Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Leadership with new Chinese characteristics

Why would a Communist Party leader in China need or want to become a "retail politician?" William Wan, writing in the Washington Post explains. Do your students accept Wan's analysis?

China’s Xi Jinping charts a new PR course
In his first few months as China’s leader, Xi Jinping has moved aggressively to dismantle the Chinese public’s long-standing image of officials as wooden robots full of empty speeches and corrupt motives.

Instead, with a sophisticated public relations strategy, Xi and his top advisers have introduced something previously unseen among the higher echelons of Chinese government: a retail politician.

Xi visited San Francisco in '85
They have employed modern tactics familiar to anyone who has endured a U.S. election — driving the narrative, attacking government waste and casting Xi as a plainspoken, unadorned man of the people. The approach reflects a new reality confronting China’s leaders in an age of social media and cellphones, in which they no longer retain total control over the message. To adapt, experts say, they are trying to shape the news, in addition to often censoring it…

But skeptics say they are still waiting for signs of substance behind the style, and some within the party worry that the PR effort has raised expectations too high and risks backlash if Xi and his team can’t deliver on reforms…

Xi launched a highly-publicized anti-corruption campaign and called on officials to reduce the daily reams of official documents and speeches they churned out. He banned all forms of ostentation surrounding leaders’ events — no more red carpets, welcome banners or traffic-inducing motorcades. Lavish government banquets were cut down to just four dishes and a soup.

“He’s been targeting those things most visible to the public,” said one retired and reform-minded party official. “They are easier to change than abstract concepts like human rights or rule of law that underpin the system.”…

Along with this new image of openness and a grass-roots touch, however, have been dark counterpoints, suggesting that the old ways of hard-line message management won’t change.

While Xi’s administration has surprised many by embracing the Internet and social media tools, it has also tightened the state’s grip online, passing real-name registration laws, shutting down long-used methods of circumventing China’s firewall and cracking down on critics…

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