The buzz from Western media had started years ago. It reached a crescendo recently with China’s 19th Communist Party Congress, which approved a second term for Xi Jinping as national leader.
The chatter has been fulsome about how Xi is now China’s most powerful leader since Mao and Deng, or even Mao outright. He had prevailed in the customary power struggles and grabbed authority from rivals, goes the narrative. The latest coinage is “Xiconomics,” suggesting he has taken over China’s economic helmsmanship as well. A persistent undertone has been innuendoes recalling the dangers of dictatorship, overconcentration and abuse of authority, repression, etc, etc.
That Western narrative is but another demonstration of the ignorance and prejudice its creators have long held towards China. To understand Xi Jinping’s position, it is necessary to take a closer look at what Chinese governance is today, and how it got there.
Today’s China is a genuine collective leadership, and a meritocracy. These two defining characteristics began to take shape during the Deng Xiaoping era. For Deng and his reformer comrades, the devastating excesses of the Mao period made it crystal-clear that unchecked power at the top was highly hazardous to the nation’s health. Deng forbade anything hinting at a personality cult around himself. In any case, the presence of other first-generation revolutionaries — like Chen Yun and Li Xiannian — meant Beijing no longer had one-man rule.