaper quoted Peking University political scientist Yan Jirong as saying. |+|

“The most overt message, however, was delivered roughly three hours into the program with a soaring political love song titled “I Give My Heart To You,” illustrated with a video montage of Mr. Xi meeting citizens and soldiers in spots around the country. “My motherland, my brothers and sisters/I give my heart to you,” Hong Kong tenor Warren Mok sang as images flashed in the background showing Mr. Xi planting trees, shaking hands with residents in an old Beijing alley and stomping through the snow to greet soldiers on China’s northern border. |+|

“Although the Spring Festival gala is always tightly managed, this year’s edition was even more so, according to state media and CCTV staff. The show was given the status of a “national project,” on par with the Beijing 2008 Olympics, and organizers were quoted as saying the show was being planned according to “three no’s”: No vulgar content, no low-brow content and no artists with histories of drug use or other personal problems. Propaganda officials, who typically sit in only on the last Spring Festival gala rehearsals, monitored every rehearsal for this year’s show and cancelled a number of acts deemed to be “too entertaining,” according to a CCTV staff member with knowledge of the gala’s production. |+|

“Despite, or maybe because of, the heavy hand, the show came in for criticism from viewers, many of whom went online to complain that some of the acts – particularly the anti-corruption comedy routines – were unusually boring. The show also sparked heated criticism on social media sites over skits that many viewers thought were demeaning to women, including one in which two men attempt to educate an unemployed and boyfriend-less “tomboy” by trotting out a leggy “goddess” for her to mimic. “You see?” asks one of the men when the model walks out on stage. “This is what elegance is.” “The moral direction of state media and the party is abundantly clear. Even my father couldn’t watch it,” wrote one user on the Weibo microblogging site. |+|

Xi Jinping Growing Personality Cult?

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “After Mao, China encouraged the image of a “collective Presidency” over the importance of individual leaders. Xi has revised that approach, and his government, using old and new tools, has enlarged his image. In the spirit of Mao’s Little Red Book, publishers have produced eight volumes of Xi’s speeches and writings; the most recent, titled “The Remarks of Xi Jinping,” dissects his utterances, ranks his favorite phrases, and explains his cultural references. A study of the People’s Daily found that, by his second anniversary in office, Xi was appearing in the paper more than twice as often as his predecessor at the same point. He stars in a series of cartoons aimed at young people, beginning with “How to Make a Leader,” which describes him, despite his family pedigree, as a symbol of meritocracy—“one of the secrets of the China miracle.” The state news agency has taken the unprecedented step of adopting a nickname for the General Secretary: Xi Dada—roughly, Big Uncle Xi. In January, the Ministry of Defense released oil paintings depicting him in heroic poses; thousands of art students applying to the Beijing University of Technology had been judged on their ability to sketch his likeness. The Beijing Evening News reported that one applicant admired the President so much that “she had to work hard to stop her hands from trembling.”“ [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, April 6, 2015]

Tom Phillips wrote in The Telegraph, “They call him “Xi Dada” or “Big Daddy Xi”...There are love songs about Xi, odes to Xi, academic papers about Xi, cartoons of Xi and even action figures of Xi. A Xi-related publishing blitz has seen at least seven major books hit Chinese shelves since late 2013, including collections of Xi Jinping’s thoughts, his speeches, anecdotes, quotes, newspaper editorials and work reports. The most recent – a compendium of quotations entitled “Approachable: The Charm of Xi Jinping’s Words” – is large and yellow but otherwise bears a striking resemblance to Mao Zedong’s “Little Red Book”.” [Source: Tom Phillips, The Telegraph, December 8, 2014]

“Xi’s 273-page paperback was published in November 2014 “by Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University and contains fawning analyses of sound bites from his first two years in office. “President Xi often uses metaphors and story-telling methods to explain profound truths,” gushes the preamble. “President Xi’s language contains great wisdom in its simplicity and has a penetrating power that directly touches people’s hearts.” Among dozens of “charming” presidential quotations are: “The arrow won’t come back after you shoot the bow,” and, in a section about foreign policy, “As distance tests a horse’s strength, so time reveals a person’s heart”. A second print run has already been ordered after the initial 50,000 copies flew off the shelves and an English-language version is in the pipeline, a university official said.

