All hail Papa Xi! The growing cult around China’s all-powerful leader

All hail Papa Xi! The growing cult around China’s all-powerful leader, by Cindy Yu.

For the first time since the death of Chairman Mao four decades ago, a leadership personality cult is emerging in China. You can see it in Beijing’s streets, where President Xi Jinping’s face appears on posters on bus stops, next to those of revolutionary war heroes. Scarlet banners fly with bold white letters saying: ‘Continue Achieving the Successes of Socialism… with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core’.

The city has this week been hosting the Communist Party Congress, during which Xi was affirmed for a second (and supposedly final) five-year term. But it looks and feels like a coronation.

To those who remember Mao’s iron-fisted rule and the cult around him, the emerging Xi cult might seem like a great leap backwards. After Mao’s death in 1976, the Party made plain that it was leaving behind, at some considerable speed, the nightmare years of the Cultural Revolution when child was set upon parent, student upon teacher, and neighbour upon neighbour. It was blamed on Mao Zedong, who had unfettered rule, being swayed by bad advice. So no president since him has served for more than two terms — and it is a mark of Chinese modernity that the reins of power were passed from one president to the next without tearing the country apart.

It ought to be unthinkable that in today’s China, a personality cult should be right around the corner. Yet the past five years of Xi’s tenure have been softening up the Chinese people and leadership to accept this. …

At home, the People’s Liberation Army is being pulled apart and efficiently put together again with Xi’s rule at the centre. …

Xi’s visions for a modern China, free of slimy, unsustainable politicking and equipped with a modern army and economy, has quite a constituency. It’s common, now, to hear him referred to as ‘Xi Dada’ — Papa Xi. Viewed from the West, all this might seem like terrifying authoritarianism and an affront to democracy and human rights. But it looks very different in China. When speaking to Chinese university students earlier this year, I was struck by the extent to which they are inexpressibly proud of Xi Dada. Grateful for the stability and prosperity they believe he has brought, they didn’t seem to mind the idea of a new personality cult.

hat-tip Stephen Neil