From Mao to “Daddy Xi”
Since assuming power in 2012, President Xi Jinping has been promoted in the state media as a “man of the people,” who enjoys steamed buns alongside the crowds in a Beijing shop and is commonly known as “Daddy Xi,” or “Papa Xi.” For the New York Times, Andrew Jacobs and Chris Buckley look at Xi’s image-building campaign and its potential dangers:
Not since Mao dominated the nation with his masterly blend of populism, fervor and fear has a Chinese leader commanded so much public awe. Deng Xiaoping was a formidable power, but he disavowed the mania of the Mao era. Since then, fawning public displays over political leaders have been taboo. Mr. Xi’s immediate predecessor, Hu Jintao, made a virtue of dull self-effacement.
Not Papa Xi.
Some of his appeal stems from his war on corruption and from feel-good sloganeering like the “Chinese Dream,” his pitch for a rejuvenated, powerful nation. But the adoration has also been primed by relentless propaganda portraying Mr. Xi as an indomitable alloy of Superman and Everyman who holds up his own umbrella, kicks soccer balls and knows how to fire a rifle.
[…] “You can see the whole Chinese propaganda machine has geared up to promote his personality,” said Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who monitors developments in Chinese media and censorship for the website China Digital Times. “It’s become over the top.” [Source]
While his anti-corruption campaign has enjoyed popular support, some believe that the effort to build up Xi’s image is geared at consolidating his power in order to push through his political agenda. Christopher Bodeen at AP reports:
“We certainly see an attempt to cultivate a personality cult, and this is only natural because he wants to concentrate power in his hands, to have the momentum and the political force in order to promote his program,” said Joseph Cheng, chair of the political science department at the City University of Hong Kong.
An imposing personal presence may be a prerequisite for shoving through Xi’s ambitious agenda. With planning and patience, Xi has prosecuted a sweeping anti-corruption crackdown that has ensnared top generals and party officials. He’s injected China into world events where former leaders feared to tread, struck a bold climate agreement with the U.S. and launched a sweeping vision for a “New Silk Road” linking China to markets in western Asia.
That authority seems to have given him and his close supporters the confidence to spread his personal maxims, pronouncements and policies as far as they can go.
“I think it is all kind of somewhat more reflective of the leadership style under Mao Zedong or (successor) Deng Xiaoping, as compared to anything we’ve seen more recently,” former U.S. ambassador to Beijing Jon Huntsman said at a recent Council on Foreign Relations forum in Washington. [Source]