English review - Xi Jinping's China - Florian Schneider
Florian Schneider, a China expert, gave a presentation on the power, role, leadership and ideology of Xi Jinping, who has been the president of China for almost ten years and has made China a superpower. Xi centred power around him and abolished the term limits for the presidency and leadership of the Communist Party, which was the tradition that the leaders step down after two terms of their leadership after Mao. This fact caused people to have and produce narratives and representations of Xi as if he were the new emperor of China or the new Mao; however, Schneider thought that these are not a very accurate and these kinds of representations are not enough to understand Chinese politics and the role Xi Jinping plays. Schneider explained the differences between Mao and Xi and their similarities and parallels between their leadership.
To understand the role of Xi Jinping, Schenider said that it is important to understand the idea of the cult of personality that is defined as "an established system of veneration of a political leader, to which all members of the society are expected to subscribe, a system that is omnipresent and ubiquitous and one that is expected to persist indefinitely." For Schneider, Xi Jinping is a very important figure in China but not as important as Mao, who has the most influential cult of personality in the history of China. Mao was the literal red sun, a godlike and religious figure, while Xi Jinping's celebrity status works very differently. Xi represents himself like other humans; for example, he likes sports, basketball and football, goes to an ordinary restaurant and eats ordinary foods with average folks. Xi's this style reduces the distance between the leader and the public.
Schneider stated that this kind of representation of Xi has to do with social and personal anxiety that permeates Chinese society in the last decade. Especially Chinese youngs suffer from social and economic problems, especially from the difficulty of finding a job. Unless a young person around 30 years old is married, has a job, and has children, they are not considered a real person, and this approach creates a great deal of anxiety for individuals.
Schnieder also explained the social anxiety about social inequalities and injustices, which the Communist Party, he states, has to worry about. The party's one of primary concern is to assure social stability since any instability creates a real concern and unhappiness in Chinese society. Moreover, there is the idea of achieving or ensuring the great power status because Chinese people have the idea that for decades preceding Mao's era, they were humiliated and kept down by Western countries, and that this is their time to become the superpower in the world.
Chinese people think they need a proper statesman to achieve such a powerful state. Schneider contended that Xi Jinping emulates Barack Obama's pr whose success was proven two times in the US elections, especially the idea of the first couple, having the leader with the first lady. Peng Liyuan, the first lady in China, is so representable and this gives China the idea that they have arrived at the table of great power politics and are just like America.
After that, Schneider explained the role and position of Xi's followers. Followers of Xi are like new red guards because they are so aggressively in favour of their symbol of veneration. They treat anyone who does not follow Xi as traitors, they are bullying, informing, doxxing and then create lots of obstacles, such as getting fired, for opposites of Xi Jinping. That pressure creates silence around political issues and makes people reluctant to speak because the followers of Xi may inform them.
Schneider briefly gave an impression of the very advanced form of network politics in China in how power gets used in the network. He quoted Kerry Brown: "The Party under Xi is finally the network of networks – the only entity that lifts China outside the highly tribal, almost nodal social structure. Schneider opposes the idea of conceiving state, market, and society as unified actors, but they are all networks, and networks of networks, interwiven with each other in complex ways.
He stated that power in these contexts works in two ways. One of the ways is called switching power; individuals can switch certain people into and out of their network; that is a powerful position to be in if you can create networks or shut other people down. The other kind of power is called programming power, infusing an existing network with particular values, discourses and ideas. Schneider contended that the Communist Party has used this principle for a very long time. They position themselves in crucial places around the network to inform how politics work more broadly.
Some research that looks at the network structure of the Communist Party found that one of the things that brings people together in Chinese Community Party politics is not provincial or university networks but it is co-worker relations that they experienced as they went through their careers. Florian Schneider stated that that seems to be one of the factors that explains why people are loyal to each other and create a sort of patronage client relationships with certain people and construct these networks inside the Communist Party.
The Communist Party under Xi is constructing a network in which different elites, political, military, urban elites or people in innovation and digital technology, are switched on and off. For Schneider, these different elites who have different expectations are gathered under the Communist Party to meet the necessity of legitimizing and strengthening themselves, and their authoritarian power, and political and social structure.
By Umut Kesikkulak, Research master student Philosophy, Radboud University