Beware the cult of Xi | The Economist

Xi Jinping is stronger than his predecessors. His power is damaging the country

“IF OUR party can’t even handle food-safety issues properly, and keeps on mishandling them, then people will ask whether we are fit to keep ruling China.” So Xi Jinping warned officials in 2013, a year after he became the country’s leader. It was a remarkable statement for the chief of a Communist Party that has always claimed to have the backing of “the people”. It suggested that Mr Xi understood how grievances about official incompetence and corruption risked boiling over. Mr Xi rounded up tens of thousands of erring officials, waging a war on corruption of an intensity not seen since the party came to power in 1949. Many thought he was right to do so.

Today, however, China is enduring its biggest public-health scandal in years. Tens of millions of dollars-worth of black-market, out-of-date and improperly stored vaccines have been sold to government health centres, which have in turn been making money by selling them to patients.

Mr Xi’s anti-graft war has often made little difference to ordinary people. Their life—and health—is still blighted by corruption. In recent days there have also been signs of discontent with Mr Xi among the elite: official media complaining openly about reporting restrictions, a prominent businessman attacking him on his microblog, a senior editor resigning in disgust.

Mr Xi has acquired more power than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong. It was supposed to let him get things done. What is going wrong?

Credibility gap

In fairness, Mr Xi was bound to meet with hostility. Many officials are angry because he has ripped up the compact by which they have operated and which said that they could line their pockets, so long as corruption was not flagrant and they did their job well. But Mr Xi has also found that the pursuit of power is all-consuming: it does not leave room for much else. In three and a half years in charge, he has accumulated titles at an astonishing pace. He is not only party leader, head of state and commander-in-chief, but is also running reform, the security services and the economy. In effect, the party’s hallowed notion of “collective” leadership (see article) has been jettisoned.

Mr Xi is, one analyst says, “Chairman of Everything”. At the same time, he has flouted the party’s ban on personality cults, introduced in 1982 to prevent another episode of Maoist madness. Official media are filled with fawning over “Uncle Xi” and his wife, Peng Liyuan, a folk-singer whom flatterers call “Mama Peng”. A video, released in March, of a dance called “Uncle Xi in love with Mama Peng” has already been viewed over 300,000 times. There have been rumours recently that Mr Xi feels some of this has been going a bit far. Some of the most toadying videos, such as “The east is red again” (comparing Mr Xi to Mao), have been scrubbed from the internet. Many would take that as a sign that the personality cult is little more than harmless fun.

Mr Xi is no Mao, whose tyrannical nature and love of adulation were so great that he blithely led the country into the frenzy and violence of the Cultural Revolution. Although some older Chinese squirm at a style of politics so reminiscent of days long past, there is no suggestion that China is on the brink of another such horror.

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No liberal, Xi

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Source: Beware the cult of Xi | The Economist

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