Last Tuesday, October 24, the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which started on October 18, came to a close. This congress was historical in that it reinforced President Xi Jinping’s power and influence inside the People’s Republic of China, the Guardian reports.
The National Congresses occur every five years, and usually marks changes of leadership. In this year’s congress, current president Xi Jinping saw his term extended by another five years.
Furthermore, his contributions to the continued economic and political expansion of China were honored with the creation of a new school of thought, named the Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.
This has, in effect, established Xi Jinping as a leader on par with the likes of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, the two most influential leaders of China since the end of the World War II. Thus, President Xi has amassed enough power to remain as the President of the People’s Republic for another five or maybe even ten years.
The image of a benevolent strongman that Mister Xi has cultivated allowed him to pull the nationalistic strings of the country’s population, which further solidified his position. Moreover, his policies allowed Beijing to further expand its growth and reach in the world stage.
A corrupt monarchy, humiliated by the British and the Europeans in general, marked the end of the 19th century for China. The Xinhai revolution of 1911 came in the wake of these developments, and established the Chinese Republic.
The new republic was marked by economic instability and a three-way war between the Republican forces, Communist warlords and the Empire of Japan, which was intermittent for most of the Interwar period and became an important front in the Pacific theater of World War II.
After the defeat of Japan by the Allies, China continued to suffer the horrors of internal strife. Eventually, the republican forces were forced to extricate themselves to Taiwan in 1949, while the communists, led by Mao Zedong, held to the continent.
Chairman Mao Zedong wanted to both stabilize China and potentiate economic growth. To do this, he and his followers implemented a campaign against the so-called counter-revolutionaries.
They also implemented social reforms, and launched the five-year plan known as the Great Leap Forward, which was marred by the mismanagement of agricultural assets and internal divisions. This was followed by the Cultural Revolution, effectively an internal conflict in which Mao Zedong tried to eradicate the remains of the opposition to his political views.
Mao Zedong’s regime caused tens of millions of deaths, if not more. However, it allowed the Communist Party to solidify the centralized power it now enjoys. This epoch is what is usually classified by Western historians as the “Mao era.”
After the death of Mao Zedong, in 1976, the Party started to slowly dismantle some of the Maoist policies in an effort to move forward. In this, it was led by Deng Xiaoping, who many claim to be the architect of the “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
In essence, this is a school of thought in which the communist essence of the regime is maintained, but there is a market economy working underneath it. This allows for private investment and ownership, and the resulting economic growth. However, the political power is solidly set within the Party.
Deng Xiaoping would die in 1997.
While Deng Xiaoping’s ideology is still seen as one of the chief reasons for the expansion of the Chinese economy, especially during the 1990s, there was a sense that more needed to be done. Also, the same corruption that had sparked many protests in the country, including the Tiananmen Square Massacre during Xiaoping’s rule, was still pretty much in place.
Xi Jinping, almost unknown outside of China, came to power in 2013. Among the actions taken during his time in the office was an anti-corruption campaign. Detractors have classified these efforts as a way of silencing possible challengers, CBS News reports.
At the same time, Mister Xi has made a point of investing in technological, economic and military development to ensure China would achieve a more central position in world politics. Such initiatives also allowed him to gather more power and decision making for himself, which has also been described as being dangerously close to the totalitarian excess of Mao Zedong’s era.
Nevertheless, this attitude has managed to gather a great deal of support among Chinese nationals.
It should be noted that cults of personality tend to associate with nationalistic feelings, as it is easier to justify an individual’s amassing of power if this very person associates himself with a nation’s identity, so to speak. This is the myth of the strongman who will deal with everything and make things right, which justifies the excesses of the regime. This reality is not unique to China, and there are many current examples of it.
But for the Chinese people this may be what they perceive as a necessity for their country to claim its due place. In their view, a nation that was once humiliated and poor is now ascending to a central stage. However, Mister Xi’s speech also underscored the difficulty of the path ahead.
Given Beijing’s ambition in the South China Sea, the recent spat with India, and the rivalry with the U.S. for dominance in world politics, one can only assess that this path could only lead Beijing to clash more with its opponents. The feedback of such a possibility only reinforces the need for a leader like Xi Jinping in the minds of his countrymen.
A Jinping era may be at hand, replacing the Reform era that has lasted since the death of Chairman Mao.
[Featured Image by Ng Han Guan/AP Images]