“A man of determination and action, a man of profound thoughts and feelings, a man who inherited a legacy but dares to innovate, and a man who has forward-looking vision and is committed to working tirelessly.” This is how China’s propaganda apparatus would like you to view the country’s paramount ruler, Xi Jinping.
That glowing description was taken from an extraordinary profile of the Chinese president, as state media writers extol the virtues and achievements of Xi just before a key meeting that is expected to cement the powerful leader’s status as a guardian of the nation for years, or even decades, to come.
The biography, published by the state-run Xinhua news agency on Saturday in at least ten languages, sings the praises of Xi’s work, personality, and even physical strength. The authors portrayed Xi as a flawless man who has devoted his entire life to serving not only the Chinese people but also humankind as a whole.
“Xi is undoubtedly the core figure in charting the course of history,” the article declared.
Xi has emerged as China’s most powerful leader in decades ever since he came to power in 2012. With China’s influence expanding globally, his political campaigns at home and assertive foreign policies have won genuine support from Chinese people, some of whom have affectionately called the leader “Daddy Xi.”
In the meantime, the state’s increasing control over free speech and civil society has silenced dissent, reinforcing Xi’s image as the most capable and beloved figure to lead China since the deaths of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. With no successor in sight and a two-term presidential term limit abolished, Xi is poised to stay in power beyond 2023.
A Communist Party leadership meeting this week is a key juncture in making that happen, as officials review a monumental “historical resolution” on the party’s experiences in its past 100 years. With an authoritative retelling of Chinese history, the document is expected to make a case that China is in need of a strongman, long-lasting leader, and that Xi, with his touted superior qualities and track record, is best suited to be that man.
Dali Yang, a political scientist with the University of Chicago, said the glorifying profile was a capstone piece of a propaganda campaign orchestrated to build up Xi’s prestige and pave the way for Xi to potentially rule for a historic third term.
The profile depicted Xi as a father-like figure that protects his people from foreign enemies and, with his wisdom and determination, leads them onto “national rejuvenation.”
With six chapters chronicling Xi’s upbringing and political career, it attributed everything Beijing has accomplished since 2012 to Xi himself, from combating corruption to responding to Donald Trump’s trade war to cracking down on Hong Kong’s anti-government unrest. Not a single other incumbent leader’s name was mentioned.
The article mentioned how Xi “had a sleepless night” on the Chinese New Year’s Eve in 2020, after COVID-19 outbreaks were reported in the central city of Wuhan. Xi’s schedule was so tight that he had to spend a birthday during an overseas tour, the article said. Despite having little time for himself, the leader had managed to find time for swimming so he would have “enough stamina” for governance, it said.
When Xi was serving as a local party leader in a southeastern town, the profile said, he ate canteen food just like other cadres, and never summoned government vehicles for his wife’s use.
“It gets put together, basically to say ‘Look, this is our leader,’” Yang said. “And in some ways it implicitly says ‘he deserves to be our leader in the future as well.’”
The profile also quoted foreign scholars and politicians in complimenting Xi’s governance and popularity, at the expense of accuracy.
Neil Thomas, an analyst with Eurasia Group, was quoted in the profile as saying Xi was enjoying greater support within the party. But he said the quote, pulled from his analysis on the number of “yes” votes in Chinese parliament, was taken out of context, since it was impossible to tell if the declining expression of dissent reflects genuine support for the leader.
Thomas said the quotes from foreign experts, including himself, were included to bolster the legitimacy of Chinese state media propaganda.
“The intended audience for a profile like this is both party members and cadres and leaders, to demonstrate to them that Xi Jinping remains in this powerful position,” Thomas told VICE World News. “Because in this closed political system, you need to keep demonstrating your power and your position in the absence of public opinion polls and public voting.”
With the profile serving as a preview, the upcoming “historical resolution” will probably kick off an intense propaganda push educating people about China’s past and future plans, which Xi will most likely carry out with his “determination” and “stamina.”