Shortcuts / 28 May 2020

Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping is the man in charge of China. So, let’s take a look at who he is, how he came to be the leader, his broad agenda and how he is using his increasing power.

Where was Xi Jinping born and who are his parents?
Xi Jinping was born in Beijing in 1953, making him 66 years old. He is the the second son of Xi Zhongxun, who was a revolutionary and is considered to be one of the Chinese Communist Party’s founding fathers.

What’s the story with Xi Zhongxun?
What led to the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 was a civil war that started in 1927. Xi’s father fought alongside Mao Zedong in that war and then went on to hold a number of roles in the party including propaganda chief, vice-premier, and Vice Chairperson of the National People’s Congress. It wasn’t all smooth sailing and he was in and out of favour. In fact, he was banished in the 1960s after being accused of supporting a book seen as critical of Chairman Mao. He was demoted and sent to manage a factory, and was eventually thrown in prison, which was pretty typical at the time.

Hold up, give us a quick recap on Chairman Mao and the rise of the Chinese Communist Party…
Well, after taking power in 1949, there were stages of embedding communist rule. The first 10 years or so was to reform the economy and social structures, as well as the start of persecuting dissenters. Then was the Great Leap Forward, which looked to organise communities, particularly in rural areas into collectives. And there was more crushing of dissent, and a famine that saw up to 45 million Chinese die. Follpwing that was the Cultural Revolution which started in the mid 60s to bed down socialism and Maoist thought, which was the political directive of the leader of the time. There was also another push to rid society of old ways of thinking and purge China of dissenters, and some estimate that up to 20 million people were put to death. That period of Chinese history didn’t end until Mao died in 1976.

What has Xi’s early life like?
So as we said, Xi Jinping was born in 1953, so he lived through the rule of Chairman Mao and was like all Chinese, affect by it, starting in 1966 when he was forced to finish school at age 13 and eventually was exiled to the countryside as part of Mao’s ‘re education’ initiatives. His family’s name was not well regarded at that point so it was a tough time for the Xi family. Xi Jinping got his first taste of politics working as the province’s party secretary, all the while he was living in a cave, according to the official story. But after a few months of rural life, Xi attempted to escape back to Beijing, but was caught and punished by being ordered to undertake manual labour.

How did Xi become involved in the Chinese Communist Party?
These hardships experience didn’t turn him off the Communist Party, in fact it made him more determined to join… though he was rebuffed a number of times due to his fathers history. Yes he was rejected seven-odd times until he was finally accepted in 1974. Back in Beijing with his commitment to the Party proven, he studied chemical engineering at prestigious Tsinghua University.

How does the CCP work?
As a one-party state, the CCP is the sole governing party of China, and there are only eight other, smaller parties, called the United Front, although they have very limited power and are obligated to support the CCP. We could go down a whole rabbit hole about the struggle for country and party to unpick the brand of Communism China exercises. But Mao Thought, the original guiding light for the CCP took heavily from Marxism-Leninism which essentially rejects capitalism and embraces socialist values. Things have changed a lot since then with modern Communist China accused of having no ideology because they are a big part of the global economy and its capitalism system. While officially, the party works according to the principles of collective leadership, in which decisions will be made through consensus. This was established in the CCP after Chairman Mao’s death, in order to prevent the rise of another Mao-like personality cult. But although members of the Politburo Standing Committee theoretically have equal standing, as each member has one vote, in practice, each of these members are ranked hierarchically, with the paramount leader at the top.

How did Xi rise up the ranks of the CCP?
Mao had been dead for more than a decade by the time Xi received the attention of China’s top officials and the national media. He became known as someone who took a hardline stance against corrupt officials. He also was known for supporting local private enterprises and oversaw strong economic growth. But it was in 2013, after many, many years of chipping away within the party, that he informally became China’s paramount leader when he became general secretary of the Communist Party and chairman of the CPC Central Military Commission in 2012, and President of the People’s Republic of China in 2013. But it is important to note the lack of transparency around political appointments in China means that it is very difficult to know how or why it was he or who ho was given those big jobs. And it was a changing of the guard. Xi is the nation’s first leader to be born after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. That means he’s from a different generation who grew up within China’s communist system.

What has Xi been doing since he became China’s leader?
One of the biggest political changes Xi Jinping has made is abolishing the ten year term for Presidents. That’s seen many call him a dictator. It was a power grab that the party was determined to avoid after Mao, but that he was able to execute. Making himself leader for life is up there with his control of the bureaucracy, military, economy and philosophy. And on philosophy – Xi Jinping has written a manifesto of sorts, it has been rolled out into schools in China, workplaces, on billboards, called called Xi Jinping Thought? Xi’s political belief system has been written into the party and China’s constitutions since 2017. He says that it’s the framework around modern Chinese socialism. And in the most modern way, it has been turned into a smartphone app that the Chinese are expected to use on a daily basis if they are to be considered good citizens. So actions such as this increased surveillance, along with censorship, and accusations of humans rights abuses, draws many comparisons to Mao and they’re concerning for those who lived through his reign in China, and also for the rest of the world. Like Mao before him, Xi completely dominates China’s government. And with the government central to the Chinese people’s everyday lives, he is ever present to them too. China has changed greatly in the last 40 years – there was a poverty rate of 88% in 1981, and that was less than 2% in 2018. And Xi’s era has seen China’s economy grow further. But it continues to be criticised for human rights abuses, censorship, and a nationalist agenda that Xi is driving in many parts of the world.

What is Xi’s relationship with the US?
Xi and US President Donald Trump have been going toe to toe on things like trade and regional security. They’ve also found themselves on opposing sides of the North Korean issue with Xi and China a supporter of Kim Jong Un’s regime where the US is supporting South Korea’s bid to rid the peninsula of nuclear weapons. Some commentators say Trump and Xi are the new Cold War warriors.

Squiz Recommends:
The New Yorker – Xi Jinping
The Guardian – China Bans Winnie The Pooh

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