President Xi is “in some ways” according to this article at the NY Review of Books—excerpts:
Xi Zhongxun zhuan [Biography of Xi Zhongxun]
by the Editorial Committee for the Biography of Xi Zhongxun
Beijing: Zhongyang wenxian chubanshe, two volumes, 1,283 pp. (2013)
Xi Jinping: Red China, the Next Generation
by Agnès Andrésy
University Press of America, 157 pp., $60.00
Zoubutong de “hongse diguo zhilu” [The “Road of Red Empire” That Cannot Be Traversed]
an article by Li Weidong
Available at www.letscorp.net/archives/56290
by David Shambaugh
Polity, 203 pp., $59.95; $19.95 (paper)
More than halfway through his five-year term as president of China and general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party—expected to be the first of at least two—Xi Jinping’s widening crackdown on civil society and promotion of a cult of personality have disappointed many observers, both Chinese and foreign, who saw him as destined by family heritage and life experience to be a liberal reformer. Many thought Xi must have come to understand the dangers of Party dictatorship from the experiences of his family under Mao’s rule…
…once Xi acceded to top office he was widely expected to pursue political liberalization and market reform. Instead he has reinstated many of the most dangerous features of Mao’s rule: personal dictatorship, enforced ideological conformity, and arbitrary persecution [see “Top Dragon’s Neo-Maoism and Possible Consequences“].The key to this paradox is Xi’s seemingly incongruous veneration of Mao…
Xi’s respect for Mao is not a personal eccentricity. It is shared by many of the hereditary Communist aristocrats who, as Agnès Andrésy points out in her book on Xi, form most of China’s top leadership today as well as a large section of its business elite. Deng Xiaoping in 1981 declared that Mao’s contributions outweighed his errors by (in a Chinese cliché) “a ratio of 7 to 3.” But in practice Deng abandoned just about everything Mao stood for. Contrary to the Western consensus that Deng saved the system after Mao nearly wrecked it, Xi and many other red aristocrats feel that it was Deng who came close to destroying Mao’s legacy [emphasis added].
Their reverence for Mao is different from the simple nostalgia of former Red Guards and sent-down youth who hazily remember a period of adolescent idealism. Rather, as the pro-democracy thinker Li Weidong writes in a much-discussed online essay, “The ‘Road of Red Empire’ That Cannot Be Traversed,” the children of the founding elite see themselves as the inheritors of an “all-under-heaven,” a vast world that their fathers conquered under Mao’s leadership. Their parents came from poor rural villages and rose to rule an empire. The second generation is privileged to live in a country that has “stood up” and is globally respected and feared. They do not propose to be the generation that “loses the empire [emphasis added].”..
Xi holds office at a time when the regime has to confront a series of daunting challenges that have all reached critical stages at once. It must manage a slowing economy; mollify millions of laid-off workers; shift demand from export markets to domestic consumption; whip underperforming giant state-owned enterprises into shape; dispel a huge overhang of bad bank loans and nonperforming investments; ameliorate climate change and environmental devastation that are irritating the new middle class; and downsize and upgrade the military. Internationally, Chinese policymakers see themselves as forced to respond assertively to growing pressure from the United States, Japan, and various Southeast Asian regimes that are trying to resist China’s legitimate defense of its interests in such places as Taiwan, the Senkaku islands, and the South China Sea [lots more on that tension-fraught area here].
Any leader who confronts so many big problems needs a lot of power, and Mao provides a model of how such power can be wielded. Xi Jinping leads the Party, state, and military hierarchies by virtue of his chairmanship of each. But his two immediate predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, exercised these roles within a system of collective leadership, in which each member of the Politburo Standing Committee took charge of a particular policy or institution and guided it without much interference from other senior officials.
This model does not produce leadership sufficiently decisive to satisfy Xi and his supporters. So Xi has sidelined the other members of the Politburo Standing Committee, except for the propaganda chief Liu Yunshan and the anticorruption watchdog Wang Qishan…
Xi conveys Napoleonic self-confidence in the importance of his mission and its inevitable success…
Above all, Xi has followed Mao in the demand for ideological conformity…
…Xi is no revolutionary. He seeks neither to upend China nor to turn the clock back to rural communes and the planned economy. Rather, he has declared, it is forbidden to negate either of the “two thirty years”—that is, Mao’s era and then the post-Mao reform period. China must combine Maoist firmness with modernizing reform.
The reform he has in mind, however, is different from what many observers, both Chinese and Western, would like. After his rise to power, the first policy manifesto issued by his regime stated that “markets should play the decisive role in the allocation of resources,” but it has become clear that market forces are intended as a tool to invigorate, rather than to kill off, the “national champion” state-owned enterprises and state financial institutions that continue to enjoy state patronage and to make up a large part of the economy. Xi understands these as pillars of state power and would never hand control of the economy to enterprises that the Party does not control.
Xi wants “rule by law,” but this means using the courts more energetically to carry out political repression and change the bureaucracy’s style of work. He wants to reform the universities, not in order to create Western-style academic freedom but to bring academics and students to heel (including those studying abroad). He has launched a thorough reorganization of the military, which is intended partly to make it more effective in battle, but also to reaffirm its loyalty to the Party and to him personally [see “Top Dragon is Now C-in-C“]. The overarching purpose of reform is to keep the Chinese Communist Party in power…
Xi has made himself in some ways more powerful than Deng or even Mao [emphasis added]. Deng had the final word on difficult policy issues, but he strove to avoid involvement in day-to-day policy, and when forced to make big decisions he first sought consensus among a small group of senior leaders. Mao was able to take any decision he wanted regardless of the will of his senior colleagues, but he paid attention to only a few issues at a time. Xi appears to be running the whole span of important policies on a daily basis, without needing to consult senior colleagues or retired elders.
He may go even further. There are hints that he will seek to break the recently established norm of two five-year terms in office and serve one or even more extra terms. He has had himself designated as the “core” of the leadership, a status that his immediate predecessor, Hu Jintao, did not take for himself [see ‘Xi is Top Dragon to the “Core”‘]…
…Xi is hanging the survival of the regime on his ability to bear an enormous workload and not make big mistakes. He seems to be scaring the mass media and officials outside his immediate circle from telling him the truth. He is trying to bottle up a growing diversity of social and intellectual forces that are bound to grow stronger. He may be breaking down, rather than building up, the consensus about China’s path of development among economic and intellectual elites and within the political leadership. By directing corruption prosecutions at a retired Politburo Standing Committee member, Zhou Yongkang, and retainers of other retired senior officials, he has broken the rule that retired leaders are safe once they leave office, throwing into question whether it can ever be safe for him to leave office [see “China: Top Dragon Purging Briskly and Broadly“] As he departs from Deng’s path, he risks undermining the adaptability and resilience that Deng’s reforms painstakingly created for the post-Mao regime.
As the members of the red aristocracy around Xi circle their wagons to protect the regime, some citizens retreat into religious observance or private consumption, others send their money and children abroad, and a sense of impending crisis pervades society. No wonder Xi’s regime behaves as if it faces an existential threat. Given the power and resources that he commands, it would be reckless to predict that his attempt to consolidate authoritarian rule will fail. But the attempt risks creating the very political crisis that it seeks to prevent.