Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Mao wannabe? or Yuan wannabe?

Outside commentators are jumping on the bandwagon that is likening Xi Jinping to Mao Zedong's authoritarian and dictatorial ways. We'll have to see how accurate their predictions are.

China’s Censors Ban Winnie the Pooh and the Letter ‘N’ After Xi’s Power Grab
During his more than five years in power, Mr. Xi has cultivated an image as a man of the people — a centered, sympathetic leader who lines up with workers to buy pork buns while also guiding the world’s most populous nation to growth and global influence.

But the move to abolish term limits, announced on Sunday, has resurrected deeper fears in Chinese society, where memories remain of the personality cult of China’s founding father, Mao Zedong, and the fevered emotions and chaos that it conjured.

Anxious to suppress criticism, and maintain an appearance of mass support, the Communist Party’s censors have scoured the internet and social media for content deemed subversive. The sanitizing has included many images of Winnie the Pooh — Mr. Xi is sometimes likened to the cartoon bear — and search terms like “my emperor,” “lifelong” and “shameless.”

For a short time, even the English letter “N” was censored, according to Victor Mair, a University of Pennsylvania professor, apparently to pre-empt social scientists from expressing dissent mathematically: N > 2, with “N” being the number of Mr. Xi’s terms in office…

Retirees who endured the trauma of Mao’s Cultural Revolution are warning of a return to dictatorship. University students are posting quotes from George Washington’s farewell address online. Business executives, concerned about the Communist Party’s growing grip on private enterprises, are hastening plans to relocate overseas…

While some have likened Mr. Xi to Mao, others reached further into Chinese history, comparing Mr. Xi to Yuan Shikai, an early 20th-century warlord who briefly restored China’s monarchy with himself as emperor.

For all the discontent, analysts said it was unlikely anything would block Mr. Xi’s attempts to extend his rule…

For one, much of the frustration over the term-limits plan is limited to the urban elite. Mr. Xi remains immensely popular among farmers and blue-collar workers, as well as a new generation of young nationalists…

For another, Mr. Xi already has an iron grip on Chinese society. A sweeping anticorruption campaign has ensnared tens of thousands of officials and imposed discipline on the Communist Party and other powerful institutions like the People’s Liberation Army… There have also been conspicuously public arrests of lawyers and dissidents…

While the plan to abolish term limits may be one of the most important political decisions in decades, many citizens are simply unaware of it. The decision has been buried inside newspapers and mentioned only in passing on television news shows…

Mr. Xi’s maneuvering has rekindled memories of the Cultural Revolution, the decade-long upheaval instigated by Mao that fractured Chinese society and left more than one million dead.

Many see echoes of Mao’s obsession with power in Mr. Xi, who has placed the ideal of absolute loyalty to the party at the center of everyday life. Like Mao, Mr. Xi has also filled China’s society with political slogans and used propaganda to present himself as the leader needed to guide China to its destiny.

Critics argue that by putting such a personal stamp on power and eliminating the previous collective leadership model, Mr. Xi is setting the stage for a return to the excesses of personal loyalty and fanaticism that nearly tore China apart during Mao’s time…

Others harbor nostalgia for the politics of the Cultural Revolution, which they see as a time of decisiveness and ideological purity. They dismiss criticism of Mr. Xi’s strongman tendencies, saying centralized power is a sign of prosperity and stability…

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