Views from the Common People: Appreciating Xi Jinping

One of the problems of spending time in universities and research institutions is that you lose touch with everyday realities. Think of the nerd at school, who was always top of the class and a complete social misfit – all of them ended up in such places. I am no exception, but I also find the context alienating and weird. So to get a sense of what life is like for the vast majority, I travel on buses, metros, trains, I walk the streets in cities and the countryside, talking at length with workers, cleaners, local administrators – wherever I can find them.

Obviously, I am speaking of China, where I do this frequently.

Let me begin with a simple observation from a cleaner. We talked about many things, but when we came to Xi Jinping, he simply said: ‘Chairman Xi is good guy [bucuo], because he has recovered Chairman Mao’. Wow, I thought, right to the point. He added, ‘Chairman Xi has the common people [laobaixing] at heart’.

More comprehensive was a low-level provincial administrator in the south, working in the countryside. It is not a high-paid job by any means. I told her that every morning I study Mao Zedong’s key works, in Chinese (as part of my language study). She told me that I should also study Xi Jinping.

Why? ‘He is a really good chairman’, she said. ‘He has done a lot for common people like us. My parents like him very much, and all the common people love him’. The term she used was laobaixing, a colloquial term for everyday workers, who have a simple life, work hard because they see it as a great duty for the country, and appreciate someone who takes them to heart.

Our conversation went on, after I indicated that I actually have all of Comrade Xi’s writings (thus far).

The first crucial virtue is obviously a focus on the common people (laobaixing), but the second is his integrity – zhengzhi, which includes the senses of honesty, uprightness, decency and fair-mindedness. Old communist virtues, but also ones that run deep in Chinese culture.

How does this integrity show up in everyday consciousness? More obvious is the most thoroughgoing anti-corruption campaign in living memory, on which I have written elsewhere. For this person, it is the focus on honesty and integrity that comes through most strongly in the campaign. The feeling is that China is back on the right track.

The other example of Comrade Xi’s integrity was somewhat of a surprise: he is not a ‘philanderer (huaxin)’ like Donald Trump. For this woman, the fact that Trump is dealing with multiple accusations of chasing porn stars is a sign of his lack of integrity. By contrast, Chairman Xi’s personal life is also an example of integrity. Honesty, kindness and faithfulness are key virtues in this domain as well.

Examples of such conversations could be repeated time and again. It is one thing to quote international opinion surveys and ‘trust barometers‘, which indicate that up to 87 percent of Chinese people approve of and are confident of the direction in which China is heading. It is another thing entirely to talk with people and get their sense of deep appreciation of what Xi Jinping is doing.

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Hold high the mighty banner of Xi Jinping Thought

These sorts of banners are everywhere in China now, especially after the 19th congress of the CPC last year and then the two sessions this year:

Translated:

‘Hold high the mighty banner of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era; comprehensively implement the vigorous spirit of the party’s 19th congress’.

This one is at Zhongshan University in Guangzhou, but I find all manner of banners and posters everywhere I go.

You really have to be here to get a sense of how much has shifted even in the last year. Marxism is forefront and centre in more and more places: in government policy; the renewed study of Mao Zedong; bookshops full of communist material, from Mao to Xi, let alone Marx and Engels; the best students flocking to schools of programs of Marxism; news and media engaging in in-depth examinations of its many dimensions; clarification of the practices of socialist rule of law, socialist market economy, socialist democracy and governance, and how this works out in international relations; people calling each other ‘comrade’ (example set by ‘Comrade Xi Jinping’). The list could go on for much longer.

It certainly sets me thinking and trying to understand further what is an extraordinary development. Not only does the relatively ‘liberal’ decade of the 1990s and even early 200os seem like a distant – and increasingly bad – memory, but I never thought I would live to see days like these, just as the USA and the ‘world disorder’ it had established is unravelling so fast.

Mao: ‘Going to see God’

I am in the process of collecting into one volume all of Edgar Snow‘s interviews (in Chinese translation) with Mao Zedong. As I did so I came across this intriguing passage:

‘Speaking of your health, as we were not, judging from this evening you seem to be in good condition.’

Mao Tse-tung smiled wryly and replied that there was perhaps some doubt about that. He said again that he was getting ready to see God very soon. Did I believe it?

‘I wonder if you mean you are going to find out whether there is a God. Do you believe that?

