Xi Jinping suffered greatly during China’s cultural revolution. Xi Jinping’s father was targeted by Mao Zedong as one of the elitists that threatened Chinese Communism. Xi’s father lost his vice-premier post with the CCP and was sent to work in a factory in central China. Xi’s mom was strangely unaffected; she kept her post within the party, but in exchange, had to turn against her son and husband. Xi became one of the “sent-down youth”, and found himself one of 16 million sent by Mao to the countrysides to work on farms.
When the cultural revolution ended after the death of Mao, Xi Jinping and his father were both rehabilitated, just as Deng Xiaoping had been. In 1974, Xi Jinping officially joined the CCP, becoming an official in the Chinese government. One would think that there would be no love lost between Xi and the Maoist way, but Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong, states in a piece by CNN that,
“Deng was a major victim of the Cultural Revolution, so the first thing he said after taking power was no more personality cults, no more hero worship,” Lam said. “But Xi Jinping is a closet Maoist, he’s a big admirer.”
Deng was responsible for writing term limits into China’s Constitution. He believed, in order to protect China from Mao type one-man rule and the cult of personality, term-limits were essential. From Reuters,
“The limit of two five-year presidential terms was written into China’s constitution in 1982 after Mao’s death six years earlier by Deng Xiaoping, who recognized the dangers of one-man rule and the cult of personality after the chaos of the Cultural Revolution and instead espoused collective leadership.”
In March of 2018, Xi Jinping removed those term limits from the constitution, taking China back to the days of Mao Zedong, in that regard. It seems that Xi Jinping did not disagree with the premise of the Cultural Revolution, but may have only wished he was on the right side.
Xi Jinping combined several philosophies into one when he released the Xi Doctrine; it is formally known as, “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, by Xi Jinping”. In this New York Times article, the author points out that Xi Jinping’s, “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”,
“…still reveres the teachings of Mao and Karl Marx, but it also links Mr. Xi to even older Chinese traditions, especially Confucianism. Mao said he wanted to smash the grip of Confucius on China and ignite revolution. But Mr. Xi regularly quotes Confucius and other ancient sages, stressing their teachings on obedience and order, and promoting the idea that the party is the custodian of a 5,000-year-old civilization. Party propaganda now even equates Mr. Xi to a Confucian patriarch who runs the country as if it were his own family. And all good Confucian children must observe filial piety.”
There is sarcasm in the last sentence of the above quote. In my opinion, Xi does not revere Confucianism. Rather, he uses Confucianism as a tool in his power grab campaign. The evidence of that is in his contradictions:
FIRST, It is impossible to authentically embrace both Confuciansim and Maoism. Xi Jinping, despite having been a victim of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, is a Maoist, not a Confucianist. Xi admires and reveres Mao because of the control Mao had over the peasant class. Despite China’s population having been elevated from peasantry into more of an urbanized and educated populace, Xi knows that there will always be a bottom 50%, and he intends to have them on his side, just as Mao did. To this day, as noted by the Council on Foreign Relations,
“Around 70 percent of its [Communist Party of China] members are men, and farmers, herdsmen, and fishermen make up roughly 30 percent of its membership.”
Mao triggered the Cultural Revolution in China as a way to “smash the grip of Confucius on China”. Mao saw Confucius as a threat to his popular rule, and a threat to Marxism. Confucian philosophy is both intellectual and spiritual. Mao saw the educated class as the one part of Chinese society that could destroy communist rule. For that reason, the most vicious brutality during the Cultural Revolution was reserved for teachers, spiritual leaders, and the educated elites. How can Xi be both a Confucianist and a Mao? He can’t.
SECOND, Xi Jinping is pro-western on business and economic reform, but anti-western when it comes to governance and multi-party politics. In his speech at the most recent 3rd Plenum, he makes it very clear how pervasive he wants the SINGLE party system to be. He even calls this intent an act of reform:
“A primary task of deepening reform of the Party and state institutions is to improve the system for upholding overall Party leadership in a bid to strengthen the CPC’s leadership in every sector, ensure its all-encompassing coverage and make it more forceful.”
THIRD, Democracy and capitalism theoretically work hand in hand, and yet Xi Jinping is trying to have the latter without the former. To use a comparison, he’s like the conservative who is pro-government bureaucracy. He is a bit like Donald Trump, an unconventional Republican. Just as Donald Trump has redefined the Republican party, Xi is redefining the CCP.
In conclusion, Xi’s continuation of the State-Supported Comeback of Confucianism is very telling of the future direction of China under his rule. Xi is bent on using Confucianism as a tool to advance his goal of making the CCP an incontestable force in Chinese government, business, and economics. Professor Yu Ying-shih, a TRUE advocate of Confucianism, and professor Emeritus at Princeton University, made the following comments in November 2014 at an event marking the 65th anniversary of the founding of Hong Kong’s New Asia College:
“Historically speaking, China has all along had two schools of Confucianism: the Confucianists who were oppressed, and the Confucianists who oppressed others. So from my perspective, for a certain organization (the Chinese Communist Party) on the China mainland to honor Confucianism has similarities to those Confucianists who oppressed others. Previously, this organization (the CCP) harshly criticized Confucianism, and referred to Confucius as “Old Kong Number Two”. This organization stated that Confucius never really made anything of himself. The criticism grew so sharp that some CCP members asked, (not realizing that the criticism was of the historical Confucius): “Who let this fellow Kong into the communist party anyway?” Indeed, the name of Confucius was at that time subjected to all sorts of indignities. But then in the blink of an eye, Confucius suddenly became popular again and now there are several hundred Confucius Institutes throughout the world. The communist mainland is advocating Confucianism and many mainland scholars are claiming to be “New Confucianists.”…We need to be very clear about those who are real Confucianists and those who borrow the term Confucianist in order to obtain political benefits from so-called Confucian thought.”
There is no doubt that the Professor is criticizing Xi Jinping’s use of Confucianism as a tool in his power grab. The next quote by the Professor is a deserving jab at Xi Jinping:
“There is one thing I want to raise here in passing. How were Western concepts such as freedom, democracy, human rights, equality that make up the West’s universal values transmitted to China? If you are doing historical research and tracing back to the period just after the mid-19th century, you would find that these Western concepts were brought to China by Confucianists. For this reason, I feel that the issues Confucianism faces on the Chinese mainland are in fact simple, crude issues. Just because Confucianism has a good reputation, people want to exploit it. Once they exploit Confucianism, it seems that Confucianism belongs only to them. In fact, we need to look at the actions of these self-proclaimed Confucianists. This is exactly what Confucius said: look at the person, look at their behavior, and then you will see whether or not they are Confucianists.”
The professor is calling out Xi Jinping, telling him that in actuality, true Confucianists embraced western ideology, and if they had not brought over those ideas from the west, Confucianism would have never been embraced. If it had never been embraced, it would never have been able to be hijacked by Xi Jinping. These remarks are a scathing and deserving “call-out” of Xi Jinping. I hope the Professor doesn’t have close family living in Xi Jinping’s China.