All hail Xi Jinping, the new ‘King of China’

A new revolution? The Economist described Xi Jinping as “the most powerful man in the world”.

Should we welcome China’s new era? After an extraordinary week, Xi Jinping has cemented his control over his vast country. But there are fears China is tilting back towards dictatorship.

Four and a half years ago, almost nobody had heard of the former farmer, chemical engineering student and Communist Party apparatchik who became China’s new president.

But after an extraordinary week at the party’s congress, Xi Jinping now stands as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. He was sworn in for a second term as General Secretary of the Communist Party and all-powerful leader of the world’s most populous nation.

Xi has not named a successor, leading many to predict that he will stay in power beyond 2022. He has also made five new appointments to the Politburo, the country’s most powerful institution. All, like Xi, are men in their 60s.

Speaking of his “extraordinary elevation”, Donald Trump praised Xi, saying: "Some might call him king of China."

Writing in The Spectator, Cindy Yu says that for the first time since Mao’s death, “a leadership personality cult is emerging in China.” Xi’s face appears on billboards and at bus stop posters all over the country.

More than 2,300 delegates voted unanimously to enshrine “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” into the party’s constitution. To outside eyes, it was nothing more or less than a coronation.

But what exactly is “Xi Thought”?

“Make China great again” is a central message. That goal has already guided Xi’s policies of building up the military and raising China’s profile in global affairs.

Xi divides China’s history since 1949 in two parts: first came Chairman Mao, who made China independent. Then came Deng Xiaoping, who made China prosperous. Now Xi wants to make China strong.

Adulation has always been heaped on China’s leaders. The country’s Confucius-inspired respect for authority led to its emperors being known as the “sons of heaven”.

But many had hoped that Xi Jinping might bring China’s political model closer Europe’s. He has taken a tough stance against corruption. He has promised to lead the world on fighting climate change and advocating global free trade.

Should we welcome China’s new era?

The great leap backwards?

Optimists say that only centralised authority can push through the reforms that are vital to China’s prospects. Xi has proven himself to be a considered statesman who understands the world’s problems and wants to fix them. And it is reasonable for a country as big as China to have international ambitions.

Others fear that the prospects for democracy in China have never seemed so remote. Xi’s China purges political dissidents, is the world’s most prolific incarcerator of journalists and now meddles abroad, all the while masking its abuses in the language of internationalism. Nobody should have as much power as Xi Jinping.

You Decide

  1. Do you welcome or fear a more powerful China?
  2. Would you support a dictator if he or she shared the same political views as you?

Activities

  1. Class debate: “This house believes that Chinese should be compulsory in schools.”
  2. Write 500 words comparing Xi Jinping with any major figure from China’s history.

Some People Say...

“Study the past if you would define the future.”

Confucius

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Earlier this week China’s Communist Party exalted President Xi Jinping to a similar status to that of Mao Zedong. His name and ideas have been written into the party’s constitution, and as Xi has not yet named a successor, some now think he is planning to be China’s leader for decades. Xi is a complex figure, mixing reasonably liberal rhetoric on certain topics with authoritarianism at home.
What do we not know?
We do not know whether China will generally become a more free country under Xi. Many experts on China have long predicted a gradual move towards more openness. It is also unclear to what extent “soft power” will broaden China’s cultural reach, which still remains very limited compared with the cultural importance of America and Europe.

Word Watch

Apparatchik
A Russian term for a blindly professional politician in the Communist party.
Successor
For 25 years it has been the custom that no Chinese leader stays in power for more than a decade. One of the favourites for the next leader is Chen Min’er, known as Xi’s protégé, but he has not been promoted to the politburo.
Politburo
The executive committee for all communist parties. This means that its role is to discuss and decide all major policy issues. The party’s leader must also be a member of the politburo.
1949
On October 1st 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China following four years of civil war.
Deng Xiaoping
Deng was a close ally of Mao Zedong and a top figure in the Communist Party before becoming leader. However his economic views differed radically from those of his predecessor, opening China up to foreign investment.
Confucius
A Chinese philosopher who lived in the from 551BC to 479BC. His philosophy, known as Confucianism, emphasises personal morality, loyalty to family and respect for elders and traditions.