No, he did not, but some people who claimed to be well informed said that there was a God. There seemed to be many gods and sometimes the same god could take all sides. In the wars of Europe the Christian God had been on the side of the British, the French, the Germans, and so on, even when they were fighting each other. At the time of the Suez Canal crisis God was united behind the British and the French but then there was Allah to back up the other side.

At dinner Mao had mentioned that both his brothers had been killed. His first wife had also been executed during the revolution (1930) and their son had been killed during the Korean war. Now, he said that it was odd that death had so far passed him by. He had been prepared for it many times but death just did not seem to want him. What could he do? On several occasions it had seemed that he would die. His personal bodyguard was killed while standing right beside him. Once he was splashed all over with the blood of another soldier but the bomb had not touched him.

‘Was that in Yenan?’

In Yenan, too. His bodyguard had been killed during the Long March. There had been other narrow escapes. According to laws of dialectics all struggles must finally be resolved, including man’s struggle for life on this earth.

‘Accidents of fate which spared you have made possible perhaps the most remarkable career in Chinese history. In all China’s long annals I cannot recall any man who rose from rural obscurity not only to lead a successful social revolution but to write its history, to conceive the strategy of its military victory, to formulate an ideological doctrine which changed the traditional thought of China, and then to live out the practice of his philosophy in a new kind of civilization with broad implications for the whole world.’

After a moment of reflection Mao said that I knew he had begun life as a primary school teacher. He had then had no thought of fighting wars. Neither had he thought of becoming a Communist. He was more or less a democratic personage such as myself. Later on  —  he sometimes wondered by what chance combination of reasons he had become interested in founding the Chinese Communist Party. Anyway, events did not move in accordance with the individual will. What mattered was that China had been oppressed by imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucratic capitalism. Such were the facts. . . .

Mao’s voice dropped away and he half closed his eyes. Man’s condition on this earth was changing with ever increasing rapidity. A thousand years from now all of us, he said, even Marx, Engels, and Lenin would probably appear rather ridiculous.

Before I rose to leave the Chairman sent his greetings to the American people and said simply that he wished them progress. If he wished them liberation weren’t some people bound to disagree? Wouldn’t they say that they already had the right to vote? But to those among them who were not really liberated, and desired liberation, to them he wished his best.

Mao Tse-tung walked me through the doorway and, despite my protests, saw me to my car, where he stood alone for a moment, coatless in the sub-zero Peking night, to wave me farewell in the traditional manner of that ancient cultured city. I saw no security guards around the entrance nor can I now recall having seen even one armed body guard in our vicinity all evening …

Mao shook hands and gave me a precautionary word, to take care, quoting a Chinese maxim: ‘Unpredictable high winds and misfortunes are in the skies!’

As the car drove away I looked back and watched Mao brace his shoulders and slowly retrace his steps and re-enter the great Hall of the people.

The myth of Chinese repression of Mao’s writings

The CPC has ‘repressed’ Mao’s writings – or so the myth would have us believe. I am never quite sure whether this sort of observation is an article of unquestioned faith, myth, or simply a ‘fact’ that is believed by many due to thousands of repetitions. To wit, since some of Mao’s texts are too explosive, they have – so some believe – been hidden by a CPC keen to keep a lid on how Mao is studied and interpreted. Indeed, if you want a full collection of Mao’s writings you have to go to the series published in Japan, called Maozedong ji.

There is one small problem: you can easily get all of Mao’s material and more in China. For example, this website has pretty much everything. In this collection, have just discovered a wonderful 700 page manuscript, concerning Mao’s study notes and talks about Stalin’s study of economic problems under socialism, as well as material concerning political economy in the Soviet Union and China.

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Images from Chinese socialism today

Welcome to China, where hammers and sickles are everywhere:


 

Before and during the 19th congress of the CPC (shijiuda), banners, signs and slogans were all over the country;

Apart from following events very closely, I took myself to the local Xinhua Bookshop, to find a huge number of Xi Jinping’s books for sale – carrying on the tradition of communist leaders who actually think and write:

Almost 20 books to read over the southern summer, along with Mao’s works:

In many places, I also came across signs reminding one of the achievements of Chinese socialism:

And these days Xi Jinping is known as ‘comrade [tongzhi]’, a term that has come back into wide use:

Small though it may be, I also try to make my own contribution: