LONGREADS

“A man who makes things happen”: Chinese state media’s 8,000-word profile on Xi Jinping

Obsession
Propaganda
Obsession
Propaganda

Chinese president Xi Jinping officially became the most powerful leader in China since Mao Zedong at a recently concluded Communist Party congress. Now, you can read all about why Xi is so great in a lengthy profile published today (Nov. 17) by state news agency Xinhua.

Titled “Xi and his era,” the profile is the kind of puffery one would expect from China’s state-controlled media. But in terms of length and level of detail, the story is a rare, if not unprecedented, portrayal of any Chinese leader. It’s both available in Chinese (15,000 characters) and in English (8,000 words).

“At this point, Xi is the unrivalled helmsman who will steer China toward this great dream,” says the English version, referring to Xi’s goal of turning China into a fully developed nation by 2050.

The profile is a reminder of Xi’s iron grip on power and cult of personality that have become even more visible since he entered his second five-year-term last month as China’s paramount leader, with a third term on the cards. Earlier this week, a newspaper in southwestern Guizhou province hailed Xi on its front pages (link in Chinese) as China’s “great lingxiu”—a reverential term for leader that was only used for Mao.

The glowing hagiography of Xi is divided into the following sections:

“A man who makes things happen” rounds up Xi’s accomplishments in the past years on every front from economic growth to poverty reduction to foreign policy. It relies on quotes from Western scholars and news outlets to make the point that Xi delivers on his promises.

“CPC core forged during ‘great struggle’” is dedicated to Xi’s ruthless anti-corruption campaign that has ensnared hundreds of senior party officials, including his potential leadership rivals Bo Xilai and Sun Zhengcai. Xi emerged from the “great struggle” as the party’s “core” leader, Xinhua says. As an aside, Xinhua notes that Xi applied to join the Communist Party of China (CPC) 10 times, before he finally made it at age 20, without explaining why.

“Servant of the public” portrays Xi as a leader who always does the best for his people, and is focused on his efforts on poverty reduction, with the goal of wiping out poverty in China by 2020. Xi’s years of farming and herding animals during Mao’s chaotic Cultural Revolution is used as evidence that he is down-to-earth.

“Strategist behind China’s reform” puts Xi on par with party legend Deng Xiaoping, who opened up China’s economy during the 1980s. Xinhua notes that Xi is the mastermind behind China’s efforts to let the market play a “decisive role” in resource allocation in the economy. (Though some argue that in reality China has made little headway in promised economic reforms under Xi.)

“Top commander reshaping the military” deals with Xi’s far-reaching military reforms, with the goal of building China’s armed forces into a “world-class” military by 2050. “I have read a lot on China’s modern history, and it gives me great pain whenever I come across a time when we dropped back (in military building) and fell victim to invasions,” he is quoted as saying.

“A world leader” summarizes Xi’s global-focused initiatives, including the “One Belt, One Road” project and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Since billing himself as a champion of globalization during his big speech at Davos earlier this year, Xi has angled for a more assertive role on issues such as trade and climate change. Apparently, Xi also has good personal relationships with fellow world leaders: Russian president Vladimir Putin celebrated his birthday with Xi over vodka and sandwiches, Xinhua said.

“Architect of modernization for new era” is the last section in the profile, and is about Xi’s contribution to the party’s ideology. During the party congress, Xi hailed a “new era” for China, which includes a more central role for China on the world stage. He also enshrined his political theory, with his name attached to it, in the party’s constitution. “Xi has led socialism with Chinese characteristics to a new era, a new era for entire humanity, as we stand together at the crossroads of new development paths,” the article concludes.

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