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President Xi Jinping, left, former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao at the grand parade marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the second world war on September 3, 2015. Photo: Reuters

Official publication says China needs Mao-like strongman leader, and that Xi fits the bill

Call to elevate president’s status comes ahead of crucial meeting of top leaders

China needs a strongman leader of the calibre of Mao Zedong and President Xi Jinping fits the bill, according to a media outlet affiliated to the Communist Party.

Analysts said the call was an attempt to raise Xi’s status to the equivalent of the “Great Leader”.

The exhortation was made by Peoples’ Tribune, which is affiliated with party organ People’s Daily and came just ahead of a key meeting of top officials this week to lay the groundwork for the leadership reshuffle next year.

The article, published on October 18, also echoed praise from senior politicians earlier this year, calling for Xi to be named “the core” of the party leadership – a term that carries strong political meaning.

China needed a strongman politician so the nation could again rise to greatness amid a time of strategic challenges and risks, it said. Xi, as party general secretary, was widely regarded by officials and the public as such a leader, or lingxiu in Chinese, it said.

“There is no longer such salutation as ‘leader’ after Mao,” said Chen Daoyin, a political scientist at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

Mao’s brief successor Hua Guofeng was once called “Wise Leader”, but no one used “leader” to address Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin or Hu Jintao, Chen said.

The post-meeting statement of the Central Committee 6th Plenum ends Thursday may shed light on whether Xi could have a new salutation and by extension, his political stature in years ensue, Chen added.

The magazine added that without the awareness of loyalty to the “core” leadership of the party there was a danger policies would never be adhered to outside the walls of Zhongnanhai, the nerve centre of the party and central government.

The salutation “core of the leadership” often represented the power of final approval or veto, Chen said.

Hu failed to win this status while party general secretary. He acted as “first among equals” in the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, while Jiang was given the “core-ness”with Deng’s blessing.

Nearly 20 provincial party bosses publicly called Xi “the core” before the annual sessions of the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in March. But for reasons unknown to outsiders, the call died down during the gatherings.

The Tribune article cited its own study conducted from mid-April to early September. About 15,000 respondents were asked what factors justified having a strong “core” of the leadership, and what personality and character traits most impressed them about Xi as the leader of a great nation.

Beijing-based political commentator Zhang Lifan said believed the magazine might have received “some hints” from the top echelon before launching the survey.

Zhang said the new spate of appeals for Xi to be named “core” suggested that some of his political goals were not realised during the Beidaihe conclave in summer, referring to the seaside resort east of Beijing where party luminaries gathered.

On the day after the Tribune article was published, General Liu Yazhou, the political commissar of the PLA National Defence University and a prominent “princeling” [from a revolutionary family],

argued for the party’s pressing need for a “mature and strong core of the leadership”.

“We must strengthen our recognition of the core and staunchly support the authority of Xi and the Party’s Central Committee,” Liu wrote in a propaganda journal Dangjian run by the party’s Central Publicity Department.

Additional reporting by Cary Huang and Zhou Xin