He is everywhere: Huge cut-outs, old food bills add to the cult of Xi Jinping
While his father was purged under the Communist leader, 64-year-old Xi rose through the ranks without scandal, thanks to an unassuming demeanour that earned him fewer rivals than most.world Updated: Oct 18, 2017 11:58 IST
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s stiff smile greets visitors in room after room at a Beijing exhibition put up by the Communist party to tout its past five years of accomplishments.
“Five Years On” looks at China’s changes since 2012 -- when Xi came to power -- ahead of the twice-a-decade party congress which opened Wednesday.
Xi’s omnipresence at the Soviet-style Beijing Exhibition Centre is yet another example of the cult of personality that the state propaganda machine has wrapped around the most powerful Chinese leader in decades.
Alongside every flow chart and diorama on display in the red star-topped building loomed a larger-than-life photo of the president: commanding a lectern, striding alongside farmers or foreign dignitaries, inspecting a steel plant, even aiming a gun alongside troops in Macau.
Other displays showed five-year-old menus and receipts from modest meals Xi ate while inspecting villages in the countryside.
His fans flocked to the exhibit.
“We don’t find the photos weird. We grew up in this environment,” said finance manager Liu Wen, 35, pointing out that the face of modern China’s founder, Mao Zedong, graces every yuan bill.
“It’s not a cult of personality, because as people from a collectivist society, when we see Xi Dada, we think of the team behind him, not of him as an individual hero,” he added, using a chummy nickname coined for the leader by party propaganda organs that roughly equates to “Big Uncle Xi.”
Xi’s ever-expanding power and intolerance for dissent has earned him comparisons to Mao.
While his father was purged under the Communist leader, 64-year-old Xi rose through the ranks without scandal, thanks to an unassuming demeanour that earned him fewer rivals than most.
“He believes that the party is the force that can really transform China,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, China politics specialist at Hong Kong Baptist University.
Beginning as a county-level party secretary, Xi rose to become governor of coastal Fujian province, then party secretary of Zhejiang province and eventually Shanghai, in 2007.
That same year, he was appointed to China’s top governing body, the Politburo Standing Committee, a group he has led since 2012 as general secretary.
Xi is now expected to secure a second five-year term as head of the party during the congress, like his predecessors. But more importantly, he will have the opportunity to stack key positions with loyalists.
Xi is the first Chinese leader to have been born after 1949, when the Communist revolution that gives the party its legitimacy ended.
The son of revolutionary hero Xi Zhongxun, he was born in Beijing in 1953 into privilege.
A so-called “princeling” who reaped the benefits of his father’s acclaim, Xi studied chemical engineering at the prestigious Tsinghua University before turning to politics.
After a divorce, Xi married his second wife, the celebrity soprano Peng Liyuan, in 1987, at a time when she was much more famous than him. The couple’s daughter, Xi Mingze, studied at Harvard and stays out of the public eye.
‘Closer to us’
But official media have aggressively shaped an image for Xi as a man of the people, who dresses modestly and buys his own steamed buns at a common shop.
They have also highlighted the time he spent during the Cultural Revolution as a “sent-down youth” in the countryside, labouring alongside farmers and living in a cave.
In the run-up to the congress, state media touted his accomplishments, running a video series on his growing diplomatic clout and stories on the poverty alleviation programme of the man now known as the “core” of the Communist Party.
The propaganda, however, glosses over the series of crackdowns on activists, lawyers and academics that Xi has overseen.
Authorities have also clamped down on what can be said on the internet, tightening censorship in a country where young people are avid users of social media.
That very definitely includes what can be said about Xi Dada -- even obliquely.
Since comparisons were first made in 2013 between China’s leader and a certain portly yellow bear who likes “hunny”, references to the most famous inhabitant of Hundred Acre Wood have periodically been blocked.
As the congress got under way on Wednesday, a Chinese language search on Weibo for “Winnie the Pooh” and “Xi Jinping” returned the message: “According to relevent laws and policy, the search results are not displayed.”