“The construction of a cult of personality around president Xi represents a dramatic direction change for a country that sought to rule collectively after the devastation wrought during Chairman Mao’s three-decade monopoly on power. Before Xi took office, “there had been a taboo and long-standing party norm: don’t hold yourself up as a personality,” said Carl Minzner, an expert in Chinese law and governance from New York’s Fordham Law School. “Big Daddy Xi” has shredded that rulebook. “In two years he has managed to amass a level of power that we haven’t seen in one person in quite some time,” said Prof Minzner.

“The message from Beijing’s spin-doctors was crystal clear. “Xi is the top dog.” Photographs in Xi’s recently published tome “The Governance of China” show him lecturing Obama and Putin, as both appear to listen intently. Elsewhere he is shown clad in army fatigues and braving minus 30 degree C temperatures as he visits border troops in Inner Mongolia. There is also a softer side to “Big Daddy Xi”. He is an easy-going family chief whose glamorous wife, the singer Peng Liyuan, regards him as “both a unique and a very ordinary person”. “Peng takes every opportunity to be together with her husband, cooking dishes of different styles for him,” we are told. They have a daughter whose Chinese name means “living an honest life and being a useful person to society”.

Ordinary Chinese and academics “appear to have warmed to Xi’s wholesome yet hardman persona. Applications for state funding for Xi-related academic papers reportedly rocketed in 2014. Approved studies include those on the “historical materialism of Xi’s important speeches”, the “essence of Xi Jinping’s series of important speeches” and the “innovation in Xi’s key speeches”. “We love and respect President Xi,” said Song Zhigang, the composer of a recent viral love song about Xi and his wife called “Big Daddy Xi loves Mama Peng” that has been viewed nearly 25 million times since its online release.

“Yet the meteoric rise of “Big Daddy Xi” could also prove dangerous, cautioned Prof Minzner. “Given China’s turbulent past, and its lack of autonomous political or legal institutions, you have to be worried when you see power increasingly being concentrated in the hands of a single populist leader,” he said. Online entrepreneurs show no such fears and are busy cashing in on China’s commander-in-chief with rubber dolls, sticker collections and even replicas of a black umbrella once used by the President. “We regard Xi as the emperor of a reviving nation,” said Xiao Ajian, who, for around £2, sells two-sided heart-shaped amulets featuring Chairman Mao on one side and “Big Daddy Xi” on the other. “The design shows Xi is great,” Mr Xiao added. “As great as Mao.”


Xi Jinping poster


Xi Promoted in State Media with Intensity Unseen since Mao Era

According to a study published in July 2014 by University of Hong Kong media researchers, China’s state-controlled media has been promoting the image of President Xi Jinping with “a frequency and intensity unseen since the Mao era.”William Wan wrote in the Washington Post, In the study, Qian Gang — a former journalist who is director of the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong — and student researchers examined the People’s Daily, the party’s flagship paper. They compared its coverage of eight top party leaders: Mao Zedong, Hua Guofeng, Deng Xiaoping, Hu Yaobang, Zhao Ziyang, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping. They focused on the first 18 months after each leader had taken power, counting the number of articles, front-page appearances and articles mentioning them in the paper’s first eight pages. [Source: William Wan, Washington Post, July 25, 2014 /]

“Among past leaders, Mao and Hua were mentioned most frequently, unsurprising given the fervent state-leader worship during their time. But when the chaos of the Cultural Revolution abated and Deng rose to power as the next leader, he criticized the cult of personality and said it was not only unhealthy, but also dangerous to build a country’s fate on the reputation of one man. In 1980, the party’s Central Committee issued directives for “less propaganda on individuals.” Party leaders have since continued to feature in propaganda and party-controlled newspapers but with less frequency and intensity. /

