Leader of the Week: Reigning Emperor

The  comes from the Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon, a glossary of terms created by Chinese  and encountered in online political discussions. These are the words of China’s online “resistance discourse,” used to mock and subvert the official language around censorship and political correctness.

dāngjīn huángshang 当今皇上

Allusion to the top leader of China in general, and at present to . Implies that the head of state was anointed, not elected, to a position far more powerful than a modern head of state.

The reigning emperor. (Source: Apple Daily)

China’s imperial is a common reference point for netizens, who have coined terms such as Celestial empire, Great Qing, and imperial capital, for example. By implying continuity with the imperial past, these netizen-generated terms subvert Communist claims to have founded a liberated “New China,” carrying connotations of dynastic succession and court intrigue rather than genuine representation of “the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people.”

Example of “reigning emperor”:

Yushenghai (@余胜海): Crazy “Steamed Buns”: Ever since Daddy Xi ate at Qingfeng Steamed Buns on Yuetan North Road, this classic capital restaurant has become a national sensation. Demand has outstripped supply for pork buns and stir-fried liver. Yesterday’s everyday buns have become today’s tribute to the reigning emperor. (January 24, 2014)

【疯狂的“包子”】自从习大大到月坛北街庆丰包子铺就餐后,这家京城老字号在全国一夜成名,庆丰猪肉包子和炒肝供不应求,身价百倍,昔日大众化的包子变成当今皇上贡品。 [Chinese]

Throughout most of Xi Jinping’s first term as Chinese president and CCP general secretary (2012-2017), commentators consistently wrote about the massive amount of personal power that the top leader appeared to have gained, commonly comparing Xi to former strongman leader Mao Zedong, and highlighting the imperial cache of control that he appeared to have gained over the state and Party. As the 19th Party Congress—the event that marks the transition from Xi’ first term as CCP general secretary to his second—was beginning on October 18, 2017, The New Yorker’s Jiayang Fan compared Xi’s wealth of power to the “absolutism of emperors” during the dynastic era, and described his “Chinese dream” of national rejuvenation as a yearning to return to a China’s imperial days:

Earlier last year, the Communist Party anointed Xi as a “core” leader, granting him a level of authority that had not been bestowed on his immediate predecessor, Hu, and advancing him to the revered ranks of Mao and Deng Xiaoping. Already the head of the Party, the military, and the state, Xi has also made himself the head of several commissions, which allows him to weigh in on everything from economic reform to state security to cyber issues. To be the core leader and the chief executive licenses him to play an almost imperial role in shaping the fate of the nation. As Xi has made clear from the outset, he is intent on both defining a new world order and restoring to Chinese culture its former esteem.

Yet Xi’s mission should be regarded in the context of a collective and profound post-traumatic stress disorder, the result of almost two centuries of cataclysmic events in China, beginning with the devastation of the Opium Wars, which exposed the country for the first time in its history to a superior force—Great Britain—and shook the very meaning of Chinese identity and its inherent sense of exceptionalism. Xi, and many others in China, long for an era when the country occupied the pinnacle of civilization. But those days were accompanied by the absolutism of emperors whose levels of competence were a matter of caprice. The feudal system protected the cycle of dynastic succession, which propped up the despotism of those both fit and unfit for office. For every Tang Taizong, who ushered in the golden years of the Tang Dynasty, there were many others like Empress Dowager Cixi, who usurped the throne, crippled the path of progress, and contributed to the downfall of the Qing Dynasty. [Source]

At the beginning of the 19th Party Congress, it became clear that Xi’s name would likely be immortalized by being amended into the CCP constitution alongside Mao’s and fellow formidable former top leader Deng Xiaoping’s. This development lent credence to ongoing comparisons of Xi with his exceptionally power-laden predecessors.

CDT first detected that “reigning emperor” was blocked from Weibo search results on August 21, 2014. It remains blocked as of October 20, 2017.