Xi Jinping: How China’s president got ahead, in hats

As China’s most significant political gathering in decades draws to a close, Liao Ailian and Pan Guixian are preparing to head home.

They’re among the almost 3,000 delegates from across China who have spent the past two weeks sitting in the Great Hall of the People, voting on the decisions mostly already taken by the Communist Party leadership behind closed doors.

Like many of the delegates, the two women have their own political interests.

If they’re at all concerned about their influence – in a system that pretty much guarantees a lack of it – they don’t show it.

Ms Liao says she’s interested in rural road construction, and Ms Pan, rural women’s issues.

Their traditional hats are meant to mimic the shape of the tail of a phoenix, but along with the other ethnic costumes on display, they help give the impression of something else too.

They lend the event the appearance of the ethnic equality that’s meant to be guaranteed by the constitution.

In reality, power in China is becoming ever more centralised towards the Han ethnic majority, towards Beijing and, most importantly, towards the ruling elite at the top of the Communist Party.

And now, following the vote to remove the presidential term limits – the act for which this parliament will long be remembered – power has been concentrated further, into the hands of just one man.

It represents a seismic political upheaval – so significant in fact that some analysts refused to believe even recently that such a move was possible. They are, one presumes, now eating their own hats.

Let’s hope they’re not wearing one of these.

Zhaxi Jiancun, with his traditional Tibetan fox fur hat, is preparing to make one of the longest journeys home from Beijing.

His main political interest, he says, is in promoting Tibet’s infrastructure development.

And that puts him right on message with the central theme of this parliament – national rejuvenation.

Xi Jinping’s closing address to parliament gave the clearest sense yet that he believes that China’s long awaited destiny is within reach.

It was an overtly nationalist speech; full of praise for Chinese ingenuity and invention and coupled with stern warnings about the need to protect territorial integrity in areas like Tibet.

He offered a vision of a future not merely of improved livelihoods and economic growth, but of something far more historic – of China retaking its rightful place on the global stage as a powerful country.

Other members of the Chinese elite, the media and the political establishment, sense it too – a feeling that with Western democracies facing crisis and a decline in influence, China’s moment has come.

Might that be why the parliament has been so ready to hand Mr Xi unlimited, indefinite power? Read more…

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