Facing a transition of power, China’s Xi Jinping is more desperate than ever to control young minds

Uphold the red stars.
Uphold the red stars.
Image: Reuters/China Daily
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China’s president Xi Jinping appears to be getting desperate.

Facing a transition of power, the most influential Communist Party leader in recent history is showing signs he’s reluctant to let go of the reigns, working furiously to consolidate power ahead of the 19th Party Congress in late 2017 when the country’s next head is supposed to be named. Rumors suggest he’s planning on breaking from party tradition by delaying the naming of a successor (paywall), signaling a desire to extend his tenure. And in a page taken from Chinese history books, his strategy also includes influencing the country’s young minds.

For Xi, a strongman who’s staked his legacy on rooting out corruption in the Communist Party, consensus within the party and country is a reflection of his success—perhaps even more so than his predecessors because of the unique power he wields. In October, Xi was named a “core” Communist Party leader—the fourth in its history—strengthening his control to an unprecedented level since Mao Zedong.

Last week, Xi launched a propaganda campaign targeted at schools and families to ensure the country’s youth learn and abide by the party’s ideologies. With Western values creeping into China, the country has been pushing to revive ideological education (link in Chinese).

In 2015, it banned Western values in higher education and curbed programs (paywall) that help prepare children for overseas studies. China sends more students abroad than any other country, and they are increasing gaining “more exposure of Western values, such as democracy,” says Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. It followed up in October by barring international-style education in Shanghai before a final crackdown from the nation’s top legislature on Nov. 7 (link in Chinese) outlawing for-profit schools operating in its compulsory education system.

“This show how nervous Xi is,” says Lam. Chinese youth “is a big unknown for Xi.”

His ongoing campaign is a classic example of Confucianism, which emphasizes stable, unified, and enduring social orders, says Lam. A contrast to China’s “tough-down” measures, it “has been used by many emperors in the history to teach people about obedience.”

Showing signs leaders are increasingly paranoid about criticism, Xi is ordering actions against “subversive” and “hostile forces infiltration” in colleges and urging families to educate children on the party’s values.

On Dec. 8, Xi said at a two-day education meeting that China must “build colleges into strongholds that adhere to party leadership.” Four days later, he urged “family members, especially the younger generation, to love the party, the motherland, the people and the Chinese nation.”

The announcements come as “some non-mainstream media are criticizing the party’s theories and smearing the party’s history with historical nihilism,” Chen Baosheng, head of China’s top education ministry, told state tabloid Global Times on Dec. 11. With 2017 nearing, it’s likely China will expand its campaign to further instill the ideologies of the party in young minds.