By N. C. Bipindra
Mao Zedong, it is said, was furious over the slights he had received at the Eighth Party Congress (1956 and 1958) – the call for collective leadership, the assertions that China would never have a cult of personality, the removal of Mao’s thought as the guiding principle for the nation, and the criticisms of adventurism. He ensured the people whom he considered responsible for his slight paid for it dearly, with their lives in some instances.
In 1989, the Paramount Leader of China, Deng Xiaoping, remarked on the dangers of one-man rule. He said, “Building a nation’s fate on the reputation of one or two people is very unhealthy and dangerous”. And he knew that very well, having endured and resurrected himself through constant manoeuvring from the endless purges crafted and executed by Mao.
In fact, Deng was so paranoid and impacted by Mao’s rule over China that he introduced term limits for state officials. This famous statement finds a place in the ‘Short History of Communist Party’ editions published both in 2001 and 2010.
In Mar. 2018, the National People’s Congress abolished term limits for President. With Chairman of the Communist Party of China and Chairman of the Central Military Commission not having term limits anyway, abolishing term limits set things in place for President for Life, something Mao thrived on. It is, therefore, no surprise that Deng’s famous remark on dangers of one-man rule finds no place in the 2021 edition of the ‘Short History of the Communist Party’. This is but a natural progression in the increasingly totalitarian, dictatorial, and vice-like grip that Xi Jinping has on China and its people.
Xi, or as he is now come to be portrayed Xitler, has taken every play out of Mao’s secret game book and has further honed it into a fine art. This has given an outward appearance of not having impacted the common Chinese people, who can go about their lives in perfect harmony in a society with increasing buying power and disposable incomes. However, even a cursory scratch on the surface, and the angst, anguish, and heartbreak stare one in the face.
Mao was never averse to losing a few millions, contending that China has millions more. In the initial days after the Wuhan Virus was detected, there was a massive information and security blanket thrown across China. Based on various online theories, it can safely be assumed that millions suffered due to the virus and thousands, if not millions, perished in China. However, till date the official figures for China, the ground zero for the Wuhan virus are less than hundred thousand. The virus, though, has created mayhem across the globe. Xi, like Mao before, decided to sacrifice thousands of common Chinese to try his bioweapon before unleashing it on the world. As one of the more prominent of online enthusiasts probing the virus, a young Indian, who goes by the name TheSeeker, rightly pointed in a recent interview that if the Wuhan Virus did not originate in a lab, why is the Communist Party of China trying to obfuscate the reality?
Deng initiated opening of the Chinese economy to external investments and is widely considered as the architect of China’s economic growth story. This led to the mushrooming of many companies that have today become global behemoths. Whilst Deng encouraged that, Mao before him despised anyone becoming larger than the Party. When he sensed someone growing a voice, they would suddenly self-criticise in public and mostly vanish from public memory. Of late, under Xi, we are seeing a repeat performance. Zhang Yiming, the brains behind TikTok and founder of Byte Dance; Colin Huang, the chairman of e-commerce giant Pinduoduo; Wang Xing, CEO and founder of the Chinese delivery giant Meituan and of course Jack Ma, teacher-turned-investment-wizard have publicly self-criticised and decided to quietly step away from the companies they envisioned, created, nurtured and raised to global standards.
The CCP is creating a consumption-driven innovation-led economy that is, as Ananth Krishnan mentions in ‘India’s China Challenge’, city driven. The CCP, under Xi, is creating this by using the ancient Chinese household registration system, hukou, as a weapon. By seducing workers to migrate to cities under the lure of riches, but by employing the hukou system ruthlessly, it has ensured families are torn apart and children cannot grow under the loving care of their parents; something every child deserves. If the same happened in any democratic country, the ‘ruler’ would be voted out of office. Even in erstwhile China, people would have had to endure the misery for two terms with hopes of a better tomorrow. This, unfortunately, is not the case anymore in Xi’s empire.
Xi has all the hallmarks of an emperor without clothes. Most emperors, throughout history, have tried to leave their indelible mark by creating projects/monuments. Emperor Qin Shihuangdi had built the Great Wall and every emperor thereafter have had his own massive construction project. Mao, a voracious reader of history, had decreed ten great buildings to commemorate the tenth year of his reign. Xi has bettered it by trying to create his project beyond China’s boundaries. And so, we have seen the creation of the ‘One Belt-One Road’ (OBOR), Xi’s vanity project as a commemoration of his reign.
Wuhan Virus, forcing self-criticism, weaponising the hukou, creating gargantuan projects; Xi is more like Mao 2.0 or more probably Mao on steroids. Are a redux of the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution round the corner. Highly possible when one man decides a nation’s fate. Can China and the common Chinese survive Xitler?
(The writer is Chairman, Law and Society Alliance, and Editor, Defence.Capital magazine.)