Portrait

Mao Xi Deng

Mao Xi Deng
Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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The rise of the new Helmsman

IT SOMETIMES TAKES a Doordarshan news anchor to show China how, despite its astonishing military and economic rise, Indians have so little interest in it. How else does one explain the calling of its leader ‘Eleven’ Jinping three years ago when he was on a state visit? Is it because Occam’s Razor says that the simplest explanation is the correct one, and what else could Xi have been but Roman numerals to an Indian. The anchor got sacked but such an ignorance of a man who is the second most powerful in the world speaks of our enduring fixation with the USA while blind to the giant next door, except as a supplier of cheap mobile phones. But China and Xi are going to be looming over India for a long time.

This week at the 19th CPC National Congress, where the ruling Communist regime leadership meets, they wrote Xi’s name in the Constitution with this line endorsing his ideas, ‘Xi Jinping Thought for the New Era of Socialism With Chinese Special Characteristics’. Specifically naming a leader is the rarest of honors only bestowed to Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping in the past. The Wall Street Journal noted, ‘The label placed Mr. Xi’s ideology alongside “Mao Zedong Thought,” which was written into the party charter in 1945, and above “Deng Xiaoping Theory” which was added in 1997 after Deng’s death.’

Mao founded the Communist rule through revolution, politically once again unifying a nation that has had a habit of breaking up. Deng ushered in market reforms, turning China into a capitalist country but giving no leeway to liberal democracy. Between the two, they laid out the path to China’s rise as a superpower. With Xi’s anointment as a historic leader, this ambition finds its natural progression. The New York Times wrote, ‘Restoring China to greatness is a central message of Mr. Xi’s philosophy…In his report to the congress, Mr. Xi suggested that if Mao made China independent, and Deng made it prosperous, he would make it strong again — propelling the country into its “new era.”’ Normally Communist Party leaders serve two five-year terms. That Xi might last longer is also signaled by him not naming an heir as has been the tradition at the Congress.

One of the reasons why China continues on its formidable journey is because its leaders are blooded well before they get to take power. No matter how high in the party hierarchy, nothing is assured. Deng Xiaoping went out of favour during the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s when Mao reasserted control. He was made a factory worker. Xi endured similar humiliations. His father was Vice Premier once but also fell out of favour during the Cultural Revolution. Xi too suffered the fallout. A 1915 New Yorker profile of Xi said, ‘Élite families sent their children to regions that had allies or family, and Xi went to his father’s old stronghold in Shaanxi. He was assigned to Liangjiahe, a village flanked by yellow cliffs. “The intensity of the labor shocked me,” Xi recalled in a 2004 television interview.’

Nevertheless, he went on to join the party and deliberately opted for provincial positions as a safer route to the party’s top leadership. After he became China’s leader five years ago, Xi soon asserted total dominance by radical anti-corruption measures that weeded out many in the top echelon of the party and military. China’s economic growth had plateaued and it was hurtling towards a debt and housing bubble but during Xi’s tenure it has been stabilised and the country is back on an upward curve. In foreign affairs, China continues to increase its influence not just in Asia but across every continent.

In the present Congress, Xi laid out his intentions for China’s future. News agency Xinhua reported with effusiveness, ‘By the mid-21st century, China will become “a global leader in terms of composite national strength and international influence,” Xi told more than 2,300 applauding delegates. This means China has set a higher goal for about 30 years from now. It also means for the first time in human history, over 1 billion people will be lifted into modernity at one time.’ Given he is only 64 now, he might still be at the helm then.