“According to Qian’s study, however, that trend against leader worship has eroded gradually over the years, with the change accelerating especially rapidly since Xi’s elevation in 2012. Xi’s name, for example, has been mentioned almost twice as frequently in party news articles as his two immediate predecessors and is catching up with Mao’s. In his first 18 months in power, Xi has been mentioned in 4,186 articles in the first eight pages of the People’s Daily, while Jiang and Hu appeared in fewer than 2,000 reports. /

“The study also looked at the frequency of mentions of Xi’s contemporaries, the six other Politburo Standing Committee members now ruling China alongside the president. In headlines of the People’s Daily front page, Xi was mentioned 745 times, almost twice as many as Premier Li Keqiang and many more than the others. Qian said the numbers suggest an intensification in propaganda exalting China’s top leadership position, but he cautioned that he is not trying to make any argument or interpretation about China’s prevailing political situation. He said his goal is merely to provide quantitative data for others to use in their studies of China’s opaque political system.” /

Officials Flock to Tree Planted by Xi Jinping

A pilgrimage by Chinese Communist Party officials to a paulownia tree planted in Henan province by Xi Jinping is the latest sign that a personality cult has grown around the leader. Tom Phillips wrote in the South China Morning Post: Tributes to the man now seen as China’s most powerful ruler since Mao have come in myriad forms: Xi Jinping tapestries, oil paintings, pop songs, exhibitions, university departments even. “Now he has received a hardwood homage with reports that senior Communist party officials have made a pilgrimage to a tree honouring their country’s increasingly supreme leader. [Source: Tom Phillips, South China Morning Post (November 12, 2017]

“Following Xi’s “extraordinary elevation” at the October 2017 party congress, officials in Henan province decided to express their allegiance by gathering around a Paulownia tree planted by their chief back in April 2009. “As the cadres, including the provincial party chief, Xie Fuzhan, gazed up at its branches on” a Sunday morning “they were immersed in thought, filled with deep emotions”, a local propaganda report described. “The tree is big, verdant and tall,” the author of the story gushed. “[Locals] warmly call it the Xi Paulownia tree.”

An accompanying video showed a group of almost entirely male leaders being escorted towards the arboricultural accolade by a female hostess. “Eight years have passed [since Xi’s visit] and the tree has grown enormous and leafy,” she says.

Xi Jinping Books, Sayings and Quotes

Biographies of Xi Jinping and volumes of Xi Jinping thought outnumber Mao Zedong books 4 to 1 at a gift shop in Yanan, where Mao ended the Long March. In 2019 roadside propaganda billboards began appearing in China that proclaimed that “all” work, actions and major business must follow Chinese President Xi Jinping. The three lines in the slogan on the billboard, each of which begins with “all,” in fact form what has been called “The Three Alls”. The full phrase could be translated as follows: All major matters are decided by Chairman Xi Jinping; all work must be responsible to Chairman Xi Jinping; all actions must heed the direction of Chairman Xi Jinping. [Source: Qian Gang China Media Project, January 19, 2019; Alice Su, Los Angeles Times, October 22, 2020]

In 2017, David Bandurski of the China Media Project wrote: To Xi Jinping’s growing list of titles as Chairman of Everything, add one more: Storyteller-in-Chief. In the five years since he became general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in November 2012, Xi has authored no less than four books, including The Governance of China (the tome on his ruling vision that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg made such a show of placing on his desk), Up and Out of Poverty (a collection of his writings through the 1990s), The Chinese Dream and the Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation (which helps readers “come to understand the true nature of the Chinese Dream“), and the tenderly titled Knowing Deeply: Loving Keenly (a book of his writings from the early 1980s). Search up Xi Jinping on Amazon and you’ll find scores of other published volumes of his “important speeches.” Perhaps the most entertaining is a volume commemorating, just in the nick of time, the 2,565th birthday of Confucius.[Source: David Bandurski, China Media Project, September 29, 2017]

“Telling stories well has been a common characteristic of celebrated statesmen and thinkers in China and beyond since ancient times — and it is a clear characteristic of General Secretary Xi Jinping’s leadership style. As China’s top leader and chief messager, he is the custodian of the “China story” — the authorized version of how the country and its leadership wish to be perceived by us all. At his first national meeting on propaganda and ideology in August 2013, Xi said leaders needed to find new ways to “tell China’s story well, and properly disseminate China’s voice.” More than a year later, at a foreign affairs work meeting in November 2014, he said that China “must raise our country’s soft power, telling China’s story well.”

