In his first years as China’s leader, Xi Jinping paid for his own steamed dumplings in a cheap diner, casually rolled up his trouser legs to avoid splashes in the rain, and was serenaded with sugary pop tunes. His image-makers cast him as “Xi Dada,” the people’s firm but genial “Uncle Xi.”
How vastly different now. A decade on, Mr. Xi looms over the country like a stern Communist monarch, reflecting on China’s fallen ancient dynasties and determined to win its lasting ascendancy in a turbulent world.
Chinese officials praise his speeches like hallowed texts, professing loyalty with a fervor that sometimes echoes Mao Zedong’s era. Privately mocking Mr. Xi can lead to prison. His public encounters are regimented displays of acclaim.
A Communist Party congress opening Sunday is shaping up to be Mr. Xi’s imperial moment, strengthening and extending his rule, while also intensifying the long-term hazards from his singular dominance. At the meeting in Beijing, he seems sure of winning a third term as the party’s general secretary, breaking with recent expectations that Chinese leaders would reign for around a decade.
“The certainty will really only be in the arrangements at the topmost level, that his power is beyond challenge, but beneath that we’ll face a great many uncertainties,” Wu Qiang, a political analyst in Beijing, said in an interview.
The evolution of Mr. Xi’s public face has paralleled his transformation of China into a proudly authoritarian state, scornful of criticism from Washington, increasingly sure that Western democracy has lost its allure, and impatient for a bigger say in shaping the 21st-century global order. [Continue reading…]