Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, March 16, 2015

Rehearsing the past?

Chinese leaders until now seemed to have learned about the dangers of the cult of personality that surrounded Mao Zedong — especially during the Cultural Revolution.

When Deng Xioaping finally consolidated his power in the regime, he ran things from a position formally behind the scenes. (His highest position was vice chair of the party's central military commission.)

Later leaders took official offices, but avoided personality politics. Now comes Li. How will it affect governing?

Move Over Mao: Beloved ‘Papa Xi’ Awes China
“The sons and daughters of China follow you forward hand in hand,” goes one soft-rock paean to Mr. Xi that has been downloaded thousands of times. “Great general secretary, beloved President Xi, the Chinese nation is sure to rejuvenate because we have you.”

Not since Mao dominated the nation with his masterly blend of populism, fervor and fear has a Chinese leader commanded so much public awe. Deng Xiaoping was a formidable power, but he disavowed the mania of the Mao era. Since then, fawning public displays over political leaders have been taboo. Mr. Xi’s immediate predecessor, Hu Jintao, made a virtue of dull self-effacement.

Not Papa Xi.

Some of his appeal stems from his war on corruption and from feel-good sloganeering like the “Chinese Dream,” his pitch for a rejuvenated, powerful nation…

“You can see the whole Chinese propaganda machine has geared up to promote his personality,” said Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who monitors developments in Chinese media and censorship for the website China Digital Times. “It’s become over the top.”

While many Chinese welcome a strong, plain-speaking leader, critics say the zealous promotion of Mr. Xi has begun to show some of the hallmarks of a personality cult, alarming those who see echoes of the hubris that engulfed Mao…

In interviews, many ordinary citizens said they welcomed the splash of charismatic leadership, especially after the dreary, plodding manner of Mr. Hu, whose keynote slogan, “Scientific Outlook on Development,” lacked the emotional punch of Mr. Xi’s “Chinese Dream.”…

Liberal intellectuals have been less impressed, saying the party’s image-building juggernaut is playing with fire, given China’s unhappy experience with the cult of personality and the ideological witch hunts of the Mao years. Some of those concerns have been heightened by a government crackdown on political dissent and a campaign against so-called hostile foreign forces, including Western ideas like human rights and “constitutionalism.”

Mr. Xiao of China Digital Times agreed, saying that some of the more recent propaganda flourishes have generated ridicule online, especially published remarks in which Mr. Xi denounced “strange” contemporary architecture and exhorted artists and writers to serve the masses rather than their own creative impulses. “It made Xi Jinping look like an idiot,” he said…

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