By Ameya P
When the average person thinks of Xi Jinping, there is a noticeable similarity amongst the ideas and themes that are associated with China’s paramount leader. Perhaps words like ‘authoritarian’ or ‘censorship’ immediately spring to mind. There might be truth in these characterisations of Xi, and one could reasonably argue that his past actions, policies, and attitudes imply that the commonly accepted conception of him is justified. However, more comprehensive knowledge of his history and role in China is necessary in order to understand the most powerful person in the behemoth that is China. This article will briefly outline Xi’s rise to and consolidation of power, his ideological consequences, and why it is relevant.
Xi Jinping was born in 1953 in Beijing, experiencing a tumultuous childhood as a result of the events of the Cultural Revolution as well as his own father’s senior positions within the People’s Republic of China (PRC). From 1982 onwards, Xi’s political career officially began, and he held various positions across China which increased in importance. He was elected Vice President of the PRC in 2008, and eventually General Secretary of the PRC (and thus Leader of the Communist Party of China) on the 15th of November, 2012. He has held this role since. In addition to being General Secretary, Xi holds a variety of preeminent roles within the government, ranging from leading the committee which is in charge of internet policy to wielding immense power over the national security affairs of China. Put simply, Xi has his fingers in every possible pie in Chinese politics.
Xi is the 11th General Secretary of the PRC since its conception, and the degree to which he’s consolidated power has not been seen since the rule of Mao Zedong. Since the founding of the PRC, there has been a progression towards collective leadership amongst the party; numerous roles have not been held simultaneously by one individual, power has been less concentrated, term limits have been implemented, and more. Since the appointment of Xi Jinping, however, his leadership has run contrary to this progression. He’s centralised his power, created and led committees to subvert government bureaucracy, purged the party of rivals, removed presidential term limits, and more. These actions place Xi, quite unmistakably, at the centre of the government and party, and therefore at the centre of China’s progression and development.
A brief introduction to Xi’s political philosophy will be useful in furthering one’s own understanding of his ideology and goals for China. Xi’s own policies and ideals, much of which are derived from his writings and speeches, were most comprehensively outlined in the 19th National Congress of the CCP in 2017. Xi introduced his own thought, concisely titled ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era’ as a new guiding ideology for the party. It was written into the Chinese constitution and was the first eponymous ideology to be incorporated since Mao’s own. Xi Jinping Thought is made up of a 14-point basic policy. Some of the more key points of this policy include practising socialist core values, including Marxism-Leninism and socialism with Chinese characteristics (China employs a socialist market economy, with the predominance of public ownership and state-owned enterprises); promoting the complete national reunification of Hong Kong, Macau and China by promoting the ‘one country, two systems’ ideal; and strengthening China’s national security. Overall, the thought is considered to be a continuation, along with several other previously-implemented ideologies, of the Chinese goal of the promotion and implementation of Marxism adapted to Chinese conditions. One example of an adaptation would be the Chinese peasantry constituting the majority of the proletariat, as opposed to more industrially-based workers.
The origins of Xi Jinping Thought can be divided into three main categories. Firstly, Marxist philosophy serves as its backbone; namely Marxist positions on history and nature. Secondly, Xi follows traditional Chinese ideas regarding man-nature unity and the laws of nature – hence his prioritisation of ecological progress – which are rooted in Confucianism. Thirdly, the thought is preceded by China’s historic prioritisation of development, and Xi refers to China as a ‘torchbearer’ in this regard.
China transitioned from an exploited and internally tortuous nation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which clung on to moribund dynastic traditions and suffered as a result, to a global superpower that currently dominates the international economic and political landscape. This fact is remarkable and unquestionable. China’s power permeates all of our lives, and its effects on us, regardless of whether they’re visible or not, will continue to grow. It is crucial, therefore, that we understand the nation, and one way in which that can be achieved is through an understanding of its paramount leader, Xi Jinping, who sets the direction of travel for China in the foreseeable future.