Has the cult of personality around Xi Jinping gone too far? As the Chinese language website Duowei News reported, a newspaper in China’s Guizhou Province was ordered to remove articles and posters that called Xi “Great Leader“, a title that was only ever used in reference to the founder of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Mao Zedong.
Since taking office in 2012 Chinese President Xi Jinping has not only amassed more power than any leader of the post-Mao era, but he has also revived the old-style Communist cult of personality.
“The village where he [Xi Jinping] labored as a teen has become a shrine, a tree he planted an icon. State media applaud him endlessly, private businessmen praise his speeches and universities are devoting new departments to his theories,” wrote the Associated Press in a recent report.
The cult of Xi appears to have intensified after the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), during which Xi consolidated his grip on power. However, the trend towards a one-man dictatorship might have been too much even for Communist cadres.
On November 10 Qianxinan Daily (黔西南日报), a Communist Party newspaper in Qianxinan Buyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, in Guizhou Province, published an editorial in praise of Xi Jinping. The article featured a large picture of Xi with the caption “Great Leader Secretary-General Xi Jinping” (伟大领袖习近平总书记). The title “Great Leader”, reminiscent of the most radical form of personality cult during the Cultural Revolution, had not been used since the end of the Mao era.
In the following days the authorities of Qianxinan issued official portraits of Xi Jinping bearing the inscription “Great Leader”. Qianxinan Daily continued to publish articles using the controversial epithet, and Xi’s portraits were hung in schools and public offices in the prefecture. Yet Qianxinan Party cadres may have gone too far.
As HK01 reported, the Communist propaganda department in Guizhou Province ordered Qianxinan’s authorities to remove all content and material that referred to Xi Jinping as “Great Leader”. By November 18 those articles had disappeared from the website of Qianxinan Daily. According to Mingpao, Chinese search engines and social media platforms such as Weibo display no results for the keywords “Great Leader Xi Jinping”.
During the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong was often referred to as “Great Leader”, “Great Teacher”, “Great Commander”, and “Great Helmsman”. In a 1980 interview Deng Xiaoping openly rejected Mao’s personality cult, arguing that “the worship of the individual, the patriarchal way of running things, the lifelong tenure for the official” had the “stigmas of feudalism.”
On November 17 Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua published an article entitled “Xi Jinping leads the way to the new era”. The article uses phrases such as “innovative leader”, or “strategist who has taken upon himself the task of national reform”, but it avoids the use of the title “Great Leader”. It is speculated that Xinhua‘s article was meant to signal which terms Party news outlets are allowed to use.
According to Beijing scholar Zhang Lifan, the Qianxinan authorities may have acted unilaterally in an attempt to guess the wishes of the Party leadership, a practice commonly known as “preferring left rather than right” (宁左勿右). This idiom, which originates from the Cultural Revolution, refers to the idea that exaggerating on the side of Party orthodoxy is always the safest bet.
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