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|To each|Big Daddy Winnie the Pooh Xi Jipig Xi Jinping has been the Paramount Leader of the People's Republic of China since late 2012, replacing Hu Jintao. To give you an idea of the magnitude of his authority, Xi is the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) — the leader of the party, President of the People's Republic (head of state) and Chairman of the Central Military Commission (head of armed forces), making him the most powerful man in China since Mao Zedong. He has also managed to abolish term limits, effectively making him president for life.
Born the son of an important revolutionary leader, Xi is a "Princeling," an opportunistic Chinese politician who rose through the ranks by riding on the coattails of his father. He quickly became Vice President under his predecessor, touring the world to maintain the appearance of diplomacy.
Something of a recluse, Xi burst out into the Chinese public almost at random, largely preferring to work behind the scenes, apart from a few token speeches and overseas meetings. His ascension to Paramount Leader was based on a last-minute compromise between party factions, as he was thought to be the one most likely to uphold the interests of the party while calming inter-party tensions.
Upon assuming power, he's called for a renewed campaign against political corruption, continued assertion of Chinese hegemony and comprehensive national renewal at a time where Chinese society is unsure of its future despite being the most productive and successful in decades.
More like Mao?
Xi's priority is to guarantee the ruling position of the party, but unlike his predecessor, he is far more hands-on (and more clearly autocratic) in his attempt to unify the party and sustain support for the government. His first initiative has been to promote a “thorough cleanup” of the party, cracking down on the noisier members of who've undercut the party's popularity. To restore faith and trust in the government, he's spearheading a campaign meant to reconnect with the public via grassroots and the "Chinese Dream" (see below). He's called for the rest of the government to "purify" themselves of greed, extravagance, laziness and hedonism by... taking baths.
His hard-on for Mao manifests in how he's suppressing any overt criticism of the man, from turning once-activist schools into propaganda outlets to calling for the party to promote and adhere to Maoism. National newspapers picture Xi as a "low-profile, amiable and practical" man who knows how the people act, want and think, because he happened to eat steamed buns with ordinary folk when he worked as a local-level party secretary in Hebei province in the early 1980s. He also said that he used old clothes to patch his worn mattress. This casts Xi as both a follower and a successor to Mao, in the sense that he wants to be seen as a man connected with the public.[note 1]
The irony is that Jinping is the son of Xi Zhongxun, who was imprisoned under Mao. Rehabilitated under Deng Xiaoping, Zhongxun helped champion the economic liberalization that began in southern China in 1979, but he was sidelined again after he was thought to have opposed the use of force to break up the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Evidently, not like father, like son.
Document Number 9
In the summer of 2013, a confidential internal document circulated throughout the CCP listed six "dangerous" Western values (although general coverage is not allowed): Western constitutional democracy, pro-market neoliberalism, universal values of human rights, media independence, civil society and "nihilist" criticisms of past errors of the party. The document was leaked by the public newspaper in the Liaoyuan municipal government. Without doubt, this is meant to forestall opposition to needed economic reforms, so as to avoid the split which resulted in the Soviet Union during Gorbachev's reform efforts.
The fact that this needs to be circulated should tell you something about the current state of China.
Power is Paramount
His anti-corruption campaign, if you hadn't already figured it out, targets primarily (if not exclusively) anyone whom he feels is a threat to his power. The reason he is the most powerful in China since Deng Xiaoping can be traced directly towards his pseudo-Cultural Revolution (except in this case, it's directed within the party).
As a brief summary of the power struggle, you have two major factions within the CCP, one led by Jiang Zemin (known as the Shanghai Clique) and the other led by Hu Jintao (known as the Beijing Clique). The differences come not from any substantial policy differences, mind you, but from those who are seen as relatively more populist (Hu Jintao) and considerably more elitist (Jiang Zemin). Jiang first rose to prominence by advocating for a crackdown on a student protest in Tianamen Square, and he gained considerable power through his persecution of Falun Gong; for the sake of so-called national defense, he consolidated his power within the party by stacking the Politburo Standing Committee with his men and creating the 610 Office (which directs the security forces). Even when Hu was officially the leader of China, Jiang and his clique retained more influence; Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintao had next to no power. Hu's clique disapproved of the idea of executing a very expensive crackdown on 100 million Chinese citizens who followed the Falun Gong exercises, let alone the teachings of the movement, which split the party between those two factions.
