Xi Declares Victory Over Poverty: A Step in His Efforts to Equal (or Surpass) Mao?

Want a sense of where elite Chinese politics are going? Take a look at this unusual 3-page article splashed over first three pages of the top Party paper, the People’s Daily, on Feb. 24.  It starts on page one, occupies the entirety of pages 2 and 3. [It also follows an analogous article yesterday (which *only* took up all of page 2)] 

The focus?  Glorifying Xi Jinping’s anti-poverty work. I’ll highlight two key things that are worth watching.

1) We’re talking serious glorification here. Total numbers of mentions of Xi Jinping’s name in this article? 139 (!!!!) [Twice the “mere” 70 mentions yesterday] Note these do *not* involve some rote recitation of a stock propaganda phrase (such as “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism With Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”). Rather, they involve specific actions that Xi himself took.

2) Consistent with this, the entire focus on the article is not on Party institutions or Party policy. Rather, it’s on establishing Xi – personally – as the visionary leader who himself eradicated poverty in China.

You can also get a partial (albeit toned down) flavor for what is going on by reading the Xinhua English language companion piece.

Here are the last few paragraphs:

“Along the path to zero poverty, Xi made plans and decisions that have changed the fate of millions of Chinese families for the better. The path has been littered with bumps and holes, yet he held on to his original motivation. ‘Through eight years, under the current standard, China has eradicated extreme poverty for the nearly 100 million rural people affected,’ Xi said in the New Year speech that rang in 2021. China has ended the poverty that plagued the country for thousands of years, but it merely marks another beginning — the beginning of more miracles yet to be worked, and a path toward an even brighter future.” 

Naturally, this is all the run-up to the anti-poverty awards ceremony + Xi’s big speech on February 25th (h/t Bill Bishop @niubi), which based on the above, should definitely be something to watch,

The obvious take:

A) Party propaganda is setting things up for Xi to claim personal credit for eradicating poverty in China.

B) This will be a core element of efforts in the near future to raise Xi’s personal status in the Party ideological pantheon to a Mao-like level (i.e. the formal rollout of 习近平思想). It is also rather easy to imagine Xi receiving formal designations once reserved for Mao, (say, Chairman, or 主席), once you start to see things like those above appearing in print. 

But it’s also worth considering the following:

In Party doctrine, Mao unified China after decades of civil war, and ended the century of humiliation at the hands of foreign powers. But if Xi is to be personally credited with ending *millennia* of poverty in China ….

Exactly how far could Party propaganda start to raise Xi up once that narrative gets fully worked out?