Xi evokes Mao on a visit to the cradle of the communist revolution

Xi evokes Mao on a visit to the cradle of the communist revolution


Dressed in matching navy blue windbreakers and flanking President Xi Jinping, China’s newly appointed top leadership made their first group outing to the Communist Party’s “holy land” this week.

Xi’s decision to visit Yan’an — a place inextricably linked to Communist China’s founder Mao Zedong — was an important, conscious indication of the issues of his next five years at the helm, analysts said.

Xi has centralized and personalized power more than any Chinese leader since Mao, culminating in his being anointed with a historic third term following last weekend’s Communist Party (CCP) congress.

The new Politburo Standing Committee he chaired Thursday around the popular “red tourism” tourist destination consists entirely of his staunch allies.

“The signal with the visit to Yan’an is one of celebrating a parallel (with Mao) and not condoning opposition,” wrote Manoj Kewalramani of the Takshashila Institution in Bengaluru, India.

A 16-minute news item about the visit by state broadcaster CCTV showed several portraits of Mao, and a report by the official Xinhua news agency mentioned the former leader’s name 14 times.

The itinerary included visits to Mao’s former residence, as well as a hall where a key CCP meeting in 1945 confirmed him as chairman, apparently demonstrating Xi’s deep interest in the party’s history and its influence on his rhetoric and politics.

But it also harked back to an era when the CCP relied on mass “struggle” to win a bloody civil war that observers believe has parallels to how Beijing views the current geopolitical climate.

“Among the signals Xi seems to be sending … is preparing for troubled times and preparing for struggle,” analyst Bill Bishop wrote in his Sinocism newsletter.

Xi took the Standing Committee to a national revitalization exhibition in Beijing in 2012 and to the site of the first CCP Congress in Shanghai in 2017.

“The first trips after each convention seem to be about remembering the original mission,” tweeted Wen-Ti Sung of the Australian National University.

According to state media, Xi promised on Thursday that his new standing committee would “inherit and carry on the beautiful revolutionary traditions forged by the party during the Yan’an period.”

– cradle of the revolution –

Yan’an is revered in Communist Party lore as the cradle of the movement.

Nestled in the remote, arid mountains of northwest China, this is where party members hid after the Long March, a grueling year-long foot expedition across the country to escape encirclement by Nationalist troops during the Chinese Civil War.

Tens of thousands died along the way, and by the time the survivors arrived in Yan’an, they were a severely weakened force.

Mao and his allies, including Xi’s father, lived in caves alongside local peasants as they planned military campaigns.

The CCP’s eventual victory over the nationalists made the Yan’an period a shining example of the party’s ability to overcome adversity.

Yan’an is also closely linked to Mao and his consolidation of power.

More than 10,000 people, including intellectuals and artists, were killed during the Yan’an Rectification – a mass campaign of brainwashing and purges that established Mao as the undisputed leader.

But on Thursday, Xi said that “through the Yan’an rectification movement, the entire party has united under the banner of Mao Zedong and achieved unprecedented unity,” according to CCTV.

“A firm and correct political alignment is the essence of the Yan’an spirit.”

One of the hallmarks of Xi’s tenure was a focus on intra-party discipline, most evident through a long-running anti-corruption campaign.

Critics say Drive is a thinly veiled political tool that has eliminated many of its rivals.

– Historical Legitimacy –

According to sinologist Alfred L. Chan, Xi sees himself more as an “heir to the revolution”.

In speeches he has attempted to draw a direct line between past and present, using history as a source of legitimacy for both the party and himself.

On Thursday, for example, he referred to his personal connections to Yan’an.

At the height of the Cultural Revolution, 15-year-old Xi was sent to Liangjiahe Village, where he also slept in caves and was shocked by the harshness of the physical labor.

He often cites this period as a formative life experience that gave him courage and determination as well as insight into the life of ordinary working-class Chinese.

And it’s another way Xi is attempting to mold his public persona and life story in Mao-style fashion, analysts say.

“Like Mao, Xi wants to return to the orthodoxy of communism in China,” said Alfred Wu, an expert on Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore.

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