Skepticism over Xi Jinping’s Call for “Sharp Criticism”

Recent comments by incoming president Xi Jinping, in which he said the Party should tolerate “sharp criticism,” have drawn a lot of interest on Weibo and elsewhere. While the comments appear to show a kinder and gentler response to dissent in China, many have reacted with skepticism. From AP:

Word of Xi’s public endorsement of “sharp criticism” quickly spread in China’s active social media, where a Xinhua posting of his comments was reposted more than 20,000 times within hours Thursday. Some responded with hope, but more expressed skepticism, if not downright cynicism.

[…] “Many people have been shushed online,” [independent scholar] Zhao [Chu] said. “And many people have been sent to prison for one article. Isn’t it hypocritical for the party to say it wants to hear sharp criticism after it has already tightened speech?”

Willy Lam, an expert on party politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said Xi’s remarks did not depart from the party’s usual stance on speech.

“What he says is ‘we are willing to listen to voices from different sectors on the condition that the party still holds power,'” Lam said. “I don’t see any indication or sign he might be adopting a more liberal or benevolent approach to handle dissidents.”

Human rights researcher Joshua Rosenzweig expressed an opinion similar to Lam’s on Twitter:



Meanwhile, a Sina Weibo account started by an alleged “fan” of Xi Jinping has been offering up anything but criticism of the Party’s new leader. With apparent close access to top leaders, the account posts seemingly candid photos of Xi as he travels the country. From the BBC:

Usually nobody ordinary gets this close to a Chinese leader, and not even state media publish such unguarded shots. But it has a clear purpose, Mr Xi is shown not in a fancy limousine but an ordinary bus, reinforcing the message he’s been giving that officials need to eschew luxury and extravagance. The other message is that this is a leader who works hard.

The caption the blogger has added to the photo is fawning. “He’s been out and about for the past few days, he’s very tired .. we young people are exhausted after running around for a day, not to mention someone like Xi who is almost in their sixties. Uncle Xi, please take care of your health. And when you appoint local government officials, choose capable ones so they can share your burden.”

The blogger keeps adding details about Xi’s movements. On 5 February at 11:05 he wrote: “Xi has arrived back at his hotel.” On the 4 February at 11:40 he wrote: “Xi is visiting old people in an old people’s home.”

It’s the sort of access to a national leader most journalists in China can only dream of. The movements of China’s Communist hierarchy are a closely guarded secret, and only carefully screened pictures are released after most events.

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