Xi Jinping as “Compass-in-Chief”

There has been much discussion and dissection of the optics of the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s recent visit to Beijing, during which he met with Foreign Minister Qin Gang, Director of the CCP Central Foreign Affairs Office Wang Yi, and more briefly, with Xi Jinping himself. Analysts and casual observers alike noted that Blinken’s reception seemed pointedly chilly and devoid of fanfare, perhaps signaling the Chinese leadership’s displeasure with Blinken in general.
On the Chinese internet and social media, there was scrutiny—and some mockery—of seating arrangements and other details of diplomatic etiquette that seemed intended to cast Blinken (and the U.S.) in a subservient light. A number of online commenters noted the “bizarre positioning” (奇特阵势, qite zhenshi) of the Xi-Blinken meeting, in which Xi Jinping occupied the head seat at a long conference table, while Blinken was seated much further down, on the right-hand side.

An image from China’s Xinhua News Agency shows Xi Jinping at the head of a vast conference table, with the American delegation to his right, and Chinese diplomats to his left.

Chinese domestic coverage of the meeting was focused around the headline, “Xi Jinping Points Out the Correct Path Forward for Sino-American Relations” (习近平指明中美正确相处之道, Xi Jinping Zhiming Zhong-Mei Zhengque Xiangchu zhi Dao). The formulation “Xi Jinping points the way forward for __” (sometimes rendered into English as “Forging ahead toward ___” in official Chinese government translations) has been used so often during Xi Jinping’s long tenure that it has become an object of satire, a meme unto itself. CDT has cataloged an extensive list of such catchphrases, arranged by year. Among the classics:

  • “Pointing the Way Forward for Chinese Soccer” (2017)
  • “Pointing the Way Forward for Chinese and Global Development” (2019)
  • “Pointing the Way Forward for Our Shared Home on Planet Earth” (2020)
  • “Pointing the Way Forward on the New Journey toward a Community with a Shared Future for All Mankind” (2021)
  • “Pointing the Way Forward for ‘Human Rights Governance’” (2021)
  • “Pointing the Way Forward for a New Chapter of China-Russia Friendship, Cooperation and Common Development” (2023)

These frequent “pointing the way” pronouncements are part of Xi’s cult of personal authority, and have led some to mock him as “the immortal compass.”

A table of examples (compiled by online volunteers and covering the years from 2015 to 2021) shows Xi Jinping “pointing the way forward” in dozens of domestic and international policy areas.

CDT Chinese editors have collected some comments from Chinese Twitter in reaction to Blinken’s visit, his chilly welcome, and Chinese state-media’s depiction of Xi Jinping as a sort of compass-in-chief, setting the future course of Sino-American relations:

MrsM0ckingbird:Pointing the way forward, once again!

zhizaixuni:I used to think those lists about “pointing the way toward…” were something people came up with to satirize the government, but I was surprised to find that the government actually uses that phrase itself!

pEgFbs45ia5jDbD:”The Immortal Compass.”

Memento2016:Better snap to it, Biden! There’s a good boy.

YanYang95935441:When he pointed out the direction that Sino-American relations should take, “China Concepts Stock” started to plummet again …

fangshimin:Obviously, the reason he [Xi] is sitting at the center of the table is to better steer Sino-American relations forward.

william96011220:Pointing the way for the Earth’s rotation.

Jam79922967:Today’s best comment: “At present, both parties are exploring ways not to piss in the same pot, but in the meantime, have agreed not to piss on each other!” Haha, that’s brilliant!

ltshijie:At a campaign fundraiser in California today, Biden called Xi Jinping a dictator. Xi Jinping just finished pointing out the direction Sino-American relations should take. It appears that Biden didn’t get the memo.

xiaojingcanxue:For your meme collection: “When reversing, vehicles must have someone to point the way.” [Chinese]

A blue and white sign on a tile wall reads, “When reversing, vehicles must have someone to point the way.”


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