25 February 2020
An anonymous cartoon clip of Xi Jinping's rise to power has gone viral.
An anonymous cartoon clip of Xi Jinping's rise to power has gone viral.

WEEKENDER: Xi in limelight as November plenum nears

Chinese leader Xi Jinping {習近平} has come under the public limelight this week amid a blitz of publicity on the 100th anniversary of the birthday of his late father, Communist Party elder Xi Zhongxun {習仲勛}, on Friday and in the wake of an anonymous animated clip widely circulated on the internet featuring his rise to power and that of six other politburo members.

On Friday, a lengthy article by Xi’s wife, Qi Xin {齊心}, entitled “In memory of Zhongxun” was given prominent coverage in the official People’s Daily.

While recollecting the good times and bad times of Xi Zhongxun’s decades-long involvement in the revolutionary-turned-ruling party before he died 11 years ago, Qi gave details of a letter by Xi Jinping to his father on his 88th birthday in 1998. Xi Jinping was then governor of Fujian province. He was unable to join the family celebration because of work.

In the letter, Xi shared his thoughts with family members about the lessons he learned from his father — from his beliefs and work ethic, resilience in the face of adversity and plain, simple lifestyle.

In another piece of remembrance, former premier Wen Jiabao {溫家寶} praised the personality and style of Xi Zhongxun and highlighted his pro-reform stance in a China Central Television documentary which aired on Wednesday.

Wen, who worked with Xi Zhongxun between 1985 and 1989 at the party secretariat, said: “It was not long after I was transferred to the secretariat that comrade Zhongxun told me the direction and policies adopted at the party’s third central committee plenum in 1979 did not come easy. We had paid a huge price. We must cherish it and stick to it unswervingly.”

Wen was referring to the reform and open-door policy adopted at the watershed central committee plenum which marked the beginning of the rise of China to the world’s second largest economy.

Independent scholar Chen Ziming {陳子明} said in an interview with the Chinese-language Ming Pao newspaper: “He [Wen] can only speak with the blessing of Xi Jinping. The documentary did not carry an interview of Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and Li Peng. The fact only Wen spoke is the political message in itself.”

Earlier, Wen had been embroiled in bad publicity after The New York Times published a report about the alleged influence of his family members in securing major business deals for certain mutlitnational companies.

The negative campaign against the reform-minded premier is rumored to be part of a smear tactic by conservatives who want a bigger say in shaping the course of China’s reform at the party central committee’s third plenum next month.

Chen Ziming said Wen’s first public appearance in almost six months suggests he does not have serious political problems.

Importantly, the publicity on the reform-minded pair only weeks before the November plenum could boost the Xi Jinping-Li Keqiang leadership as they press ahead with an ambitious, modern agenda often likened to plunging into the deep end of the water. This refers to their efforts to tackle sensitive issues such as monopoly of state firms.

The air of bolder reform is spreading in cyberspace after a cartoon clip showing how Chinese leaders come to power went viral.

With no attribution, authorship or source, it is widely believed to be the work of the party’s propaganda machinery aimed at projecting the softer side of Zhongnanhai’s residents to the populace, particularly younger people.

With references to the ascendancy of leaders in other parts of the world, the clip tracks 16 major moves by Xi Jinping since he joined the party until his election to the position of party general secretary in November and to the state presidency in March.

It describes the selection process as a “meritocratic screening requiring years of hard work, like the making of a kung fu master”. The six other politburo members have traveled similar journeys “one step at a time”.

The image-building that seeks to bridge the gap between the party and the people comes at a time when the party is faced with lingering public discontent over a litany of issues ranging from corruption to conflict caused by rapid and profound social change.

As Xi contemplates the next step forward, he is invoking the memory of his late father, looking to boost his pro-reform image and trying to find ways to better connect with future generations.

Chris Yeung is deputy chief editor of the Hong Kong Economic Journal. This column appears every Friday.

– Contact the writer at [email protected]



He was editor-at-large at the South China Morning Post and, more recently, deputy chief editor of the Hong Kong Economic Journal.