Rare genre of strong assertive, nationalist leaders is dominating contemporary World order. Despite dubitable reputation, an unparalleled public support commanded by these leaders has now become a curious case of study for experts. Of them, President Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Chairman of Central Military Commission, and President of Peoples Republic of China is widely reckoned for his formidable authority. Last week, China’s topnotch training school for communist cadres released a book titled, “Xi Jinping’s Seven Years as an educated youth” and made it an “essential” reading for all the communist party cadres. The book dwells on the seven years of arduous struggle of Xi, who was ordained to embrace an impoverished life during the cultural-revolution imposed by Mao Zedong. The book is a collection of interviews of villagers who worked with Xi when he was at Liangjiahe village of Shaanxi Province from 1969 to 75. Indian newspaper Times of India, reported that this book is now distributed to young people to enlighten and impress upon them Xi’s “unshaken pursuit of ideals”. Xi’s latest self-promotion campaign ahead of the key 19th Communist Congress meeting in November is an attempt by the President to cement his authority over the party cadre.
Similarly, Xi accelerated elevation of his loyal generals to highest positions in PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) to have an over-arching control over the party. Further, Xi has given new postings to all regional commanders in the PLA to prevent collusion between the army generals and political opponents, before the 19th party Congress. Twenty-Six new commanders and thirteen group armies are shifted en-masse and posted in regions away from their command areas (1). This massive overhauling of military had a deeper political message. But Chinese experts attributed Xi’s latest move to Mao Zedong’s “mountaintopism” or Shantou zhuyi, a dogma of restraining army commanders from developing their personal army. They argued that military factionalism led to fall of Qing Dynasty and defeat of Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao’s mechanism can reduce threats from regional commanders. Aside curtailing politicking efforts of PLA commanders, this new development has wider connotations. In his address at Beijing’s Great Hall of People on the 90th Anniversary of founding of PLA, Xi commanded PLA to “carry forward and implement the Party’s absolute leadership. As comrade Mao Zedong once pointed out, our principle is to have the party command the military and not the military command the party” (2). Xi’s military rejig is an attempt to reiterate party’s supremacy over military and government.
To this end, since April 2016, Chinese media has been unwaveringly referring to President Xi as “Commander in Chief” of the country to re-emphasize the Maoist norm established at the 1929 Gutian Conference. At Gutian, in Fujian Province, Mao in 1929 pioneered combining barrel of gun, trained armed peasantries and imbibed Marxism to develop the proletarian Army, PLA. He stated that “political work is by means an auxiliary to, but the life line of the Red Army”. Xi who has become “Paramount Leader” (Paramount Leader is considered extremely powerful and the title is bestowed upon leaders capable of leading the emerging super power with largest growing military force to newer heights) by becoming the General Secretary of CCP in November 2012, was crowned as “Core Leader” at the sixth plenum in October 2016. The designation of core leaders has greater significance in Chinese politics. Deng Xiaoping who declared Mao as first Core leader underlined that “any leadership must have a core, a leadership without a core is unreliable”. Deng was second generation core leader; Jiang Zemin was third. Hu who was considered a weak leader wasn’t conferred the title whereas Xi was declared a core leader. But unlike his predecessors, Xi hasn’t nominated potential successors raising lingering doubts about his intentions of continuing beyond the usual two-term tenure. Ahead of Congress Meet, Xi successfully ousted tentative presidential candidate Sun Zhengcai provincial head of Chongqing by levelling charges of political indiscipline and replaced with Xi loyalist Chen Miner. China has laid out a system wherein successor for President or Premier would be anointed five years ahead of leadership transition to avoid internecine power struggles. This ruthless defenestration of a potential presidential candidate is sparking speculations about Xi’s unwillingness to cede political space to any person.
Xi has been extremely authoritarian unlike his predecessor Hu Jintao, who believed in “collective responsibility dictum”. Xi tried to assert his position much before taking up the reigns with most of his policies and ideas reminding China of authoritarian Mao. Xi firmly believes that strong authoritarian leadership is corner stone of China’s model of “core socialist value system” and aspires to provide an alternative to core Western values. At the third plenum of 18th Communist Congress, in April 2013, Xi warned China of the impending dangers of infiltration of ideas that can threaten their single party rule and urged party cadres to be vigilant. In fact, an internal party communique was circulated among the cadres enumerating threat posed by democratic values to communist ideology of China. The paper, famously referred as Document 9, (being the ninth paper released in that year) identified seven threats (3). These include- promoting western constitutional democracy that has multiparty systems, general elections, independent judiciary and national armies; promoting universal values; promoting civil society; neo-liberalism or unrestrained liberalization; freedom of press; reassessing history (historical nihilism) and questioning reform and opening (campaigning for transparency). To sum up, Xi attested, Communist party is an unquestionable authoritarian, sacrosanct and supreme. To insulate the Chinese society from the influences of external world, he censored internet, imposed restrictions on freedom of press and finally enacted law ensuring strict punishments for bloggers and writers who questioned the political authority. The notorious Great Firewall of China is an outcome of these ill-gotten fears. Ironically, while China ordered its leading telecommunication companies to crack down on the tools that can circumvent its firewall, it actively promoted penetration of its companies to access sensitive information of other countries. In 2015, China enacted National Security Law to control and secure the internet and information systems. Xi thus, steadily expanded his control over every aspect of governance. Xi who was commander-in-chief consolidated his control over internal security by establishing National Security Commission in November 2013. He oversaw implementation of reforms by heading the Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reforms like one constituted by Deng.
