Tag Archives: xi jinping

What Might Orwell Say About Trump’s Trip to China


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

By sheer coincidence, while President Trump and First Lady Melania were being feted by Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan at the Forbidden City, I was re-reading George Orwell’s dystopian classic, 1984. It was written, of course, in 1949, the very year in which Mao Zedong brought the People’s Republic of China into existence.

Orwell’s book was and is considered a fantastic fiction of foresight so eerily prescient of current events that it feels close to prophetic. And, in fact, every time I looked up from my reading I felt and saw 1984 all around me.

In the end I don’t believe that Orwell was looking forward in time so much as he was looking back. There are many powerful themes in the book, from the permanence of a three-tiered society of the powerful, the want-to-be-powerful, and the 85% of every population that struggles in drudgery to serve the first two segments, to the need for continuous war to consume the inevitable over-production inherent to the post-industrial era.

The primary theme of the book, however, is the power and potential treachery of language and its inherent propensity to be deceptively stripped of meaning in the interest of mass oppression. It was a power that both Stalin and Hitler, who had dominated the news during much of Orwell’s own life, understood and cleverly manipulated to extreme and horrific effect.

Language, of course, is a human convention. It is not natural to the world like sunshine or the animals of the Savannah. We made it up to help us communicate. In so doing, however, we created the world’s most powerful oppressive weapon, a tool that can be turned on us as creator and master. Words have meaning but are not, by themselves, inherently truthful.

The Chinese understand this quite instinctively. In part this mirrors the inductive worldview in which personal obligation trumps everything, including language, and because they converse in a language that is, by its very nature, conceptual and pictographic.

Orwell’s warning, however, is of paramount application to Americans today, both because of our deductive world view which has given us political correctness, but also because the paramount tenets of our culture are not tangibles like filial piety, but intangible concepts, like honor, freedom, and liberty, that can only be understood proximately through words.

Never before, in fact, although I can’t believe Orwell truly foresaw this given that he penned this book forty years before the Internet, has Orwell’s warning been so relevant and so urgent. American culture, politics, and the economy turn on the importance of words more than ever before. Face to face communication among family and friends has declined greatly, our social institutions have steadily lost membership, our politicians communicate in 140 character (now 280 character) Tweets, and our economy is controlled by digital platforms driven by the two-dimensional language of algorithms and analytics.

The backbone of Orwell’s dystopia is the Thought Police, the role of which is “not only complete obedience to the will of the State, but complete uniformity of opinion on all subjects…” Variations of the Thought Police have been around since the beginning of social organization. The difference in Orwell’s 1984 was the existence of the “telescreen,” a variation of television that supported 24/7 bidirectional communication controlled by the government.

Today, of course, we have the Internet. On the surface it is not as organized as Orwell’s Thought Police but it is equally powerful. It draws its strength from the collective consciousness of shamers, critics, and newsfeeds and content farms intent to achieve eyeballs and to disseminate their often virulent propaganda. It harnesses the hysteria of the crowd and the spite of the anonymous.

It is ironic that most Americans would equate Orwell’s dystopia more with China than with America itself. Western media coverage of China is inevitably pre-occupied with the lack of American style elections and the alleged suppression of political dissent, despite the reality that American political correctness suppresses more dissent than the Chinese censors could ever hope to.


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United States Senators Marco Rubio and Chris Smith, both Republicans, and the Chair and Co-chair, respectively, of the Congressional Executive Commission on China, issued a letter prior to Trump’s trip, which CNN entitled, US should hold China accountable on human rights. In it they complain that China “continues to strengthen the world’s most sophisticated system of internet control and press censorship and forges ahead with what it calls ‘internet sovereignty.'” (They seem particularly concerned about China’s decision to block the WhatsApp platform in anticipation of the Communist Party Congress in October.)