"The idea of the “China story” as a coherent narrative reflecting the Party-state agenda, as a product of centrally conceived “soft power,” is not so new. The phrase appeared in the Party’s official People’s Daily as early as 2004. But what distinguishes Xi Jinping, or so we are told, from the wooden general secretaries of the recent past, is his gift and penchant for the telling of stories. “Following the release in June 2017 of Xi Jinping Tells A Story, a collection of stories and parables drawn from Xi’s public and private addresses, Yang Zhenwu , the publisher of the People’s Daily, was dazzled by the profound messages Xi managed to get across through simple and relatable anecdotes:

"Whether in his conference addresses, in conversation during his inspection tours, in his speeches during his overseas visits, or in his printed articles, he proves to be adept in using stories to convey deeper meanings and to move people. Woven through these stories is the tao (way) of Chinese history and culture, the tao of Chinese reform and development, the tao of Chinese participation in global governance. They convey the general secretary’s profound thoughts on internal and foreign affairs, on national security, on the governance of the Party, the nation and the military. They are concrete and vivid, relatable and profound, opening a window on the study of the spirit of [Xi’s] series of important speeches.

“Xi Jinping: Wit and Vision” (Military Volume, Jiao Tong University Press, 2017) contains famous Xi quotes such as "Whether you like it or not, the global economy is the big ocean that you cannot escape from," which he said during his keynote speech at the Davos World Economic Forum in 2017. A 2014 version of the book sold 500,000 copies and was reprinted 12 times. It was also translated into English and Korean. Professors from the People's Liberation Army's National Defense University edited the book according to teh China Daily to ensure accuracy and authoritativeness. Chief editor Liu Zhihui said: "Xi's language is witty and charming, with comparisons, metaphors and references to Chinese classics. They're easy to comprehend and memorize." Liu says the book contains 62 quotes, each with a short analysis. "We try to dig out the spiritual significance of each entry, while adding more military background for lay readers," Liu says. [Source: Mei Jia, China Daily, February 3, 2017]

Xi Jinping and the ‘Four Comprehensives’

In February 2015, on the eve of the annual People’s Congress, Xi Jinping reduced his political ideals and goals into traditional, bite-size Communist sloganistic terms in what was labeled the ‘Four Comprehensives’: comprehensively 1) establishing a moderately prosperous society, 2) deepening reform, 3) ruling the nation by law, and 4) strictly enforcing party discipline.

Josh Chin of the Wall Street Journal wrote: “Connoisseurs of Chinese political numerology can finally take a breath: After more than two years in office, Chinese President Xi Jinping has uncorked his own ordinal political philosophy...It’s not clear what, if any, impact Mr. Xi’s new theory will have on actual policy. What is clear, with China’s annual legislative meetings set to convene soon in Beijing, is that officials throughout the country will be rushing to study it comprehensively. [Source: Josh Chin, China Real Time, Wall Street Journal, February 25, 2015 ~]

“In the past, Chinese leaders have tended to fall into two camps when expounding their theories of development: those who favor numbered lists, and those who opt for more conventional proclamations. Late Premier Zhou Enlai and former President Jiang Zemin were in the former camp, pushing the “Four Modernizations” and “Three Represents,” respectively. Meanwhile, Deng Xiaoping (“Reform and Opening Up”) and former President Hu Jintao (“Scientific Outlook on Development”) opted to eschew the integers. ~

