“Two Historical Traumas Formed China’s Leader”
The Washington Post, March 3, 2015, p.A1
“To mark China’s Spring Festival, Xi made a visit in mid-February to the small northern village of Liangjiahe, where he was banished in 1969 as a raw 15-year-old during the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution, where he worked for seven years and where he joined the Communist Party. His father had been persecuted and jailed in one of Mao Zedong’s purges, and Xi suffered humiliation, hunger and homelessness, sleeping in a cave, carrying manure and building roads, according to official accounts. ‘Perplexed’ when he was sent to the countryside, Xi emerged as if remolded by the painful years he spent there. He learned enough in the village to be able to cast himself as a man of the people. The lessons also made him profoundly distrust those same people. … The first was the trauma of the Cultural Revolution, when Mao used the people to tear his own party to shreds, and Xi was caught up in the chaos. The second was the trauma of the collapse of the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, as the public was invited to rise up and the Communist Party there was consigned to oblivion. For if Xi casts himself as the man to save the Communist Party from its demons, he is also a man obsessively determined to retain full control of any reform process, in ways that Mao and Gorbachev did not do. … One of his major themes is a war on ‘Western values,’ including a free press, democracy and the constitutional separation of powers, all of which he believes pose an insidious threat to one-party rule. In this and in the growing ideological controls on sectors ranging from the news media to the military, Xi is resisting forces that he thinks brought the Soviet regime to its knees. Paradoxically, though, he also has seen the dangers of international isolation and an inward focus, factors that helped weaken Mao’s China and the Soviet Union. … Xi considers himself the antithesis of the ‘weak man’ who turned out the light on the Soviet empire. … While Mao’s Cultural Revolution almost destroyed China, Xi’s war on corruption is a masterpiece in controlled destruction. More than 100,000 party members have been disciplined since the campaign began, but through a process that is entirely managed from within the party. The public is simply not invited to join in, while anti-corruption activists have received long prison sentences. There are to be no mass denunciations of corrupt and arrogant officials, because Xi remembers only too well where that path leads.”
Quickie analysis: A very interesting look at the history that shaped China’s leader and how that history is shaping China’s future.