This criticism was leveled, of course, in the middle of a US news barrage concerning the mass murder of American citizens by other citizens armed with military assault weapons, the long-tolerated predatory and misogynist behavior of powerful US men, the opioid epidemic, widespread civil rights abuses, travel bans, the suppression of immigration, and a growing income and wealth divide that is both categorically immoral and threatens economic and social stability.

But Orwell, in his prescience, would not have been at all surprised that this was all happening in America were he still alive. One of the lingual weapons of the oppressors in Orwell’s dystopia is blackwhite, a powerful piece of jargon with two contradictory meanings. “Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts…But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary.”

The blackwhite of America’s attitude toward China, of course, is that China is the oppressor and America is the guardian of liberty, justice, and the equality of all men and women. And, of course, the reality is the reverse. While the Chinese government is indeed sensitive to the negative collective impact of social disruption in a large, diverse, and heavily populated country, the Chinese have far greater freedom than Americans are allowed by the American Thought Police who control, through political groupthink, the dissemination of knowledge and truth.

As Orwell so darkly prophesized, the control of knowledge does not require censorship in an era where all thought and expression is transparent to all. Crimestop, another Orwellian addition to the oppressors’ lexicon, is simple enough to teach to children and can be used by the collective mob not to eradicate distasteful thought, but to preclude it from ever occurring in the first place. “It means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, or failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc [the ruling doctrine of the Orwellian state], and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction.”

We have gone so far to promote crimestop in America, in fact, that we have created safe spaces on our campuses of higher learning so that students don’t run any risk of being forced to hear something that somehow got by the censors. Lenin himself could not have imagined such a wonderful and empowering accommodation of his ideology.

And while trigger warnings may not carry the direct impact of censorship, they can be more broadly deployed since they do not require any degree of government authority. They represent, in fact, the Thought Police writ democratic, the American mainstream stomping about in Orwell’s symbolic iron-shod boots.

And what is Orwell’s prediction for our future?

“It had long been realized that the only secure basis for oligarchy is collectivism. Wealth and privilege are most easily defended when they are possessed jointly. The so-called “abolition of private property” which took place in the middle years of the century meant, in effect, the concentration of property in far fewer hands than before; but with this difference, that the new owners were a group instead of a mass of individuals.”

But is Orwell describing the future of China or the United States? The Communist Party of China or the American political, economic, and Hollywood elite?

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You may contact the author at gary@gmoreau.com
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North Korea: A Sure Path to Peace


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

Today, Wednesday, October 18, the 19th Communist Party of China National Congress convened in Beijing. This quinquennial meeting of party leadership is a time to review the party’s activities over the last five years, set markers for the next five years, and appoint future leadership. I provided my predictions on all of these fronts two posts ago so I will not be redundant here. Suffice it to say that my opinions haven’t changed.

Like anyone who has been monitoring the news, however, I am increasingly concerned about the situation in North Korea. Not out of any genuine concern that Kim Jong Un has any immediate plans to attack either the US or South Korea, mind you. I am more concerned that the issue has been thrown into the US political spin cycle and that it is quickly taking on a life of its own.

Speaking at a forum in Seoul just yesterday, Hillary Clinton noted, “…it should go without saying that cavalier threats to start a war are dangerous and short-sighted.” Nonetheless, the USS Michigan, a nuclear-powered submarine armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles, arrived in Korea on Tuesday, where it joins the USS Tucson, a Los-Angeles class attack sub already there. And, of course, there are the ever-constant tweets from President Trump promising to incinerate Pyongyang if the “little rocket man” tries to start anything. (Name-calling is always helpful in de-escalating tensions.)

I am always hesitant to tout history as the reason to do much of anything. The context is always different. There are certain historical truths, however, that have proven to hold true again and again. And one of those, I believe, is that whenever the rhetoric rises to this level with no reasonable plan in sight, nothing good comes of it.

There is obviously a lot at stake, in addition, obviously, to the 75+ million people who live on the peninsula. That’s not counting the 170,000 people of Guam, who are, by the way, US citizens; or the 127 million who live in nearby Japan, which North Korea is already capable of reaching with a missile strike.


