As Fears of Xi’s Personality Cult Deepen, China Must Dial Down the Propaganda

BY WANG XIANGWEI / 

“A Man Who Makes Things Happen”, “Communist Party Core Forged During ‘Great Struggle’”, “Servant of the Public”, “Strategist Behind China’s Reform”, “Top Commander Reshaping the Military”, “A World Leader”, and “Architect of Modernisation For New Era”. Those are just a few of the superlatives China’s massive propaganda apparatus has used to extol the virtues of President Xi Jinping since the 19th congress in October, when he secured a stronger mandate for his second five-year term as party chief and chairman of the armed forces. Not bad for someone dismissed by some self-professed China analysts as a weak and ineffective leader a little more than five years ago when he first came to power.

After nearly 3,000 deputies to the National People’s Congress unanimously re-elected Xi as president for his second term and approved the constitutional amendment to enable him to rule as long as he likes, a People’s Daily front page editorial last week came up with two new superlatives that have since been cropping up seemingly everywhere.

The newspaper described Xi as “the helmsman of the nation” and the “guide of the people”.

Indeed, the two superlatives came in handy for Xi’s passionate speech at the NPC’s closing ceremony on Tuesday, when he promised to steer the “China Mega-ship” carrying the dreams of more than 1.3 billion people victoriously into a future full of hope.

The newspaper editorial appears to be the first time that Xi has been described as “the helmsman” in such a public fashion.

The term carries a special significance in China’s political lexicography. Previously, it has been used only to refer to Mao Zedong, who was reverently addressed as the “Great Teacher, Great Leader, Great Supreme Commander, and Great Helmsman” during the heydays of the Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976) when the personality cult surrounding Mao was at its peak.

The four designations went on to symbolise the excesses and mayhem of the Cultural Revolution, which was responsible for the death of millions of people and nearly collapsed the Chinese economy.

Perhaps mindful of the historical comparison, People’s Daily used the Chinese word Zhangduozhe for Xi instead of the word Duoshou for Mao but in its English version, Xinhua seemed unable to find any variation other than “the helmsman”.

Immediately following Xi’s speech, Li Zhanshu, the newly minted NPC chairman, wasted no time in using his speech to heap praise on Xi.

“Comrade Xi is the core of the party, commander of the army, and leader of the people, who is supported by the whole party, loved, and respected by the people,” Xinhua quoted him as saying. “He is the helmsman of the socialist nation with Chinese characteristics in a new era and the guide of the people.” Read more…

 

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