When Xi Jinping came to power in 2012some predicted that he would be the most liberal leader of the Chinese Communist Party for his discreet profile and his family history. More than ten years later, the reality is quite different.
Re-elected in October as head of the communist party (CCP), Xi on Thursday won a third five-year term as president, establishing himself as the most powerful leader since mao tse tung.
In this years, Xi demonstrated unrelenting ambitionan intolerance to dissidence and a desire for control which has reached almost every aspect of daily life in China.
Initially known as the husband of a popular singer, he has emerged as a leader whose apparent charisma and slick political narrative have created a personality cult not seen since Mao’s time.
But little is known about him or what motivates him.
“I dispute the conventional view that Xi Jinping seeks power for power’s sake,” he told the news agency. AFP Alfred L Chan, author of a book about his life. “I would say that he craves power as an instrument to fulfill his vision.”.
“He really has a vision for China. He wants China to become the most powerful country in the world.said another biographer, Adrian Geiges.
In this vision that he calls the “Chinese dream” or “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” the Communist Party plays a central role.
“Xi is a man of faith (…) For him, God is the Communist Party”, Kerry Brown wrote in her book “Xi: A Study in Power”. “The biggest mistake the rest of the world makes about Xi is not taking his faith seriously”.
Although his family was among the party’s elite, Xi did not seem destined for this position. His father Xi Zhongxun, a revolutionary hero who became vice prime minister, was purged during the Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
“Xi and his family were traumatizedChan says.
From one day to the next, the now president lost his status. One of his half sisters committed suicide because of the persecutions.
Xi was ostracized by his classmates, an experience that political scientist David Shambaugh said contributed to “a emotional and psychological detachment and autonomy from an early age”.
At the age of 15, he was sent to central China, where spent years carrying grain and sleeping in caves. “The intensity of the work shocked me,” she acknowledged.
He also participated in sessions in which he had to denounce his own father, as he explained in 1992 to the newspaper The Washington Post. “Even if you don’t understand, they force you to understand (…) This makes you mature sooner,” she said.
For biographer Chan, these experiences gave him “hardness.”
“He usually goes for everything (…) But he also has a notion of the arbitrariness of powerthat is why it emphasizes governance based on law”.
Currently, the cave where Xi slept has been turned into a tourist attraction to show their concern for the poorest.
On a visit from the AFP in 2016, a local described him as an almost legendary figure, reading books between breaks from intense work, so “you could see that he was not a normal man”.
But the path was not rosy for Xi. Before joining the Communist Party, his request was rejected several times by his family legacy.
And then he started at a “very low level” as a village party chief in 1974, Geiges notes. Of course, “he worked very systematically” and became regional governor of Fujian in 1999provincial party leader in Zhejiang in 2002 and then in Shanghai in 2007.
Meanwhile, his father was rehabilitated in the 1970s after Mao’s death, which strengthened his position.
On a personal level, Xi divorced his first wife to marry popular soprano Peng Liyuan in 1987.then better known than him.
For cai xiaa former ruling party leader now in exile in the United States, Xi “suffers from an inferiority complex, knowing that he is poorly educated compared to other senior party leaders.”
Thus is “sensitive, obstinate and dictatorial”, he wrote in a recent article in Foreign Affairs.
Lessons from the USSR
But Xi has always considered himself “heir to the revolutionChan says.
In 2007 he was appointed to the standing committee of the Political Bureau, the highest decision-making body in China. And five years later he rose to the top, replacing Hu Jintao.
His career did not presage what came next: crackdown on civil movements, independent media and academic freedoms, alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang regionor a much more aggressive foreign policy than that of his predecessor.
Without access to Xi or his circle, scholars search his early writings for clues about his motivations.
The central importance of the party and its mission “to make China great again is evident from Xi’s earliest records,” says Brown.
This presidential narrative of a booming China has had a great effect on the population, using this nationalism to their advantage to legitimize the party among the population.
But the fear of losing power is also evident.
“The fall of the Soviet Union and of socialism in Eastern Europe was a great shock” for Xiestimates Geiges.
And his conclusion is that this collapse was due to the political opening. “He decided that something like this should not happen in China (…) That’s why he wants a strong leadership of the Communist Party, with a strong leader,” he adds.
(With information from AFP)
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