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A military solution to the stand off seems, at every level, both impractical and, frankly, more than a bit ludicrous. I am not a military expert but North Korea is dug in and I have yet to hear one person who is a military expert suggest that we can pop in, knock out Kim Jong Un’s nuclear program, and go home without leaving mass casualties in our wake.

So, what does everyone want out of North Korea? The US wants peace for the US and our regional allies; China wants border security and trade and does not want US troops on its southern border; Japan wants regional peace and perhaps some trade down the road; and South Korea wants peace, trade, and, ultimately, reunification of the Korean people.

An undecidable problem, as they say in computational complexity theory? I don’t think so. Counter-intuitive, maybe. But there is a solution.

The obvious first step in that solution is to remove all US troops from South Korean soil. OMG, OMG, OMG!!!

Yes, I did say that we should unilaterally, and with great fanfare, remove the US military presence from South Korea, where the US currently has 35,000 troops, and a whole lot of military hardware, sitting along the Korean Demilitarized Zone, the most heavily fortified border region in the world.

Here are the pros and cons:

Pros:
1. It ratchets down the rhetoric.
2. Opens the door to a regional diplomatic solution by South Korea, China, and Japan, where it belongs.
3. Gives face to China, in a political culture that turns on face.
4. Removes the most obvious justification for Kim Jong Un to take unilateral military action.
5. Gives the US the high moral and diplomatic ground at a time when it has largely lost it around the world.

Cons:
1. North Korea could be tempted to attack.

If they do, China will crush them. South Korea is a much more important trading partner for China than North Korea. China doesn’t really trust Kim Jong Un any more than the US does. And China does not want chaos on the peninsula, with which China shares an 880-mile border. (New Mexico and Arizona, combined, share only a 580-mile border with Mexico.) If the North Koreans pour across that border to get out of harms way, it will strain China’s social and physical infrastructure in the region to the breaking point.

If the North Koreans defy logic and mount a suicide mission anyway, moreover, the US still has 40,000 troops in Japan, a massive military presence in Guam, and the most mobile military in the world. (Including two nuclear submarines, B-1 bombers, and multiple warships already in the region. And that’s not counting the stationary missiles that are undoubtedly trained on the rogue country already.)

2. A potential loss of face for the US.

That’s not how face works. This will give the US face because we are acting from strength. It’s a unilateral withdrawal taken with the utmost confidence in our military and our regional allies. This is not appeasement. We’re simply giving China every chance possible—and every incentive—to take charge of the issue, something that Trump, Clinton, Tillerson, and just about everyone else have been asking for all along.

3. Panic in South Korea.

To be determined, of course, but I don’t think so. As long as the South Koreans accept our sincerity in standing by our defense commitment, I think the average South Korean understands the reality of the situation far better than anyone else. And they want to see a reunification just as much as the Germans wanted to see the reunification of Germany some twenty-seven years ago.

What is the upside for the US?

That’s easy. We’re worried about the growing influence of China. A unified Korea could potentially create a large, stable, economically powerful, and democratically friendly ally in the region. Remember that South Korea is already a staunch US ally, US corporations have a significant presence there, and 2/3 of the Korean population lives in the southern half of the peninsula today.

And what’s the alternative? In my opinion, the only alternative is for North Korea to become an autonomous territory of China similar to Tibet, Hong Kong, and eventually, Taiwan.

We can safely make two assumptions. The first is that the current regime in North Korea cannot survive. “Let them eat cake” is not a viable strategy, even in a nation whose citizens are effectively cut off from the world.

Perhaps more importantly, China will never allow a unified peninsula on which there is any chance that the US military presence moves north from the DMZ. It won’t happen. And China will never trust our political system enough to simply take our pledge not to interfere, even if President Trump were inclined to provide it, which seems decidedly unlikely for the negotiator-in-chief. The inductive Chinese are all about results. Words are cheaper than cheap. President Trump, no matter what relationship he may have with Xi Jinping personally, will never convince China to expose it’s geographic underbelly to South Korea as long as American troops reside on the peninsula.

