Words of the Week: Xi Jinping’s Penchant for “Pointing the Way Forward”

The use of the standard Party formulation of Xi Jinping “pointing the way forward” on various policy issues has become so commonplace that the phrase has become an object of satire, a way of mocking Xi’s cult of personality and penchant for claiming personal leadership over any number of policy spheres. It has also given rise to some of Xi’s many nicknames, including “the immortal compass” and “Compass-in-Chief.”

Recently, the influential X (née Twitter) account “Teacher Li is Not Your Teacher” shared a list of over 240 topics on which Xi Jinping has pointed the way forward. The non-exhaustive list, drawn from articles published by People’s Daily and Xinhua, was compiled by volunteers and covers the years from 2015 to 2024. Topics range from the wildly ambitious (“humanity’s future development”) to the specifically political (“full implementation of the spirit of the 20th National Party Congress”) to the regional (“promoting the economic integration of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei”) to the athletic (“promoting the accelerated development of winter sports in China.”) CDT has republished and translated the list, with some added context and background links.

The phrase “pointing the way forward” is also included as one of the 104 entries in our recently launched ebook, China Digital Times Lexicon: 20th Anniversary Edition. The full entry is reproduced below.

pointing the way forward 指明了方向 (zhǐmíng le fāngxiàng)

The formulation “Xi Jinping points the way forward for/toward …” (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

Since assuming power in 2012, Xi Jinping has steadily cultivated a form of personalistic rule unseen since the era of Mao Zedong. Hallmarks of his centralized rule include the promotion of “Xi Jinping Thought,” a long-running anti-corruption campaign that has weeded out some of his political rivals, the indefinite extension of his term of office, the cementing of his position as the “core” of the Chinese Communist Party, and frequent hagiographic coverage of his activities by government propagandists and state media (see entry for “positive energy”).

This fawning media coverage often uses the phrase “Xi Jinping points the way forward …,” encouraging the perception that Xi is taking personal charge in various government policy realms—a sort of micromanager-in-chief. Over the years, Xi has been variously described as “pointing the way forward” in the spheres of politics, economics, foreign relations, human rights, climate change, education, society, culture and the arts, and even sport. Overuse of the phrase has led some netizens to mock him as “the immortal compass.”

CDT has cataloged an extensive list of such catchphrases. 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)

In June 2023, state media touted Xi’s meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Beijing with a photo of Xi sitting at the head of an enormous conference table and the headline “Xi Jinping Points Out the Correct Path Forward for Sino-American Relations.” The characterization of the U.S. as a meek supplicant in the bilateral meeting inspired derision on Chinese social media and Chinese Twitter. Comments included: “Pointing the way forward, once again,” “The immortal compass,” and “Obviously, the reason [Xi] is sitting at the center of the table is to better steer Sino-American relations forward.” One wag elevated the phrase to the level of planetary motion: “Pointing the way for the Earth’s rotation.”

In December 2023, the periodical Selected Essays (杂文选刊 Záwén Xuǎnkān) suspended operations after 35 years, suddenly and without explanation. It was widely believed that the publication was shuttered because of its final cover, which showed a suit-wearing arm pointing the way forward. Miniature faceless masses sprinted along the arm only to plunge over the end of the index finger into darkness.


(Zawen Xuankan)


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