Xi Jinping was chosen as a compromise leader, as a way for the party to "clean" themselves of their differences. Xi responded by cracking down on all associates, corporate giants, government bureaucracies, and various other associates of Jiang Zemin, which consequently marginalized Hu Jintao's clique while empowering those who happen to grab Xi's coat tails. The most notable bureaucrats hit with anti-corruption charges are former Commerce Minister Bo Xilai, once a rising star in the party who got his start by shutting Falun Gong and other political prisoners into prison camps without due process. Falun Gong practitioners kept bringing lawsuits against Bo as a result of his mistreatment of them, leading to Hu and Wen finding Bo to be too much of a liability to become Vice Premier. His police chief was Wang Lijun, who took part in live organ harvesting of several thousand prisoners and wiretapped Hu's phone calls. Wang, fearing for his life at the impending purge, fled to the United States.
The highest ranking official purged by Xi's crusade was Zhou Yongkang, the fourth most powerful man in China under Jiang and Hu. His security apparatus, which included paramilitary police and secret police, had a bigger budget and more manpower than the army. Just like Bo and Jiang, Zhou partly owes his success to persecuting Falun Gong, and he is rumored to have murdered his first wife in order to marry Jiang's niece. He was hand-selected by Jiang to chair the Ministry of Public Security, joined the Politburo Standing Committee, and controlled the entire legal plus the 610 Office. He was also seen as the man behind Kim Jong-un in North Korea; he was the only foreigner on the stadium behind Kim and the other North Korean generals in addition to being Kim's godfather.
Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang were the two most powerful and well-known associates of Jiang Zemin. Bo and Zhou heavily expanded the labor camp system, as well as the organ harvesting of live prisoners. Bo and Zhou are rumored to have planned two coup attempts on Xi Jinping. As you'd expect, both were purged, with Bo receiving a life sentence for corruption and abuse of power. Meanwhile, Xi reduced the power of Zhou's former position, ended the labor camp system expanded by Zhou, investigated Zhou's crooked cronies in the oil industry, evicted Zhou from the party, and set up an official trial for the former security czar. Quite well, right? Well, not really, because the corruption charges do not mention how they came into power, because that would make the Party look bad, and both men serve as convenient scapegoats to placate the concerns of the Chinese public over the party while empowering Xi's own reputation. Don't hold your breath for allowing Falun Gong to practice their beliefs either, because the Party never makes mistakes.
Even the ever-opportunistic Western companies are being hit. Along others, Microsoft, JP Morgan Chase, GlaxoSmithKline, General Motors, Volkswagen Audi, and through subsidiaries, Mercedes-Benz, were hit with anti-monopoly charges including pricing violations and market dominance. This is particularly interesting, because it perfectly shows the mindset of Xi Jinping. These anti-monopoly charges help control prices in politically sensitive industries and empower domestic Chinese firms in order to use these regulatory tools that are common in other countries to control markets to their advantage in China.
This is how it helps the Party, but how does it help Xi Jinping? Many of these foreign companies had close ties to - wait for it - Jiang Zemin, when he was himself the leader of China in the 1990s. Jiang himself first rose up the ladder in the state-owned First Auto Works Group; a grand total of fifty executives have been investigated under Xi. Jiang's son chaired the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, which has joint ventures with General Motors, Volkswagen Audi, and Mercedes-Benz. Zhou Yongkang, Jiang's top ally, chaired the state-run Petroleum Corporation which used Microsoft's email service exclusively before being switched to a more domestic (read: party-approved) one in 2014. Jiang's son even got into Microsoft, as the owner of 50% of MSM China's website through his Shangai Alliance Investment company. Bill Gates' venture into China were largely due to Jiang Zemin wanting it as much, and currently, Xi wants none of that while he remains paramount leader.