And why would China go along and what incentive do they have to de-nuclearize North Korea? They obviously want peace on their southern border, and they want to conduct trade with a developing North Korea, not a starving one. Most importantly, however, it is exactly what a world leader would do.

As will become evident as the 19th China National Congress unfolds this week, China wants nothing more than to be seen as a world leader on a par with the US, Europe, and Russia. They don’t need Kim Jong Un’s nukes to secure the region. What they want is to achieve the Chinese Dream; to take their place on the world stage and once and for all overcome the Century of Humiliation.

I don’t generally believe in win-win scenarios. My own life experience has taught me otherwise. This strategy, however, comes about as close as you can get to a win-win-win-win-win between the US, China, South Korea, Japan, and the people of North Korea. And it should gain the swift support of Russia, which also shares a small border with North Korea and has obvious interests in the region.

This is not appeasement. This is simply resetting the board in recognition of the current economic and political realities and aspirations of the region and the world.

And, of course, it is the right thing to do from every humanitarian perspective. We tend to forget that there are twenty-five million men, women, and children living in North Korea. Liberation, which only China and South Korea can orchestrate, not mass destruction and death at the hands of American military technology, is the only humane option.

Perhaps that’s another lesson we can rightfully take from history and leave for our children.

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You may contact the author at gary@gmoreau.com
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Follow on Twitter @gmoreaubooks


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October 18, 2017


Author Gary Moreau, aka Avam Hale in fiction

Wednesday, October 18, 2017, will be an important day for the world. Its ultimate significance is likely to be even greater than the 2016 US presidential election.

On this day, the 19th Communist Party of China National Congress will convene in Beijing to review the Party’s work over the past five years, discuss and set the future direction for the country, and to elect a new central leadership.

During this Congress, it is widely expected that Chairman Xi Jinping will both secure his legacy and tighten his grip on power. It appears an almost foregone conclusion that he will come away from the Congress with a grip on power not seen since the reign of Mao Zedong himself, although no leader will ever quite achieve the historical status that Chairman Mao has.


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Assuming that comes to pass, the world can expect Chairman Xi to double down on the major initiatives of the past five years for the next five, at least. All will be aligned with achieving the Chinese Dream at the heart of Xi’s political, social, and economic agendas. It is a redemptive legacy designed, first and foremost, to assign the Chinese Century of Humiliation (roughly 1850-1950) to the historical dustbin. This task will both influence and define everything else.

That said, here are my predictions for the next five years and beyond.

1. Energy – According to China Daily, more than 2.5 million people currently work in China’s solar power sector. That’s roughly ten times the number employed by the solar industry in the US. And in January of this year China vowed to invest 365 billion USD in renewable power generation by 2020.

Starting in 2019, China’s automotive companies will be required to begin the phase out of cars powered with internal-combustion engines. Some have predicted that by 2030 they will be outlawed completely.

China will continue to take the global lead in renewable energy and climate change. It has to and it wants to. China’s environmental degradation is not sustainable and it believes that the world will ultimately face the same challenges it does as population levels continue to rise. That spells economic opportunity for those companies at the forefront of renewable and alternative energy technology.

2. SOE Reform – Following China’s “opening up”, a process that began in 1989 and ushered in an era of unparalleled economic growth, many state-owned enterprises were privatized. Much of China’s economic growth, and a significant share of its burgeoning personal wealth, flowed from this transformation.

Some of China’s most powerful and influential industries, however, such as banking and financial services, remain under government ownership. By the end of this year, however, the Party has committed to turning all SOE’s into limited liability or joint-stock companies. This may well unleash an even more powerful surge in economic growth at a time when the Western economies continue to struggle for wage and inflation growth. China’s economy, as a result, now the second largest in the world, should equal the US in the next one or two decades.

