Who Is Xi Jinping?
On November 12, 2012, Xi Jinping became the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, the highest-ranking position in China. Five months later, on March 14, 2013, Xi also took on the title of President of the People’s Republic of China.
In less than a decade as president, Xi has become a figure that inspires mixed responses around the globe. Some respect his leadership while others deride his party’s strict control over the internet as authoritarian.
With China firmly established as one of the biggest players in global politics, Xi’s presence on the world stage is likely to remain prominent for the foreseeable future.
The political ascendancy of Xi Jinping
Xi’s life has been closely tied to China’s Communist Party from the beginning. Born in 1953, his father, Xi Zhongxun, was a leader in the communist revolution of the 1940s during the nation’s civil war. That war would lead Mao Zedong to proclaim the People’s Republic of China, thus establishing modern China as a communist country and Mao as its head of state.
As a teenager in 1969, Xi was part of Mao’s “ Down to the Countryside Movement” which aimed to drive urban, educated youth to farmlands to learn about rural life. That generation of young people who were forced to leave their homes and bypass higher education has been dubbed by some as the “lost generation.”
For his part, Xi joined the Communist Party in 1974 and studied chemical engineering at Tsinghua University in Beijing in the late 70s. In the 80s, Xi began his ascent through the party ranks, first by serving as a public official across multiple provinces.
Xi didn’t enter national politics until 2002, when he joined the Communist Party’s Central Committee. This led, a few years later, to his entrance into the Politburo Standing Committee, which is made up of top leadership from the Communist Party.
In 2008, Xi became vice president of the People’s Republic of China, a post he held until becoming president in 2013. He was also named vice chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2010, another position he held until his presidency.
In 2010, with then-President Hu Jintao’s term about to come to an end, Xi’s presence as the presumptive head of the party led the New Statesman to list Xi number four on their list of “ 50 People Who Matter.”
Becoming the General Secretary of the Communist Party in 2012 made Xi the most powerful political figure in China, a one-party country.
Xi Jinping, the most powerful leader
In 2017, The Guardian labeled Xi the “most powerful leader since Mao” after the president changed the nation’s constitution to include a part bearing his name.
The inclusion of the passage, entitled “Xi’s Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” didn’t enact any new powers for the president, but it did elevate Xi alongside party founders like Mao.
The inclusion of the passage was also seen as symbolic evidence that Xi intended to remain in office past 2022, which would mark the end of his second five-year term.
However, Xi’s enforcement of strict control over Taiwan and Hong Kong, which have led to mass protests, has led many to label him an authoritarian whose leadership has placed China back on the global stage. Others fear that Xi is hurting relationships that China built with western countries over the previous couple of decades.
The popularity of Xi Jinping
Xi currently enjoys widespread popularity within China, at least in part because of his marriage to Peng Liyuan. Peng, who is a folk singer and considered by many to be a fashion icon, has a large fan base that refers to her as “The Peony Fairy.”
Xi and Peng married in 1987. They had a daughter, Xi Mingze, in 1992.
For some in China, Xi is known as “ mighty Uncle Xi,” an indication of his popularity and status as the central figure (or “core”) of the Communist Party.
Notably, Xi’s government has worked to tamp down the “cult of personality” that has arisen around him, even banning affectionate songs about the president that pop up online.
China’s internet crackdown
Xi’s efforts to limit internet access in China has been a well-documented part of his presidency, which has come to be known as the “ Great Firewall.”
Facebook, Google, and Dropbox are among the biggest websites that are blocked in China. In 2019, it was reported that the Chinese government was blocking access to Wikipedia in all languages
In 2019, the Chinese-based TikTok, one of the fastest growing social media apps in the world, was accused of censoring a teenager who discussed human rights abuses of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region of China. The account of that teenager, Feroza Aziz, was suspended, but TikTok denies the suspension was due to her video about Xinjiang or was enforced at the behest of the Chinese government.
Still, the Communist Party’s tight control on both the internet and media that is allowed to appear in China has led many companies in the West to censor their content as not to be banned by Chinese authorities.
China, with its population of 1.3 billion, is a market that both Hollywood and Silicon Valley are eager to hold onto.
Originally published at https://themilsource.com on March 20, 2020.