“Questions have loomed about what slogan Mr. Xi would use to represent himself in the party’s theoretical pantheon. For a time, some thought he might follow his non-numeric predecessor and go with the “Chinese Dream” of national rejuvenation, a notion he put forward shortly after taking power. It now appears he has decided otherwise” after the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper People’s Daily and other Chinese media gave blanket coverage to what Mr. Xi has taken to calling the “Four Comprehensives,” a set of principles emphasizing the need to “1) comprehensively build a moderately prosperous society, 2) comprehensively deepen reform, 3) comprehensively govern the nation according to law and 4) comprehensively be strict in governing the party.”~

“Aside from the idea of a moderately prosperous society — a Confucian ideal revived and popularized under Mr. Hu — the other catch-phrases are all closely associated with Mr. Xi, who has cracked down hard on corruption in Communist Party ranks while pushing for legal reforms and warning of the need to be resolute about reforms in general. It wasn’t the first mention of “Four Comprehensives” in the Chinese press. Mr. Xi introduced the idea during an inspection tour in eastern China’s Jiangsu province in mid-December 2014, according to People’s Daily, and the phrase made a few scattered appearances on Chinese-language news websites in February” 2015. The People’s Daily announcement “was the first time the theory was propagated on a wide scale, suggesting that it had earned widespread acceptance at the top of the party. “Its great weight and meaning are clear to see – its bears paying attention to,” the People’s Daily wrote in a front-page editorial on the idea. “Standing at the intersection of history and the future, a greater journey is unfolding before us,” it added.

“The Four Comprehensives, though vague, are lucid by the standards of numbered Chinese political slogans. The Three Represents, for example, calls for the Communist Party represent “the requirements for developing China’s advanced social productive forces, the orientation China’s advanced culture and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people.” Even more confounding is “One Center and Two Basic Points,” a formulation put forward in 1987 by then-Premier Zhao Ziyang that proclaimed that economic development was the central task of the government, which simultaneously had to hold to two key notions: reform and opening up, and the Four Cardinal Principles. (For the morbidly curious, the Four Cardinal Principles are: the Socialist Road, the People’s Democratic Dictatorship, the leading role of the Party and Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought).


Xi Jinping poster


Deng Xiaoping Exhibition Highlights Xi Jinping Rather Than Deng

On an exhibition in Beijing in 2018, ostensibly marking the anniversary of Deng’s economic reforms, Amanda Lee wrote in the South China Morning Post: “State-owned enterprises are much more prominent than the private sector and President Xi Jinping far more visible than Deng Xiaoping in a special exhibition marking 40 years since China’s reform and opening up, stressing the Communist Party’s role in the economy even as Xi courts private firms to help stabilise growth during the trade war with the United States. [Source: Amanda Lee, South China Morning Post (November 16, 2018]

Deng Xiaoping, who began reforms that transformed the economy, is marginalised in displays. The exhibition, at the National Museum of China in Beijing, devotes half of a display about Chinese leaders to the achievements of Xi, who took office in 2012 yet receives more emphasis than former paramount leader Deng – under whom China began its economic transformation in 1978 – and his successors. Zhu Rongji, the former premier who engineered China joining the World Trade Organisation in 2001, is nowhere to be seen. “Shanghai-based political analyst Chen Daoyin said the show’s focus on the present leadership was intended to deliver a strong message that China had entered a new era, signalling an end to the “old China” led by Deng’s ideas. In 2017, the 19th National Congress declared that China has entered a new era – that is, the era of Xi,” said Chen. “As such, the symbolic significance of the exhibition is that Deng Xiaoping’s era has come to an end, and China is moving forward and has entered a new world: the era of Xi.” That the exhibition deifies the current leadership and diminishes the impact of former reformers such as Deng is also an attempt to revise history, said Zhang Lifan, a prominent scholar of modern Chinese history in Beijing.