3. South China Sea – There will be no backing down by China. China will risk World War III to protect its sovereignty. In its mind, it has no option. The West will ultimately be forced to accept this reality, with or without armed conflict.

4. North Korea – In one form or another, the rogue province will ultimately become a sovereign territory of China. China cannot and will not allow South Korea and its American ally to occupy the 880-mile (1,420 km) border it shares with North Korea.

For both environmental and competitive reasons, moreover, China needs to decompress the geographic concentration of its heavy industry (e.g. steel) and find new sources of low cost labor. North Korea will provide a convenient and geographically well-positioned opportunity to address both needs while providing a security buffer to China’s all-important southern region.

5. Regulation – Despite the ownership reforms cited above, government regulation will both federalize and increase in the future. The environment will be regulated with an iron fist. The Chinese Internet will be rigorously defended as both a Chinese asset and a tool for social and economic progress, not a medium for personal political expression. American technology companies will find limited opportunity there.

6. Hong Kong and Taiwan –  Neither will be granted the kind of political independence that Western political activists would like to see. This won’t even be considered. (On the contrary, North Korea will ultimately join them.) And any resulting social unrest, which should be quite limited, will be swiftly quelled.

7. Belt & Road –  Otherwise known as China’s Silk Road Initiative, China will continue to view this as a top foreign policy initiative. China views this as its best chance to economically develop its western provinces and release some of the cultural and political pressure it currently faces there. This will have a significant impact on all of Central and South Asia, including India, Pakistan, and many of the former members of the Soviet axis.

8. Politics –  China will exhibit no desire to export its political model except in matters of national security. Nor, however, will it move to adopt any form of the US political model. To most Chinese, the American model is not an attraction. If they are to borrow any foreign political ideals they will look to the socialism of Scandinavia, with “Chinese characteristics”, of course.

Is this good or bad news for the US and the West? In the end, it doesn’t matter. It will happen. The West, for a myriad of reasons, has lost the ability to shape world events. Phase III of Western imperialism (i.e. I. colonization, II. de-colonization, III. colonial dominance—the global dominance of the former colonies) will inevitably unfold.

As a pragmatist, I accept this reality. It is what it is. And if forced to choose, I believe, on balance, that this can be a period of positive replenishment for the US and its citizens. We will achieve far more by focusing our resources and our energy on renewing the American spirit, revitalizing American infrastructure, and revitalizing opportunity for all American citizens and immigrants, than we will on continuing to pursue inevitably ineffective attempts to reshape the world in our image.

It’s not a digital choice, however. We aren’t limited to putting America or the rest of the world first. Isolation isn’t a realistic option, as China itself has learned. By being a collaborative partner and embracing the diversity of the world, and accepting the inevitable ills of unfettered free markets and their corporate champions (e.g., polarized wealth distribution), we can help to usher in an era of unparalleled global prosperity, peace, and enlightenment.

And it could all start on October 18.

You may contact the author at gary@gmoreau.com
Visit my personal blog at www.gmoreau.com


Here’s what legendary Kirkus Reviews has to say about the author’s new book: “More than a guidebook for managers, this is a manifesto for an intellectually deeper – and happier – world of business.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
click here

The latest in the Understanding Series is now available.
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Corruption & Political Agenda

The Sixth Plenum of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China convened in Beijing this past week. It is the most significant event on the annual political calendar of China.

Once again, the focus appears to be on the elimination of corruption. President Xi Jinping’s administration has devoted itself to that very agenda since assuming office. To date more than one million members of the Communist Party of China (There are 88 million members in total.) have been disciplined. These include Zhou Yongkang, China’s ex-security czar, and Ling Jihua, a former presidential aide. Both were extremely powerful individuals convicted of criminal offenses.

Government corruption, of course, is not unique to China. The Chapman University of American Fears recently released shows government corruption at the top of the list of fears of most Americans. Government corruption, at 61%, exceeded fears about a terrorist attack (41%) or running out of money (40%).

