The Rise of the Personality Cult of Chairman Xi Jinping

As Chinese President Xi Xinping pursues deity-like cult status in China, he is following some of history’s most notorious leaders – Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong (aka Mao Tse-tung) to name three of the last century’s worst dictators.

Hitler led Germany into a disastrous world war and killed six million Jews. His racist ideology is still a powerful force today, influencing neo-Nazis and the far right.

Stalin starved at least 3.9 million Ukrainians to death from 1931-34, but even today he has a devoted following in Russia. Chairman Mao, as he was known, allowed tens of millions to die of hunger but he is still revered in some quarters of China and appears on Chinese currency.

These charismatic leaders commanded their countries and were worshiped by the bulk of citizens and established personality cult to ensure devotion. The term became popular after Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev’s speech to the Soviet Party Congress in 1956. He used the term to suggest how Stalin crafted his dictatorship, abused power and yet enjoyed extraordinary adulation among the people.

Like a dark version of Saul of Tarsus on the Road to Damascus, Xi is on the path to cult status but there will be no conversion of Saul to the loving Apostle Paul and a ceasing of his persecution of Christians. Just the opposite, in fact, as Xi’s picture replaces that of Jesus in Chinese Christian churches. The message to Chinese Christians is that Jesus can’t save you but President Xi can and will. Small wonder Xi is going after Jesus, considering that Christianity is the fastest growing religion in China, with estimates of up to 100 million adherents. And this in a country that is officially atheist and sees religion as an opponent to government control and power. In the province of Jiangxi’s Yugan county, officials said residents were happy to remove 624 posters of Christian doctrine and images, and in their place came 453 pictures of the Chinese President. The move is a page right out of Chairman Mao’s playbook, where his face was on the wall of every home.

Xi Wants To Be ‘An Object Of Worship Worthier Than God’

“The Chinese President, like Chairman Mao before him, is trying to propose himself as an object of worship worthier than God,” says Bitter Winter, an Italian-based online website that focuses on religious liberty and human rights in China, in an article headlined: “How Xi Jinping Become God.” It details how indoctrination of teachers and students began last year in the province of Jiangxi. Various methods are used to accomplish this goal, such as the children’s song “Grandpa Xi Is Our Big Friend” and stories of “Grandpa Xi.” And the target is not only toddlers and elementary schoolchildren. Since 2018, students and teachers at the Jiangxi Agricultural University must take an online course called “Young People Study Xi.”

Another mile gained on the highway to cultist status is the persecution of the Muslim Uighurs, as Xi seems determined to wipe out all religions. There are about 11 million of them and Christians are treated with charity in comparison to the way the Uighurs have been manhandled. There are about a million in forced camps, where they are taught Mandarin Chinese, starved of food and forced to renounce their Muslim faith. They are subjected to both physical beatings and mental torture.

Ruler For Life

Xi came to power in 2012 and immediately what had been a faceless government under his predecessor became the face of the president. The two-term limit on presidents was changed and Xi established himself as a ruler for life. At first many might say what is the problem with a cult of personality when the government strictly controls daily life anyway? But Xi is removing bureaucracy and replacing it with himself, as the state-controlled Chinese media dubbed him: “Chairman of Everything.” The system of collective leadership that followed Mao is now being destroyed by Xi.

The danger? In a 2016 essay “The New Dictators”, authors Andrea Kendall-Taylor, Erica Frantz and Joseph Wright determined that a “robust body of political science research” indicates that (one-person dictatorships) tend to produce the worst outcomes of any type of political regime: they tend to produce the most risky and aggressive foreign policies; they are the most likely to invest in nuclear weapons; the most likely to fight wars against democracies; and the most likely to initiate interstate conflicts.”

It seems that if you must live under a dictatorship, one run by bureaucracy is better than one run by a strongman.