As of this month, in the continuation of a cult of the personality unheard of since Mao Zedong, the â€œXi Jinping Thoughtâ€ has been integrated into the Chinese national program. Textbooks are adorned with Xi’s smiling face, along with heartwarming slogans telling readers as young as six that their leader is watching over them. â€œGrandpa Xi Jinping is very busy with work, but no matter how busy he is, he always joins in with our business and cares about our growth,â€ it read.
“Xi Jinping Thought” is to be taught at all educational levels, from elementary school to graduate programs, and the emphasis is on capturing the minds of the youngest. “Primary schools will focus on cultivating love for the country, the Chinese Communist Party and socialism,” according to World time, a CCP tabloid. A circular issued by the Office of the National Textbook Committee of the Ministry of Education states that elementary school children should be informed that “President Xi is leading the whole party and the Chinese people.”
The textbooks are adapted to each age group. Children between the ages of six and eight are taught the need to “properly button the first button of life,” an injunction often used by Xi to stress the need for conformity and obedience from an early age. Messages to older children get a little more complex, but only a little. They stress the need for “absolute party leadership”, with Xi at the helm.
Books often employ folk homilies to make their point. One explains how Xi’s love for China began with a lecture his mother gave him at an early age on a patriotic general in the Song Dynasty. Another explains how Xi, who has no military experience, has a “deep feeling for the military” because he wore military uniforms as a child. There are lots of nationalist chest pounding, as students learn how Xi defeated Covid-19, lifted China out of poverty, and set the country on the path to becoming a “great modern socialist power.” Graduate students should be able to “make known, interpret and study” Xi’s thoughts, according to the education ministry circular.
In many ways, the Ministry of Education is to be commended for attempting the impossible – to make sense of the vagaries of Xi Jinping’s â€œThought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Eraâ€, to give the full title of the political doctrine announced for the first time. at the 2017 National Congress of the Communist Party of China. Primary schools are just the latest extension of â€œXi Jinping Thoughtâ€. It is already enshrined in the constitution, it is the subject of university courses and compulsory studies by the members of the party. Party propagandists even summoned more than 100 of the country’s top actors, filmmakers and pop stars to a special cultural forum to study Xi’s “thinking” as a means of raising “cultural and ethical standards.”
Yet it has always been very difficult to get a straightforward answer to the question, “What is Xi Jinping’s thinking?” Even hardened adventurers smile awkwardly and move their feet in embarrassment, before changing the subject.
Xi’s “Thought” can be described as a mixture of selfish ideas. He sprinkled many of his speeches with quotes from Mao and Marx, but also selectively chose Confucius, a man Mao hated. Confucianism was the backbone of the imperial system, but Xi likes passages about obedience to authority. He also quoted the philosopher Han Feizi, often described as the “Machiavelli of China” (who was a favorite of Mao), using Han’s words to justify his “anti-corruption” crackdown: “When those who uphold the law are strong, the state is strong. When they are weak, the state is weak. Mao used Han to justify the Cultural Revolution.
Xi’s “Thought” lacks real consistency, yet it is possible to identify three underlying themes. One is nationalism, sometimes bordering on xenophobia, and an associated culture of grievance. The second is to position the CCP as the natural heir and embodiment of Chinese tradition and history. The third and most important theme is Xi himself. Ideology, if you can even call it that, is designed to justify one’s accumulation of personal power.
The introduction of Xi’s “thought” to primary schools follows a campaign to eliminate “foreign ideas” from education, which has become a particular obsession of Xi. A party document ordered educators to “firmly resist the infiltration of foreign forces.” The Chinese Minister of Education said that China should “never let textbooks promoting Western values â€‹â€‹enter our classrooms … Any opinion that attacks and defames the party leadership or smears socialism should never be allowed.”
An over-enthusiastic local government in Gansu Province took the instruction to heart and posted images online of two women burning a pile of “illegal” and “inappropriate” books outside the county library. They claimed to follow a directive to â€œclean upâ€ libraries in order to create a â€œhealthy and safe environment for educationâ€. Images of the bonfire have spread across social media, alongside comparisons to the Qin Dynasty’s practice of burning books (along with the scholars who wrote them) and Nazi Germany’s book burnings in the 1930s.
The CCP sought to portray Xi as a literary genius. In 2015, during a visit to the United States as a leader, he claimed to have read the works of Thomas Paine, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway. It was nothing compared to his knowledge of Russian literature: Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev and Chekhov were among the writers on a list he gave during his visit to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Travels to France, Germany and the United Kingdom resulted in bibliographic claims. In a speech to the British parliament as part of a state visit in 2015, he quoted Storm, telling lawmakers, “What’s past is a prologue.”
While Xi is widely read, it cannot be seen in his own literary endeavors. The governance of China, the foundation of â€œXi Jinping Thought,â€ first published in 2014, spans three volumes of turgid speeches and writings. â€œLike the spring mist falling silently, we should spread core socialist values â€‹â€‹in a gentle and lively wayâ€ is one of the best lines of the 515 jargon-filled pages of volume 1. â€œAchieving the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation has been the biggest dream of the Chinese people since the advent of modern times is another.
The latest extension of Xi’s “Thought” hasn’t gone unchallenged on social media in China. â€œBrainwashing begins in childhood,â€ said one Weibo user. Another asked, “Can we refuse? For older Chinese, a campaign focused on leader worship stirs up painful memories of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. At least one could argue that Mao had a personality to worship him, however distorted and dangerous that is. Xi austere and humorless is a harder sell.
The party also has a â€œStudy the Great Nationâ€ app, dubbed â€œXi’s Little Red Appâ€. It contains pictures and articles on “Xi Jinping’s Thought” and its activities. Users can participate in contests and quizzes, test their knowledge of Xi to earn points and prizes. After its launch two years ago, authorities claimed it was the most downloaded app in China and had 100 million users, but not necessarily by choice. Not only has it been heavily promoted by schools, universities, and state media, but its use is mandatory among officials and party officials. In order to get a press pass and do their job, Chinese journalists must take a life of Xi test, issued through the app.
The app had an additional feature: it spied on users. The Open Technology Fund, an organization promoting Internet freedom, discovered that the Android version of the operating system, widely used on smartphones in China, had a backdoor that provided access to messages, photos, contacts, and history of navigation. It could also scan other apps on the phone and activate the microphones. While users were studying “Xi Jinping Thought,” the app studied them right away. He embodies the party’s mind-numbing propaganda, but also his deep paranoia, both of which define Xi’s reign as he now seeks to capture the minds of even the youngest schoolchildren with a paramount message: it is their duty to to obey.