Personality cults are nothing new to the way Communism works. As ironic as it is, Communism too, like any other leading religion, has created a number of leaders and political figures that tower over lesser mortals. In the context of China, Mao Zedong is the biggest example of a leader who actively encouraged the creation of an image around him. One in which he was projected as the great Chinese leader who would stand up against the Western forces and take the country to newer heights. His quotes were once a daily feature of the People’s Daily, China’s largest newspaper.
Communism and its love for Personality cults
Personality cults have played a big role in strengthening the rule of other Communist rulers too. In North Korea for instance, the mythology related to the current ruler’s father Kim Jong-il, sometimes borders on the bizarre. North Korean propaganda states that he was born on a mountain where his birth caused winter to change to spring, a star illuminated the sky, and a double rainbow appeared spontaneously. Even in Stalin’s Russia it was not unheard of for the press to try and shift people’s devotion away from the church and towards Stalin as the all-powerful, all-knowing leader.
When Xi replaced Jesus
Chairman Mao left a legacy of death and destruction brought by the Cultural Revolution which started in 1966 and ended with his death in 1976. Mao Zedong’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, however took a different path altogether in China. He propagated the concept of ‘collective leadership’ which was based on ruling with consensus to prevent authoritarianism. The trend of Chinese leaders staying away from the ‘personality cult’ approach was broken by Xi Jinping who has held significant power in China since 2012. From becoming the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China in 2012 to assuming office as the President of China in 2013 to removing the term limits for the President in 2018, Xi’s power has been on the rise.
In 2017, people in Yugan county of China’s Jiangxi province were asked to replace the images of Jesus Christ with that of Xi Jinping.
Much like the example of Kim Jong-il, the personality Cult of Xi Jinping too has its surreal moments. In 2017, people in Yugan county of China’s Jiangxi province were asked to replace the images of Jesus Christ with that of Xi Jinping. This was part of the local government’s initiative to convert believers in god into believers in the party. The region is well known for its poverty levels and is also home to one of the largest Christian communities in China. The Christians in the region were asked to do so to get access to the poverty-relief efforts of the government.
Much like Mao
For a country the size of China, in terms of economic value and population, not learning from past historical mistakes could be disastrous. Many analysts have noted that journals that specialise in critical historical study have been censored in China. The same was evident from the way the CCP censored and silenced doctors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Its delay in informing the world about the new virus was made even worse by silencing and discrediting the work of doctors like Li Wenliang who were among the first to point out the deadly nature of the virus. Instead of being apologetic about the whole episode, Chinese propaganda outlets have instead blamed the rest of the world for not handling the pandemic well enough.
In recent times, Xi Jinping has called for following the Mao Zedong Thought in its spirit and has eventually whitewashed its legacy. Xi Jinping has also introduced the ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ which was inducted into the Communist Party’s constitution in 2017 and into the state constitution in 2018. His political ideology is now part of most leading educational institutions in China.
Xuexi Qiangguo is a very popular App in China that was designed to teach Xi Jinping thought. The app was created in 2019 by Alibaba Group and is already one of the most downloaded apps in China. It is worth noting that Alibaba Group has significant investments in leading Indian companies like Paytm. There are credible reports suggesting that many leading companies in China run a ‘super algorithm’ that places content about Xi Jinping above all news items in apps and news websites.
Does it matter to us?
China is our next door neighbour. In some ways, it’s the next door neighbour we never wanted. Xi Jinping’s rise as the centre of power in China poses many challenges for all the countries with which it shares borders. China has made its intentions clear in picking up border-related quarrels with more than 20 different countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. India seems to be the centrepiece of these conflicts. An authoritarian government in China is a threat for the entire region due to its impulsiveness mixed with raw aggression. With the kind of dictatorial power structure that is being built and reinforced by Xi Jinping, Asian countries with lesser economic and military means will always be at the mercy of a leader who believes in becoming the next Mao and maybe even the next Jesus.