Xi who rose to power as clean politician adopted an implacable stance against corruption. He announced an eight-point rule guide to fight corruption which became rampant after Deng’s economic reforms propelled country into high economic growth. Xi strategically turned anti-graft operation into a tool for bullying his political opponents. Imprisonment of Bo Xilai contender for top most leadership position under a corruption scandal exemplifies notoriety of Xi’s corruption campaign. Xi has gone from strength to strength becoming “Chairman of everything” emulating the most dominant leader Mao. To the annoyance of senior party members, Xi reduced the number of places in the politburo standing committee from nine to seven. To the worst nightmare of Xi’s political opponents, his veritable political ambitions may upset smooth transition of power.
As President Xi’s, larger than life image looms over the World, it might be worth capitulating his steady ascent. Xi, son of Xi Zhongxun, a first-generation revolutionary was vice-chairman of National People’s Congress. When Xi was 15, his father was jailed and purged during cultural revolution. For the next seven years, Xi worked in the country side and later joined the Communist Party. From 1982 to 2002 he served the party at various positions in different coastal provinces. In 2002, he became full member of 16th Central Committee. Li Keqiang backed by Hu Jintao and Xi were appointed to nine-member politburo standing committee in 2007. Xi was appointed as Vice-Chairman of Central Military commission as Li failed to get backing of the old guard. Xi emerged as consensus choice for Hu and Jiang Zemin group. Somehow, Xi was initially perceived to be a person who could be easily manipulated by Jiang and his deputy Zeng Quinghong. Moreover, Xi’s toughness in reining in on the corrupt officials close to Jiang in Shanghai province earned him a great repute. Further, his decision of not using official villa and announcing his intention of converting the same into a home for veteran comrades played to his advantage. He thus scored quick brownie points over Li Keqiang who had two post-graduate degrees in economics and law from Peking University but came from non-revolutionary background.
Xi’s dual qualification as member of Communist Party and victim of cultural revolution outcast put him in good stead. The hard work rendered during the country side is believed to have made him much bolder and abiding toward the ideology. It is believed that Xi said that period of “eating bitterness” increased his loyalty towards Communist party. Though he criticized cultural revolution, he embraced the party. He extensively networked with party cadres and especially in his province he downsized opposition.
Li and Xi ascended party ladder in different ways. Li was Communist Party Youth League leader and was immensely popular. While Xi represented “Princelings” and worked for economically endowed group. Most believe that Chinese leaders unlike their western counterparts could make to the top by not meddling with the special interests of vested groups in party cadres. Hence, they may not be ideally clever and capable but adept in dealing people. Interestingly. Xi served in many provinces but throughout his tenure he hasn’t done anything phenomenal or ground-breaking working. He worked in many departments but never ended up in a collision course with the cadre. By and large he had safe career ascent. He enviously guarded his true intentions and garnered support from different departments. But none had any inkling about his real thoughts and beliefs. As in charge the Summer Olympics 2008, Xi won laurels of party cadres and foreign leaders. Hailing his organizational abilities, Xi was made in charge of 60th Anniversary celebrations of founding of Peoples Republic of China. This event was of immense significance for China as it marked the 50th anniversary of Tibetan uprising, 20th Anniversary of pro-democratic Tiananmen protests and 10th Anniversary of persecution of Falun Gong. This program which was referred ad 6521 project provided Xi with a unique opportunity of identifying the potential threats to absolutism of Communist Party and reviving party cadres. This experience helped him to develop strong links with party workers and in identified the domestic threats.
Even before taking up reigns, Xi at 2011 CCP meeting urged party members to “resolutely combat the wrong tendency to distort and smear party’s history” and asked them to stop using empty words and political jargon from their speeches. While he avoided talking about his father vice-chairman Xi Zhongxun who fell out with Mao after he intensified the call for class struggle. Xi’s appeals of not smearing party’s history eventually paved way for rehabilitating senior Xi’s shrouded reputation. Xi maintained strong connect with princelings in PLA and had a hawkish foreign policy. Xi, the fifth-generation leader an ardent believer of Mao dictums, strongly urged party cadres to “pay attention to Marxist cannon” and “focus on salient points and concentrate on studying the quintessence-particularly important works of Mao Zedong”. Having emulated Maoist ideals, Xi eventually emerged as an absolute authoritarian and as powerful as Mao.