The ultimate honour: will Xi Jinping be elevated to the same status as Mao Zedong?

Support appears to be growing for move that would formally enshrine leader’s place in the Communist Party’s theories

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 October, 2017, 3:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 October, 2017, 11:08pm

Communist Party delegates from the rank-and-file to the top levels have backed calls for Xi Jinping’s name to be added to the party’s constitution – a move that would put him on a par with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

The focal point of Tuesday’s closing ceremonies for the party congress will be the exact wording of the amendment to the party’s constitution that will enshrine Xi’s dogma – the “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” – into the document.

When Xi delivered his 32,000-word report at the opening of the party’s congress last Wednesday, he did not attach his own name to the doctrine when outlining his theories.

But if his name is enshrined in the party charter, he will almost certainly remain the most powerful man in the ruling Communist Party.

The party’s new leadership will be unveiled the following day when its new Central Committee convenes its first full meeting.

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“I’m confident that the final draft to be tabled for revision of the party’s constitution will carry Xi’s name,” said Si Zefu, a delegate who was the chairman and party secretary of Hong Kong-listed Harbin Electric Corporation.

Si, whose rank is equivalent to that of an ordinary party member, was among the first to raise the suggestion of including Xi’s name in the doctrine during his speech in a group discussion on Thursday, the day after Xi’s speech that opened the congress.

The 59-year-old Heilongjiang-based entrepreneur said: “The suggestion I proposed attracted strong support and became a hot topic during the internal discussion session within the delegation on Friday morning. It turned out to be a consensus among quite a number of delegates.”

However it remains unclear whether the draft wording for the amendment to the party constitution that has been tabled for a vote among party delegates on Tuesday carries Xi’s name or not.

All the serving members of the Politburo Standing Committee, with the exception of Xi himself, made explicit references to “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” during group discussions on the sideline of the congress – a subtle way of touting for his name to be included in the charter.

“The thought represents the latest achievement in adapting Marxism to the Chinese context, and is an important component of the system of theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” said Premier Li Keqiang, also a member of the Standing Committee, when joining a panel discussion. He added that Xi’s “new era” thought was a long-term guide to action that the Party must adhere to.

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In a further sign of support for the development, at least nine out the of 24 members of the party’s second-tier Politburo – Sun Chunlan, Li Jianguo, Zhang Chunxian, Zhao Leji, Liu Yandong, Li Zhanshu, Guo Jinlong, Hu Chunhua and Han Zheng – also linked Xi’s name to the dogma during their speeches.

In a rare practice, the official Xinhua News Agency used the term “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” in almost all of its reports immediately after Xi had finished his address on the opening day of the congress.

In his report, Xi listed 14 principles – ranging from ensuring the party’s leadership in all aspects of China’s development, law-based governance, a “holistic approach of the national security”, and upholding the “one country two systems” principle – that form the backbone of his theories.

Delegates at the congress have already unofficially hailed Xi as the “lingxiu” – a reverential term for leader that fell out of use at the end of the Mao era.

Should Xi’s name be endorsed by party constitution, he would enjoy a status which is tantamount to that of Mao and Deng and superior to Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, his two immediate predecessors.

The founding father of the People’s Republic had “Mao Zedong Thought” while the economic liberaliser who succeeded him following a brief interregnum had “Deng Xiaoping Theory” inscribed in the constitution.

By contrast Jiang and Hu’s main theories – the “Three Represents” and “Scientific Outlook on Development” respectively – do not bear their names.

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Given his relatively young age of 64, Xi could continue to wield much greater power in the party than Deng, whose name was only enshrined in the party charter after his death in 1997.

If Xi’s thought becomes the guiding principle for more than 89 million party members, he would continue to wield considerable influence even if he steps down as party chief.

On the contrary, should Xi fail to have his name written into the party charter, the “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” would be seen as a product of the collective party leadership, which means he would be on a par with Jiang and Hu.