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‘Xi Dada’ casts a long shadow over China

‘Xi Dada’ casts a long shadow over China

BEIJING: Chinese politics have increasingly become a one-man show, with President Xi Jinping as the indisputable star.

When Xi took the stage on Wednesday to reveal the new members of the Communist Party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, he spent less than two minutes introducing his fellow committee members.

He then launched into his own vision for the country as the six stone-faced men in dark suits — none of them considered potential successors — stood stiffly and in silence.

The event capped a week-long party congress that was all about Xi, underscoring the cult of personality that state media have built around China’s most powerful leader in decades.

The 64-year-old, who was given a second term as the party’s general secretary, has amassed titles and a level of official adulation that has sparked comparisons to modern China’s founding father, Mao Zedong.

His face graces the front page of every paper in the country, while his exploits and directives headline each night’s evening news.

Shops sell commemorative plates and memorabilia with his image alongside Mao’s.

He carries so many political and military titles — from president, to Central Military Commission chairman and party “core” — that he has earned the nickname “Chairman of Everything”.

The congress confirmed his rise to the pinnacle of Chinese leadership alongside Mao and market reformer Deng Xiaoping when his name and political ideology were enshrined in the party’s constitution.

While his more than three-hour marathon speech to open the congress last week induced conspicuous yawns from former president Jiang Zemin, the audience of some 2,300 delegates clapped at key lines in unison.

High-tech developers even rushed to create a cellphone game allowing users to applaud him, tapping their screens to clap along with clips of the address.

A congress delegate said the adulation expressed for Xi was “totally normal”.

“It reflected how Xi has earned the support and love of the whole party and country,” said senior Central Party School official Xie Chuntao, stating this was evident in “the strength of people’s applause”.

Xi is the first Chinese leader to have been born after 1949, when the revolution that gives the Communist Party its legitimacy ended.

Born into privilege as a “princeling” — the son of a renowned revolutionary hero turned vice premier — his attachment to the party was particularly strong because of his family background, said Francois Bougon, author of In Xi Jinping’s Head.

Though his father was purged by Mao, leading to years of difficulties for the family, “Xi seeks to repair the party, not [take] revenge. He believes that the party is a force that can truly transform China”, Bougon said.

Beginning as a county-level party secretary in 1969, he rose to become governor of coastal Fujian province in 1999, then party secretary of Zhejiang province in 2002 and eventually of Shanghai in 2007.

That same year, he was appointed to the Politburo Standing Committee. He succeeded Hu Jintao as general secretary in 2012.

After a divorce, Xi married his second wife, the celebrity soprano Peng Liyuan, in 1987, at a time when she was much more famous than him. The couple’s daughter, Xi Mingze, studied at Harvard but stays out of the public eye.

Dubbed “Xi Dada”, or “Big Uncle Xi,” by party propaganda organs, he has cultivated an image of being a man of the people, who dresses modestly and buys his own steamed buns at a common shop.

But Xi has presided over a brutal crackdown on civil society and freedom of speech both online and offline that belies the chummy moniker — and tolerates no ridicule or slander of his person.

Social media users who have dared to compare his round mien to that of the affable Winnie the Pooh have found their posts quickly deleted, and a man who referred to him as “Steamed Bun Xi” — a knock at his breakfast publicity stunt — was jailed for two years.

“Xi Jinping presents himself as the anti-Gorbachev,” Bougon said. “He was traumatised by the fall of the Soviet Union, which explains his repression of civil society and a resurgence of ideology.”—AFP

Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2017

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