Xi Jinping was raised among the Communist Party elite after his 1953 birth in Beijing.
In 1962, when he was nine years old, his father was humiliated in a party dispute and kicked out of the leadership.
The horrors of Xi’s childhood were covered up in propaganda stories about his life until 2012, when he reached the top of the Communist Party after a long, steady rise through the ranks.
Even though Xi seems to be sure of China’s strength, there are other signs that he is not happy.
More than 80% of Americans now have a negative opinion of China, up from 40% in 2012, according to the Pew Research Center.
Xi Jinping was raised among the Communist Party elite after his 1953 birth in Beijing. His father, Xi Zhongxun, was a famous Party hero who stood up for the cause even though a rival Communist group threatened to bury him alive. Later, the younger Xi remembered how his ears got “calluses” from hearing so many stories about how the revolution won. He did, however, see firsthand the horrifying implications of losing power. In 1962, when he was nine years old, his father was humiliated in a party dispute and kicked out of the leadership. His family found him at home, sitting alone in a dark room. Only four years later, Mao Zedong began the Cultural Revolution, and the persecution of the Xi family grew worse: a group of young Red Guards surrounded Xi’s school; another group made murder threats against him; and his half-sister was, according to the official version, “persecuted to death.” At fifteen, he was content to be sent to work in a far-off village. In a rare interview on his experiences for a state media programme in 2004, he claimed that he had no idea “whether I would live or die” if he had stayed in the mayhem of the city.
The horrors of Xi’s childhood were covered up in propaganda stories about his life until 2012, when he reached the top of the Communist Party after a long, steady rise through the ranks. But even after 10 years, the fact that he accepted almost totalitarian rule shows that his most deeply held beliefs about power, weakness, faith, and order were still powerful. According to Joseph Torigian, a specialist in Chinese politics at American University, “many people who came out of his experience in the Cultural Revolution concluded that China required constitutionalism and the rule of law, but Xi Jinping said no: you need the Leviathan.”
Xi provided the “solution” to the age-old question of whether Communists can accomplish what emperors could not: an escape from the “historical cycles of order and disorder, rise and fall” that have plagued the country for millennia in a critical speech last week in Beijing. Yes, he said, through “self-revolution” and getting rid of “crooked winds” and “hidden dangers” in the party, the state, and the military. This is the language of the Communist Party for more campaigns against the influence of the West, ideological differences, and political corruption. The Party “won’t ever change its nature, beliefs, or character,” Xi continued.
At the Communist Party Congress, held every five years, he addressed an audience of more than 2000 members of the political elite in the Great Hall of the People. According to term limits for the presidency in 1982, this 20th Congress should have marked the end of Xi’s 10 years as General Secretary, but he was able to change that rule in 2018. Unless there is an unexpected uprising, Xi, who is 69 years old, can continue to be in power. He is no longer bound by the hypothetical constraints imposed on his friend Vladimir Putin by the passage of legislation allowing him to become President until 2036.
But to stop people from questioning his power, Xi has done a lot more than get rid of term limits. People can’t plan or do much without the party’s knowledge because cameras, sensors, and algorithms have been used to create a surveillance state. This technology is especially common in Xinjiang, where Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities are often locked up. Every Uyghur residence is now forced to have a QR code indicating the people living there and passersby have had their phones randomly scanned. Downloading the Quran can result in an interrogation. At least 4.7 million people have been checked by the party to fight corruption. Xi’s political rivals have been removed in a massive purge that China expert and former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called a “reign of terror.” It has also tried to strengthen China’s “ideological defences” and make it illegal for Party members to talk in a “disrespectful” way. Because protests are so rare these days, when a banner criticizing Xi showed up on a bridge in Beijing just days before the Congress, it got worldwide attention.
Even though Xi seems to be sure of China’s strength, there are other signs that he is not happy. His “zero COVID” policy’s crippling lockdowns saved mass fatalities but incited widespread public resentment. People who expected him to go beyond the policy and try new things—like authorizing the use of more potent foreign vaccines—were let down. The economy under his leadership doubled, reaching $17.7 trillion last year, but growth has slowed recently. He’s talked about “shared prosperity,” but his party hasn’t come up with many solutions to the country’s growing debt, declining labor-force participation, and high youth unemployment. If current trends hold, China’s economic growth rate would, according to the World Bank, surpass that of the rest of Asia for the first time since 1990.
A more muscular stance overseas has coincided with the domestic statist rebirth. Only the United States has a more significant official defence budget than China, which Xi has raised to more than $200 billion. On the eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Xi also promised Putin a relationship with “no limitations.” The most anticipated thing Xi said last week was, “the wheels of history are rolling toward China’s reunification,” to say that he still wants to take control of Taiwan. He said China wants peace but “reserves the right to take all necessary steps.”
In the eyes of the rest of the world, Beijing’s image has worsened since it stopped painting itself as a country on a “peaceful rise” with a soft focus. More than 80% of Americans now have a negative opinion of China, up from 40% in 2012, according to the Pew Research Center. Other nations, including South Korea and the UK, have also declined. If that attitude upsets Xi, he doesn’t appear to be changing his course. He has sworn to stay away from the old cycles of the emperors, whose dynasties fell because of corruption, overreach, rebellion, and, in the end, replacement to protect the Party. Geremie Barmé, a sinologist from New Zealand, says that it is ironic that he is repeating history by taking the steps he needs to take to become the supreme leader.
Such is the political danger that China faces today. Even some of Sun Yat-sen’s revolutionaries had “dreamed of becoming emperor,” he said shortly before his death in 1925. Sun Yat-sen was the leader of the overthrow of the previous imperial dynasty. In his opinion, such imperial aspirations would be disastrous. He claimed all the periods of chaos that the nation had experienced “had their roots in this war for the throne.”
Analysis by: Advocacy Unified Network