CARTOON: Beware the Cult of Xi

CARTOON: Beware the Cult of Xi

What you need to know

For all the assertions of China's rising power and strength at the ongoing 19th Party Congress in Beijing, the country's inability to reconcile its past and vulnerability to cults of personality point to inherent institutional weakness.

The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China is underway in Beijing, celebrating the end of President Xi Jinping's first five-year term in office.

The congress is taking place in the Great Hall of the People, which sits on the western edge of Tiananmen Square.

The world is focused on the speechifying inside the hall and President Xi's proclamations of a new dawn in Chinese global influence and power. It is demonstrably clear that Xi is China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong.

Outside in the grim, smog-ridden rain, the portrait of Mao himself sits in its place atop the Tiananmen Gate.

Mao stares down at Tiananmen Square, the pair symbols of China's inability to reconcile its past; the cult of personality that led to the deaths of tens of millions, and the scene of the student protests that saw the Party government turn the People’s Liberation Army on its own citizens in 1989.

While China and its people now admit to Mao’s flaws, the elephant in the square remains.

Back in the hall, everything of import has already been decided behind closed doors in the run up to the twice-a-decade meeting. The narrative of a Party intent on implementing ever tighter control over the country and its citizens, narrowing the avenues for dissent, has been clear for some time.

Analysts are focused on whether "Xi Jinping Thought" will be enshrined in the Party Constitution during the course of the congress, putting Xi’s thinking on a par with Mao in the Party canon (Deng Xiaoping’s rumination only ever warranted the title of "Theory").

Watchers also await the unveiling of a new Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee, anxious to see whether they will unveil a possible successor to Xi. This would indicate the president plans to follow predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao in handing over power after two five-year terms. Conversely, the presentation of a lower level Xi loyalist in a reshuffled leadership would suggest the president is firming up his base in a bid to secure a third term in office.

Either way, and for all the assertions of China’s progress we can expect over the course of the congress, the consolidation of power in the figurehead of Xi points to underlying institutional weakness. And while China’s current president will not replace Mao in portraiture atop the Tiananmen Gate, the echoes of his cult of personality should serve as a warning to all as to what lies ahead.


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