More than halfway through his five-year term as president of China and general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party—expected to be the first of at least two—Xi Jinping’s widening crackdown on civil society and promotion of a cult of personality have disappointed many observers, both Chinese and foreign, who saw him as destined by family heritage and life experience to be a liberal reformer, notes Columbia University’s Andrew Nathan.
Xi has made himself in some ways more powerful than Mao, he writes for The New York Review of Books:
Above all, Xi has followed Mao in the demand for ideological conformity. He has invoked Mao’s “Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art” in explaining why cultural and media workers must display “Party character” and serve as the Party’s “throat and tongue,” and has used the resolution that Mao wrote for the Party’s 1929 Gutian Conference to emphasize the importance of Party control of the army. He has warned Party members against “irresponsible talk” (wangyi) and academics against “universal values.” As David Shambaugh [see above] reports in his recent book China’s Future:
There has been an unremitting crackdown on all forms of dissent and social activists; the Internet and social media have been subjected to much tighter controls; Christian crosses and churches are being demolished; Uighurs and Tibetans have been subject to ever-greater persecution; hundreds of rights lawyers have been detained and put on trial; public gatherings are restricted; a wide range of publications are censored; foreign textbooks have been officially banned from university classrooms; intellectuals are under tight scrutiny; foreign and domestic NGOs have been subjected to unprecedented governmental regulatory pressures and many have been forced to leave China; attacks on “foreign hostile forces” occur with regularity; and the “stability maintenance” security apparatchiks have blanketed the country…. China is today more repressive than at any time since the post-Tiananmen 1989–1992 period.
“As the members of the red aristocracy around Xi circle their wagons to protect the regime, some citizens retreat into religious observance or private consumption, others send their money and children abroad, and a sense of impending crisis pervades society,” says Nathan, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. “No wonder Xi’s regime behaves as if it faces an existential threat.”