Grandpa Mao and Uncle Xi
China has not had a leader grip the country in the way that Xi Jinping has since Mao Zedong took reigns of the nation in 1949.
Mao, who is remembered unfavorably (to say the least) in the West, is largely popular in China. Statues of him still stand prominently in Chinese cities, and he is the face of every note of Chinese Yuan (RMB¥100 notes are affectionately called “Grandpa Mao”). He is remembered as the man who had to make great sacrifices to keep China moving when he said, “When there is not enough to eat, people starve to death. It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill,” rather than being remembered as the man responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people.
As I did not grow up within the Chinese culture, I cannot explain why Mao is remembered favorably. I do not know if it is because people ignore the travesties of his rule and instead focus on the positives of his reign. I do not even know if the general population knows about the travesties of his rule, as it is often too sensitive of a topic to bring up in general conversation. But one thing I do know is that no Chinese leader has garnered the same respect and affection as Mao received as current President Xi Jinping is receiving.
And this, to me, is a cause for concern.
Xi Jinping took hold of China’s top three political positions in 2012 when he became General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, President of the People's Republic of China, and Chairman of the Central Military Commission. In 2017 Xi had his name written into China’s constitution, as well as his personal political ideologies (“Xi Jinping Thought”), making him the first Chinese leader to have this done since Mao. China also banned term limits this March, setting Xi to serve as the “core leader” of China indefinitely. He is even affectionately referred to as “Uncle Xi” in China, another hallmark of Mao.
Xi’s political philosophies are wrought with anti-Western sentiment, and he hopes to rid China of many Western ideologies and uses censorship to “shield” the Chinese from the “dark side of society”. With various political reforms, he has choked free-speech, has entirely crushed free press, and is actively working to control education. In 2016, it was announced that all academic hires, including universities, would not only have a “merit based” interview, but would now have to pass a second interview to conclude the individual’s ability to adhere to party “identities”, ensuring that professors conform to the “theoretical, political, and emotional identity of the China Communist Party.”
On top of these reforms, Xi has instituted the “Chinese Dream” as a major driver of his political policies. The Chinese Dream focuses on, “developing a prosperous society, building a military capable of fighting and winning wars, and reclaiming China’s place as a global power.” Nationalist fever is running rampant throughout the nation and Chinese exceptionalism is as strong there now as American exceptionalism was in the United States after the Second World War. The Chinese economy has grown at an absolutely tremendous rate since 2004; there are major construction projects happening daily, some of the best public transportation in the world is there, and they have been tasked with hosting major world events, such as the 2008 and 2022 Olympics. China growing and developing at an absolutely astounding pace and the Chinese are going all-in on Xi Jinping’s vision for the country. As the Nation’s economy and military continues to grow, each move Xi makes will only be more substantial on the world stage. Whether he will be remembered as a leader of good fortune, peace, and prosperity, or of tyranny and cruelty is yet to be seen.