Western political analysts tend to interpret Chinese corruption through a Western lens. Think Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, in the hit series House of Cards. It’s your everyday “anything for power” kind of corruption and has been around as long as there have been governments of any kind.

China’s problem is a little different. The Chinese understand power, for sure, and in China, as in the US, a crafty politician can leverage a little power into a sizeable fortune. Americans accept that as just part of the American dream. Despite often spending their entire lives earning a modest civil servant’s wage, there are no poor ex-presidents. It’s not hard to connect the dots.

Both China and the US, however, are attempting to bring about massive economic, social, political, and environmental change. Their methods are notably different, because the political reality is different in each country.

Governance in the US is done through the rule of ‘law’. The government passes detailed laws and regulations, often requiring thousands of pages of documentation, and then the regulators and the regulated fight it out in court. The cornerstone of this method of governance is the so-called ‘loophole’. If you’re clever enough, or rich enough to hire the cleverest people, you can usually find one. And the courts will uphold your right to serve injustice on your fellow citizens.

In China, in contrast, governance is largely accomplished through the rule of interpretation. Laws and regulations are often intentionally vague, foiling the finders of loopholes and empowering those who are tasked with enforcement of government policy.

Understanding China is now available at Amazon in paper and electronic formats.
Understanding China is now available at Amazon in paper and electronic formats.

Both approaches come with benefits and drawbacks. But both, in the end, lead to highly polarized societies where the interests of the few dominate the interests of the many.

In the US that comes down to money and power. They are the same thing. If you can hire people clever enough to find the loopholes, you can perpetuate the scam.

In China that comes down to the Party. If you control the apparatus of implementation you control the levers of power.

Xi Jinping gets it. I believe he very much wants to make China a better place. (I can’t say that with earnest about either of the US political parties.) He wants to improve the economy, the legal system, the environment. And he knows that he can do none of those things without Party loyalty at every level of government. Because that is how things work in China.

Western political analysts would have us believe that Xi Jinping’s crackdown on corruption is an attempt to consolidate his power – to silence or eliminate rival factions within the Party. I don’t think so. That would be an American strategy.

Mr. Xi’s agenda, I believe, is about moving China forward – what he refers to as the China Dream. We can only doubt that because we are so cauterized by our own political process.

Contact: You may reach the author at understandingchina@yahoo.com

Xi Jinping – President of China

In October 2012 Sinologist extraordinaire, Henry Kissinger, observed: “Each generation of Chinese leader…reflected the mission and the conditions of his period.” And five months later Xi Jinping was named the President of China amid conditions that looked little like those faced by any of his Communist predecessors.

The reality is that all leaders, great and otherwise, both shape their times and are shaped by them. Every once in a while, however, the conditions for change are particularly ripe, posing the opportunity for truly great leaders to change the world for the better in profound and far-reaching ways. Abraham Lincoln was such a leader at such a time. As were Franklin D. Roosevelt and Nelson Mandela. Each led a nation through profound and ultimately positive change.

And Xi Jinping? Only history, not glassmakers, can answer that question but there is little doubt in this glassmaker’s mind that the time is ripe in China for great and world-changing leadership to leave its mark on history.

If, as Kissinger noted, President Hu Jintao, Xi’s predecessor, led China onto the world stage, President Xi Jinping is surely the first Chinese President to lead from the established position of world power. So while it is undoubtedly true that President Obama remains the most powerful man in the world, President Xi is undoubtedly the man with the opportunity to change the world to the greatest degree – one way or the other – during the lives of today’s children.

So what can we expect from the man who now leads one-fifth of the world’s population and oversees the world’s second largest economy?

Xi Jinping was born in Shaanxi Province, home to Xi'an and the Terracotta Warriors.
Xi Jinping was born in Shaanxi Province, home to Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors.