““Xi certainly isn’t content to operate in Deng’s shadow,” Julian B. Gewirtz, a scholar at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard, told the New York Times, adding that Mr. Xi wanted to “establish a distinctive political system with himself at the center.” Mr. Gewirtz noted that Mr. Xi’s predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, owed their positions and political legitimacy to Deng. Mr. Xi, by contrast, rose to national prominence only after Deng’s death and is the first Chinese leader to take power without having been elevated by Deng into the party’s top ranks. [Source: Steven Lee Meyers, New York Times, November 5, 2018]

Steven Lee Meyers wrote in the New York Times: "Deng’s legacy represents both a challenge to and a potential constraint on Mr. Xi — a historical yardstick by which he is being measured, and a source of tradition that others in the party can use to limit Mr. Xi’s options. “In many ways, Mr. Xi has favored policies that depart from Deng’s agenda. In addition to self-aggrandizing propaganda, which Deng eschewed, Mr. Xi has pressed a more assertive foreign policy that openly challenges the United States, worked to limit Western influence on Chinese society and sought to shield Chinese companies from foreign competition. Mr. Xi has also removed constitutional term limits on the presidency, prompting many Chinese to quote Deng’s warning from 1980 that “tenure for life” could only corrupt party leaders — a dig at Mr. Xi that was censored as quickly as it appeared online.

Xi Jinping Thought

Xi Jinping Thought — officially"Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era" — is an ideology approved by the Communist Party October 2017. Schoolchildren, college students and staff at state factories have to study it. The Chinese Communist Party has tried to portray it an inspiration and a summation of the goals for a new chapter for modern China. In March 2018, "Xi Jinping thought" was included in the constitution [Source: BBC, March 11. 2018]

Matt Ho wrote in the South China Morning Post: “When Xi Jinping outlined his political blueprint for the Communist Party congress in 2017, it took him three and a half hours to articulate his vision for the country.“The doctrine is laid out a series of national goals for 2050, such as making China a nation with pioneering global influence, turning the military into a “world class” force, eradicating extreme poverty, and reiterated a pledge to continue to open up the country’s markets and provide a level playing field for businesses. [Source: Matt Ho, South China Morning Post, October 18, 2018]

In general, the study of Xi’s guiding political principles is no laughing matter for cadres and officials amid the ongoing tightening of the party and the bureaucracy’s political discipline and demands for loyalty. Dozens of institutes dedicated to the research and study of “Xi Jinping Thought” have been established in universities across the country, while school curriculums have also been revised to incorporate the new ideology into textbooks.

To mark the first anniversary of the Xi Jinping Thought speech, the People’s Daily produced complex, colour-coded graphic for the WeCat app that aimed to to visualize ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’ using mind mapping, a visual thinking tool, invented by a Briton named author Tony Buzan, designed to convey information and ideas clearly by using structured branches, keywords, images and colour codes.

According to the China Media Project: “The chart has 30 main branches shooting off from the primary trunk of this supreme buzzword, and each branch, dealing with various aspects of policy and ideology, proliferated into numerous sub-branches. The 30 main items are each obsessively color-coded, and then within each of these there are one to three larger branches, and then one to three smaller ones, piled up and densely packed like veins. For all of the chart’s exhausting order, the dry and unrelatable concepts remain utterly incomprehensible. [Source: China Media Project, November 1, 2018]

Xi Jinping Thought Made Part of the School Curriculum

In 2017, Xi Jinping’s ‘thought’ became a compulsory part of the school curriculum. Textbooks were updated with it and teachers were trained how to incorporate it into their lesson plans. Viola Zhou wrote in the South China Morning Post: “Education Minister Chen Baosheng said the new ideology, unveiled at the start of the party’s national congress, would be incorporated into curriculums across the country. The thought will “go into textbooks, into classes, and into the brains” of students Chen said. ““We will design specific teaching methods that combine texts ... of various grades and subjects.” [Source: Viola Zhou, South China Morning Post, October 23, 2017]

“Chen said the ministry would start amending textbooks and training teachers after the congress as part of the education sector’s “historic task”. The topic will become part of political ideology courses that all pupils and students in the education system are required to take. While first-graders learn to identify the national flag and doctoral candidates analyse communist theory, ninth-graders tackle the list of “guiding principles” from previous Chinese leaders, including Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.

