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Helmsman Xi wants to make China great again
The Chinese Communist Party Congress ended on Monday and Xi Jinping had his political philosophy formally enshrined in the Party constitution. Does Xi now have the same stature as Mao Zedong, founder of Communist China?
Xi seems to have consolidated his power during the congress. But big differences with the Great Helmsman, as Mao Zedong was sometimes called, remain.
Mao Zedong or Xi Jinping
For one, Mao Zedong was party chairman. Deng Xiaoping, who followed Mao as China’s strongman, abolished that position, party leaders since are called “General Secretary.”
“I don’t think that Xi Jinping has won all the battles that he would have wanted to, in this party congress,” says Michael Dillon, a biographer of Deng Xiaoping.
“Mao Zedong was Mao Zhuxi, Chairman Mao; Deng Xiaoping positively rejected that title, said he wanted to distance himself a lot of the crazy things that had been done in Mao’s name.
"I haven’t seen any suggestions that Xi Jinping actually wanted to be chairman.
Currently Xi wears the triple hat of party general secretary, state president, and chairman of the Central Military Commission.
“Extremely powerful anyway, but the outcome of this congress is that he has consolidated his power, and tried possibly successfully to make himself impregnable and immovable with interesting implications for the succession after the next five-year term,” says Dillon, suggesting that Xi may break the rules and go for a third term, even if he is formally too old.
Meanwhile, the “Thinking of Xi Jinping” is now part of the official communist canon.
Previous leaders put in their thoughts too resulting in formulas that wouldn’t look out of place in North Korean propaganda.
Apart from the “Thinking of Mao Zedong (the Marxist-Stalinist conglomerate of ideas impregnated with directions for a farmer-based economy); there’s the “Theory of Deng Xiaoping,” (adding capitalist elements and legitimizing 1979 policy of “Reform and Open Door”); the “Theory of the Three Represents,” (put forward by Deng Xiaoping’s successor Jiang Zemin in 2000, describing the “fundamental tasks” of the party to represent “the development of advanced productive forces, advanced culture and the fundamental interests of the Chinese people.”)
When Hu Jintao became Party Secretary in 2002, he developed his technocratic “Scientific Outlook on Development.”
And now China’s population will have to get used of a propaganda bombardment focusing on the “Thinking of Xi Jinping.”
“The reason why there was such a thing as Mao Zedong Thought is that he attempted to put together a coherent philosophy, based on Stalinist Soviet-style Marxism,” says Dillon
“ [There is] Very little of that left in Xi Jinping’s thinking,” who projects the “China Dream” of a strong China in a “New Era.”
“It is nationalistic, it is about China being strong; there are things with which one couldn’t possibly disagree with, such as his opposition to corruption, his intent on improving the living conditions of the population and abolishing poverty.
“But much of the writing that has been published under his name, is fairly banal, they are policy statements, not any brand new grand political theories,” he says.
Xi Jinping's thinking
But how will the CCP sell its rather dry rhetoric [Xi Jinping took an astounding 3 and a half hours to read his ideas at the opening of the Party congress] to China’s 1.3 billion people?
After almost 40 years of Open Door policy, there’s a lot information about the West, and also western ideas that are taking root in China, and these ideas are not always in line with what the party wants.
In the heyday of Chinese propaganda, during the Cultural Revolution [1966-'76], farmers, workers and state employees were forced to collectively read the Great Helmsman’s works during study sessions at work.
Times have changed, and over the years, many Chinese developed an antipathy against the often repetitive state rhetoric.
But the propagand department of the CCP is fighting back.
“The Chinese Communist leadership has tried, since Xi Jinping came to power, to promote these ideologies via new formats,” says Kristin-Shi Kupfer, public policy research director with the Mercator Institute for China Studies.
“They were producing videos, rap-songs, online games. Change the format and make it more accessible to young people. And they also content-wise try to appeal to the patriotic spirit, saying China has made progress over the years, and it is time for the outer world to also pay more respect to it.
"[It is]also saying: it is only through the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party we can tackle these huge challenges which are still out there for China to deal with,” she says.