President Xi was born in Shaanxi Province, currently 16th of the 31provinces and autonomous regions in economic strength, an interior province known to Westerners primarily as the home of Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors.

He is the son of Xi Zhongxun, a former revolutionary hero and one of the first generation of Communist Chinese leaders. As a senior provincial leader of Guandong Province, China’s most prosperous province, the elder Xi helped to bring about the development of special economic development zones that were the cornerstone of Deng Xiaoping’s efforts to redefine socialism with Chinese characteristics. He subsequently moved on to Beijing where he was elected to the Politburo and the party secretariat, retiring from government service in 1988.

A stamp was issued in 2013 to commemorate what would have been the 100th birthday of Xi Zhongxun, the famous father of Xi Jinping. Photo creidt:  Joinmepac/Shutterstock.com
A stamp was issued in 2013 to commemorate what would have been the 100th birthday of Xi Zhongxun, the famous father of Xi Jinping.
Photo credit: Joinmepic/Shutterstock.com

From the accounts I’ve read Xi Zhongxun was a man of moderation and tolerance, seeking political solutions whenever possible and displaying sincere accommodation of religious and ethnic diversity. And without question he was a man of both idealism and conviction, having been purged and imprisoned on several occasions throughout his career.

This included imprisonment during the Cultural Revolution, a time during which Xi Jinping, at age of 16, was ‘sent down’ to work and study at an agricultural commune in Yanchuan County, part of a widespread program developed by Mao Zedong to allow urban youth to learn from the simple ways of Chinese farmers in the hope of eradicating the perceived emergence of bourgeois decadence in urban Chinese society.

After six years on the commune and the end of the Cultural Revolution, the young Mr. Xi went on to earn a university degree in chemical engineering and, later, a doctorate in law, both from Tsinghua University, widely considered the MIT of China and one of the best and most competitive universities in China today.

Having joined the China Communist Party (CCP) while still in Yanchuan County President Xi’s first job after graduating from university was personal secretary to Geng Biao, the minister of defense, eventually moving on to a variety of county and provincial level posts before becoming party secretary of Shanghai and emerging on the national political scene.

Beyond those basic facts, of course, neither we as Westerners nor the average Chinese knows all that much about Xi Jinping the man. Chinese leaders are notoriously private, although his wife, Peng Liyuan, a famous folksinger, is widely adored by the Chinese and, unlike political wives of the past, is frequently seen accompanying her husband on official state visits. Still, no Chinese person that I’ve talked with is even certain where the couple actually live so the idea that the first family might invite television cameras into their home to share a holiday celebration, as is the custom in the U.S., is virtually unthinkable.

From watching President Xi on Chinese television, however, I must say that he strikes me as a man comfortable in his own skin. He seems quite relaxed in front of an audience and often displays a sense of disarming humor and self-deprecation seldom seen publicly in any senior government official here in the decorous Middle Kingdom.

His father, as all fathers inevitably do, undoubtedly shaped Xi Jinping’s thinking in many ways.  And, I suspect, he was likewise greatly influenced by his time on the agricultural commune in Yanchuan County.

But before my fellow Western readers jump to any conclusions, I mean ‘influenced’ in the most positive way. While Westerners tend to think of being ‘sent down’ as akin to an old Soviet political dissident being sent off to a gulag, I don’t believe that is in any way a valid analogy.

My first assistant in China was a retired teacher who herself, with several of her classmates, was ‘sent down’ during the Cultural Revolution to work on a similar agricultural commune. And while the living conditions were austere, food was not always plentiful, and the work was long and grueling, I never once heard her utter anything close to anger or resentment about the experience.

She spoke about it very matter of factly. While her own family suffered at the hands of the Red Guard for allegedly being bourgeois (She told the story of a young guardsman burning a cherished photo of her mother in her wedding dress because he considered the dress to be a symbol of bourgeois decadence.) she always talked about her time on the commune in terms of the friendships she made and the lessons she learned about life. To this day she and her classmates visit the village from time to time and she holds a heartfelt reverence for the poor farmers, who like farmers the world over, feed the rest of us in relative obscurity, enjoying feint praise for their hard labor.