“Textbooks will now have to be revised to redefine that contradiction as “between unbalanced, inadequate development and people’s ever-growing needs for a better life” – the definition Xi outlined last week. Beijing is already in the process of standardising the country’s political ideology textbooks for first to ninth grades, gradually replacing those published by provincial authorities with a new set produced by the Ministry of Education. A person familiar with the process said officials working on the new texts had been told to increase “explicit expressions” of socialist values and party leadership. “The source also said Xi’s ideology was likely to be taught at fifth or sixth grade. “Such a complicated concept needs to be turned into something children can appreciate,” the source said. “For example, you explain the ‘new era’ by asking them to identify what’s new in their hometowns.”

Cheng Chen, a US-based political scientist at the University at Albany, said teaching the new ideology in school would strengthen the image of both Xi and the party as champions of the Chinese nation. “It will solidify Xi’s image as a transformative leader in the history of the people’s republic who ushered in ‘a new era’,” she said. “It is [also] likely to contribute to a further rise of the already-growing nationalism among Chinese youth, who will now see China as finally arriving at the global centre-stage.”

Studies of Xi Jinping Thought Hog Academic Funding

In October 2104, it was reported that nearly all of the proposals approved by the National Social Sciences Fund dealt with analysing Xi Jinping’s thoughts or ideology. The South China Morning Post reported: “Academics hungry for grants should pick up a collection of speeches by Xi Jinping – it pays to study the words of the president, according to the latest round of state funding for social sciences. Nearly all of the proposals approved by the National Social Sciences Fund deal with analysing Xi’s thoughts or ideology, a departure from previous years. [Source: South China Morning Post, October 5, 2014 ]

“Analysts said the shift pointed towards the increasing influence of propaganda over academia, and the emergence of a cult of personality around Xi. The grants are decided by the National Planning Office of Philosophy and Social Science. The organisation falls under the party’s Publicity Department and is headed by propaganda chief Liu Qibao. Despite that proximity to the censors, the office has previously shown a willingness to support a wider range of research proposals. But this year, five of the 12 top topics on the list to receive major funding are about Xi. And none of the chosen scholars has a published history of “Xi thought”, which suggests academics are pushing topics likely to get approval rather than ones in their area of expertise.

“It is ridiculous to find that Xi’s speeches have topped this year’s list, a phenomenon unseen under previous administrations,” Renmin University political science professor Zhang Ming said. “This year’s list has shown that the party propaganda authorities are promoting the cult of personality.” While Xi’s two predecessors – Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin – were in office, no grants were awarded to study their speeches, and the list had fewer topics related to ideology. But this year five of the remaining seven proposals not about Xi’s thought relate to ideology. The fund was established in 1991 and awards grants to study up to 2,000 research projects in the social sciences, about a few dozen of which are deemed “major projects” and eligible for a larger share of the money. The funding given to each major project jumped from between 250,000 yuan and 300,000 yuan last year to 400,000 yuan this year. The biggest projects will receive as much as 800,000 yuan (around $130,000).

“City University media professor Xigen Li suggested academics were practising a form of grant self-censorship in what they chose for further study. “They might have identified important topics in various areas, but cannot afford to lose out to the competition if they ignore the popular topics set by the ideological governing body, with other scholars selecting their topics by catering to the need to advance the dominant ideology,” Li said. Five scholars on this year’s list are party theorists who focus on global communist theory and movements, but did not publish research on theories related to Xi’s thinking even before he rose to the presidency last year. Tao Wenzhao, a professor at Renmin University, ranked first on the list with his plan to study the “essence of Xi Jinping’s series of important speeches”. Second was Ai Silin, the dean of Tsinghua University’s school of Marxism, who proposed a “study of innovation” in Xi’s key speeches. From information available online, none of Tao’s nine major research projects, four books or 47 published academic papers relate to studying Xi. Nor does Ai have a history of publications on the topic.

“Zhang said areas deemed off-limits by party propagandists were unlikely to receive funding. He referred to the seven “unmentionable” topics contained in Document No. 9, which the party issued last year. It ordered universities and academics to steer clear of universal values, press freedom, civil society, citizens’ rights, the party’s historical aberrations, the “privileged capitalistic class” and the independence of the judiciary. “Topics relating to Western philosophy, constitutional law or judicial independence are the first to be sacrificed. No research on these topics has received funding,” Zhang said.