Even the departments in charge of the anti-monopoly campaign are being targeted. The Ministry of Commerce, State Administration for Industry and Commerce, and National Development and Reform Commission are the three agencies responsible for the investigations of foreign companies who made pals with Jiang. The Ministry of Commerce and NDRC were once the guardians of the wealth of Jiang's faction under so-called "financial gatekeeper" Liu Tienan (now under trial); both agencies were purged just before the anti-monopoly campaign began. The Party now is working to abolish term limits, which would effectively make him ruler for life.
Beginning in 2014, Uyghurs (a predominantly Muslim ethnic group that mostly lives in Xinjiang Province) have been forced into reeducation camps to indoctrinate them with the CCP's party line. In 2019, it was discovered that China has been systematically razing mosques, Islamic cemeteries and other religious sites from Xinjiang Province. The forced Sinicization of Uyghurs, indoctrination, and razing of religious sites amounts to ethnic cleansing.
As a way to encapsulate his ideology (and corresponding administrative policy) to the public, Xi announced - and continues to promote - the so-called "Chinese Dream." While he did not create the term,[note 2] he popularized the phrase to such an extent that "Chinese Dream" has become an integral part of Chinese social lingo and common thought.
There's a lot of intrigue about the idea of what the Chinese Dream really is. Xi champions it as "rejuvenation, improvement of people’s livelihoods, prosperity, construction of a better society and military strengthening." Others say it's related to sustainable development (like tackling pollution or providing food safety). A more skeptical view is that Xi is using the Chinese Dream to reclaim public support for the party in a time where people are very much aware that it's not all sunshine and rainbows with the government, in order to drum up a sense of nationalism within the populace as the state of China attempts to compete with the US for influence.
While individualistic (Xi himself had "seen the American Dream up close" while touring New York), it's still about collectivism, as a successful individual is the first step towards a prosperous community (at least, in the eyes of the party). A large part of this is due to how the Chinese middle class, which barely existed a decade before Xi came to power, has grown exponentially over the past 30 years. On the flip side, this has led to rising wages, making it more difficult for China to carry on with its export-oriented economy and to continue its miraculous economic growth.
- He wrings his hands over the neck of opposition a bit differently, however. Investigations were opened into the state-owned PetroChina, meant to rein in a powerful interest group that's largely filled with proteges of former security chief Zhou Yongkang, who had crossed Xi during a factional power struggle in 2012. No points for guessing how many times corruption charges have been levied against Xi himself.
- It's another example of why Thomas Friedman needs to shut his piehole once in a while. 
- China: Stop Calling President 'Big Daddy Xi', Newser, 4 May 2016
- China Briefly Bans Letter N on Social Media after Anger over Plans to Make Xi Jinping dictator for Life
- Just How Secure Is Xi Jinping, Really?, The Diplomat
- State media promoting China’s leader Xi with intensity unseen since Mao era, Washington Post
- China Takes Aim at Western Ideas, The New York Times
- "Despite tremendous efforts by the Chinese authorities to control the media and the Internet, the commercialization of the media and the unprecedented telecommunications revolution are making the flow of information easier and faster, bringing new perspectives to the Chinese public." Eventually, something's gotta give.
- A Summer Vacation in China’s Muslim Gulag: How one university student was almost buried by the "people's war on terror." (28, 2018, 1:35 PM) Foreign Policy.
- In China, every day is Kristallnacht by Fred Hiatt (November 3, 2019) The Washington Post.
- Demolishing Faith: The Destruction and Desecration of Uyghur Mosques and Shrines (10/28/2019 - 14:00) Uyghur Human Rights Project.
- What Congress can do now to combat China’s mass ethnic cleansing of Uighurs (May 23, 2019 at 4:06 p.m. PDT) The Washington Post.