But this woman, who was always referred to by the simple but highly respectful term, lao shi, meaning teacher, had two notable qualities beyond her general reverence for the poor that I believe she would attribute to her time in the country. One is the complete and total lack of fear. The other is perspective.

President Xi, I suspect, shares all three of these qualities – respect for all people, invincible courage, and balanced perspective. If you can read a man from his eyes this is a man who has complete and total respect for people – all people. This is a man who genuinely shares the hopes and dreams of the Chinese people for a harmonious and comfortable life – the Chinese Dream that he so often references in his public speeches.

And the achievement of that dream, I believe, will ultimately define the agenda for the decade he will serve as the President of China. Which is to say that the first Chinese president to lead China as an established world power will spend more time and energy focused on China itself than its influence over the rest of the world.

President Xi faces many daunting domestic challenges, including environmental degradation which is facing even China's most modern cities like Beijing.
President Xi faces many daunting domestic challenges, including environmental degradation, which is facing even China’s most modern cities such as Beijing.

He faces many daunting domestic challenges – environmental degradation, the polarization of wealth, corruption – both public and private, and regional unrest and the violence it has spawned. And these, I believe, are the challenges that will occupy his time and attention.

That is not to say, however, that he will simply defer to the rest of the world in defining China’s role in the new world order. He is the son of a soldier, is married to a major general in the People’s Liberation Army, and himself served in the military. He is a man, from what we’ve seen so far, who is both cool under pressure and not intimidated by either saber rattling or bellicose rhetoric. His father ‘risked it all’ and willingly paid the price for what he believed and the son, I strongly suspect, is cut from the same cloth.

President Xi, his father, and his wife all served the People's Liberation Army, shown here in a relaxing but disciplined game of basketball.
President Xi, his father, and his wife all served the People’s Liberation Army, shown here in a relaxing but disciplined game of basketball.

I believe the quality that will ultimately come to define President Xi Jinping in history, however, is the same quality that so prominently defined my assistant – perspective. He has seen it all and experienced it all and he, unlike so many of today’s valueless leaders intoxicated by their own power, knows exactly how it all fits together.

And for that reason I am willing to bet, without hesitation, that this, more than anything else, is a man that simply deplores hypocrisy. I don’t think he expects to agree with the world leaders he will meet and work with in his duties. I don’t think he even cares if they share his perspective or his worldview.

But God help them if he concludes that they are hypocrites. More than anything else it is the perceived hypocrisy of their enemies that gave Mao and his fellow revolutionaries, including Xi Zhongxun, the strength to win despite unimaginable suffering and against the longest of odds.

I believe it is the ruins of hypocrisy on which the Chinese Dream will ultimately rise, and it is the battle against hypocrisy, both here in China and the world over, that I believe will ultimately define the leadership of President Xi Jinping.

Will history judge him to be a great leader? I dearly hope so. And, yes, I, for one, as inconsequential as I may be, sincerely believe it will. He is, in my humble glassmaker’s opinion, the right man at the right time and in the right place to change the world in positive and profound ways.

Don’t you hope I’m right?

In his youth, Xi Jinping was 'sent down', as were many of his peers, to learn from the ways of the rural peasants who feed the country.  Whether the ideals of the times were realized or not, I believe they all learned important lessons about themselves and about life.
In his youth, Xi Jinping was ‘sent down’, as were many of his peers, to learn from the ways of the rural peasants who feed the country. Whether the ideals of the times were realized or not, I believe they all learned important lessons about themselves and about life.

Photo credit for title image:  Kaliva/Shutterstock.com

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Notice:  The views expressed in this post are strictly those of the writer acting in a personal capacity.  They are not in any way endorsed or sanctioned by his employer or any other individual with which he may be personally or professionally affiliated.