Xi Jinping App

Reporting from Changsha in Hunan Province, Javier C. Hernández wrote in the New York Times: “Inside a fishing gear store on a busy city street, the owner sits behind a counter, furiously tapping a smartphone to improve his score on an app that has nothing to do with rods, reels and bait. “The owner, Jiang Shuiqiu, a 35-year-old army veteran, has a different obsession: earning points on Study the Great Nation, a new app devoted to promoting President Xi Jinping and the ruling Communist Party — a kind of high-tech equivalent of Mao’s Little Red Book. Mr. Jiang spends several hours daily on the app, checking news about Mr. Xi and brushing up on socialist theories. [Source: Javier C. Hernández, New York Times, April 8, 2019]

“Tens of millions of Chinese workers, students and civil servants are now using Study the Great Nation, often under pressure from the government. It is part of a sweeping effort by Mr. Xi to strengthen ideological control in the digital age and reassert the party’s primacy, as Mao once did, as the center of Chinese life. “We must love our country,” said Mr. Jiang, one of the top scorers on the app in Changsha.. “We are getting stronger and stronger.”

“While many people have embraced the app as a form of patriotism, others see it as a burden imposed by overzealous officials and another sign of a growing personality cult around Mr. Xi, perhaps China’s most powerful leader since Mao’s time. ““He is using new media to fortify loyalty toward him,” said Wu Qiang, a political analyst in Beijing. He likened Study the Great Nation to the little booklet of Mao quotations that was widely circulated during the chaotic and violent Cultural Revolution.

“Since its debut in 2019, year, Study the Great Nation has become the most downloaded app on Apple’s digital storefront in China, with the state news media saying it has more than 100 million registered users — a reach that would be the envy of any new app’s creators. But those numbers are driven largely by the party, which ordered thousands of officials across China to ensure that the app penetrates the daily routines of as many citizens as possible, whether they like it or not. Schools are shaming students with low app scores. Government offices are holding study sessions and forcing workers who fall behind to write reports criticizing themselves. Private companies, hoping to curry favor with party officials, are ranking employees based on their use of the app and awarding top performers the title of “star learner.”

Propaganda is ubiquitous in China, but experts say Study the Great Nation is different because the government is forcing people to use it and punishing those who cheat or fall behind. “The app allows users to earn points for staying on top of news about Mr. Xi. Watching a video about his recent visit to France, for example, earns one point. Getting a perfect score on a quiz about his economic policies earns 10. ““Loyalty to the party,” David Bandurski, co-director of the China Media Project, said, “means loyalty to Xi Jinping.”Study the Great Nation in some ways harkens back to the Mao era, when the chairman’s portrait hung in living rooms and families studied his words feverishly. While Mr. Xi cannot yet match Mao’s grandeur, he has borrowed from Mao’s playbook in his quest to be seen as a singular, transformative force. “The app features a television series called “Xi Time” and Mr. Xi’s quotations on topics like building a strong military and achieving a “Chinese dream” of prosperity and strength. The app recommends stories about Mr. Xi on its home screen and sends push notifications highlighting “golden sentences” from his latest speeches. Even the Chinese name for the app is a play on Mr. Xi’s name. The app, which also offers lighter fare about traditional Chinese culture, history and geography, presents a censored version of current events. Topics such as China’s mass detention of Muslims are not included.

“At Hulunbuir University in northern China, school officials monitor the scores of more than 1,100 teachers and students who use the app as part of the school’s efforts to spread Mr. Xi’s ideas, known in China as Xi Jinping Thought.“Everyone studies voluntarily and has very high scores,” said Bai Mei, an ideology instructor at the university. “Not everyone is as enthusiastic. In interviews, students and workers complained that superiors publicly chastised them for low scores. Others said bosses threatened to deduct pay or withhold bonuses if they did not use the app more frequently. They did not want to provide their names for fear of punishment, but some have complained online.

Image Sources: China.org. Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated September 2021


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