During his first few years as president of China, Xi Jinping ate steamed dumplings at a dive restaurant where he had to pay for them himself, pulled up the legs of his pants to avoid getting wet in the rain, and was serenaded with sweet versions of popular songs. His image-makers presented him to the public as “Xi Dada,” the people’s authoritative yet affable “Uncle Xi.”
How drastically things have changed now. A decade later, Mr. Xi towers over the nation like a stern Communist monarch, thinking back on China’s lost ancient dynasties and being resolved to secure China’s permanent dominance in a chaotic globe.
Officials in China chant his speeches’ praises as if they were sacred scriptures, proclaiming their allegiance with a zeal that sometimes harkens back to the days of Mao Zedong. Mocking Mr. Xi behind his back may get you sent to jail. His appearances in public are carefully orchestrated productions of adulation.
The next Communist Party conference, which will begin on Sunday, is shaping up to be Mr. Xi’s imperial moment, which will reinforce and prolong his power while also exacerbating the long-term dangers that result from his solitary domination. At the summit in Beijing, he seems certain of gaining a third term as the party’s general secretary, breaking with prior expectations that Chinese leaders would rule for around ten years at a time.
The evolution of Mr. Xi’s public face has paralleled his transformation of China into a proudly authoritarian state, which is dismissive of criticism from Washington, increasingly confident that Western democracy has lost its allure, and impatient for a larger say in shaping the global order of the 21st century.
Mr. Xi will use the party congress as the stage to demonstrate that he is unafraid, despite the recent economic malaise, outbreaks of Covid, and increasing animosity with the United States, which has labelled China a national security threat. This animosity stems from the United States labelling China as a national security threat. He is likely to tell the 2,296 congress delegates that his government has saved many lives through its strict “zero Covid” policy; shifted the economy onto a path of cleaner, fairer, and more efficient growth; raised China’s international standing; and made significant strides in military modernization. All of these accomplishments are likely to be on his list of things to report to the congress delegates.
Mr. Xi, who is 69 years old, portrays himself as the experienced and knowledgeable keeper of China’s future. He makes reference to the demise of China’s past empires in order to demonstrate his determination to protect the country from falling victim to political degeneration, internal unrest, or external attack ever again. He uses a proverb that advises monarchs on how to ensure their subjects obey them: “as the arm commanded the finger.”
He often quotes the majestic and venerable sounding Chinese adage guo zhi da zhe, which roughly translates to “the nation’s noble cause.” He has adopted this motto as his personal mantra. Although it seems as if it may have been handed down from a wise person, Mr. Xi or one of his advisors really coined it in the year 2020.
Mr. Xi is attempting to construct a structure of authority and policies that will last far beyond the next five years. He is already looking quite far into the future. He is developing the tenets of his own faith while simultaneously cultivating younger protégés, technocrats, and military leaders who have the potential to enhance his power for decades. The establishment of his central position was seen to be of “decisive importance” for China’s ascent to power by a group of top officials who were getting ready for the congress.
According to Feng Chongyi, an associate professor at the University of Technology Sydney who studies recent Chinese political history, “Xi Jinping wants to show that he isn’t just a party leader but also almost a spiritual seer for China — a bold, visionary statesman.” Xi Jinping wants to show that he isn’t just a party leader but also almost a spiritual seer for China.
Mr. Xi might become more prone to swaggering oversteps if he is surrounded by officials who show deference to him. Unanswered doubts over how long he will remain in power and when he will select a successor have the potential to unnerve government officials, investors, and governments in other countries. Because he is concerned about having his power challenged, most authorities agree that he will not designate a successor at this congress.
Mr. Xi may have less largess for large technological programmes and marquee projects like Xiong’an, which is an unfinished city of neat boulevards and office blocks outside of Beijing. The city’s design exemplifies Mr. Xi’s ideas of an orderly, advanced society. If China’s growth continues to sputter, Mr. Xi may have less largess. It will also add to the stresses that are already being placed on his economic programme, which has placed a priority on the interests of the state, much to the dissatisfaction of private investors.