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- Mihika Sujir

As a great Chinese commander by the name of Sun Tsu once said : While conquering another land , the enemies should never see you coming. This can be applied to the modern times.

It’s been almost four decades since China saw an end to the tyrannical and ruthless regime under the dictatorship of  Mao Zedong, or Chairman Mao; and saw the dawn of a new era of liberal reforms, which aimed at opening up the economy and improving rural life, making China what it is today-  a global manufacturing powerhouse with considerable political leverage.

When the reformed policies were introduced, they were supported by a national consensus. The citizens, having been subjected to Mao’s radical Marxist experiments, were desperate for relief. Totalitarian rule ceased to exist and a much more liberal and economy-driven authoritarian regime that  followed.

Under Xi Jinping’s regime, we see a dangerous shift back towards the autocracy that the Chinese citizens once feared. There are clear, absolute signs as to why Mr. Xi may be the modern Mao and his efforts to over-empower the authoritarian state show how uncanny the similarities are.

Abolishing presidential term limits

Mao was the paramount leader till death but, due to a rise in popular resistance to his policies his power considerably weakened towards the end of his regime. When Mr. Xi was elected in 2012, no one foresaw his decision to increase his tenure indefinitely. Introduction of term limits was implemented by Deng Xiaoping to avoid past mistakes of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In 2018, the paramount leader requested a revision of the Chinese constitution which was to be judged by the vote on the constitutional charge, for which a whopping 2,958 voted in favour, 2 opposed and 3 abstained. 

Purging of rivals

Throughout history, Chinese leaders have used anti-corruption campaigns to rid the CCP of corrupt officials but, most importantly to purge leaders who oppose their reforms to ensure successful policy implementation. 

Xi Jinping, when he took over the office, was amidst a party that was rapidly turning into a kleptocracy. He launched an extensive Anti-Corruption campaign which incited fear among the party members. Initially, since he did not have many allies; he had to resort to this campaign to dispose of leaders who opposed his policies. In addition, if a cadre or bureaucrat criticizes any of Xi’s policies, even privately, it becomes the ultimate crime in his anti-corruption campaign. This inferiority complex coupled with his paranoia goes to show his tolerance towards criticism. He prefers to surround himself with sycophants to ensure zero resistance and endless support. 

Mao’s anti-corruption campaigns consisted of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, and the Anti-Rightist campaign aimed at those CCP officials who were suspected to have turned their backs on socialism and towards capitalism, hence, opposing CCP ideology. Mao was an ideology fanatic and all his policies revolved around his fervour for socialism. Under his campaigns, millions of people suffered and an ordinary citizen was a target in his eyes.

Censorship and propaganda

Censorship has historical significance in China dating back to the Mao era where journalists touching any of the sensitive topics, as designated by the party, were subject to arrests and sometimes violence. Literature and television was heavily regulated by the CCP  to keep furthering and propagating the efforts of Mao and his government.

Under Xi Jinping, censorship has reached new and extreme heights. A perfect example would be that of the social credit system to inspire self-censorship among the citizens via wholesale blanket surveillance. Social media platforms are monitored 24/7 to ensure zero mentions of discordant opinions. Western apps like YouTube, Facebook, Google and Twitter are banned and replaced by local, Chinese apps, some being WeChat and Weibo to obtain easy access. He has allowed the security/propaganda axis to tighten up controls on expression of different political ideologies and opinions. Mr. Xi went so far as to block images or any content related to Winnie the Pooh as there were memes comparing him and the cartoon character in resemblance. Even the history of CCP is heavily censored; historical nihilism is forbidden, that is, speaking on CCP’s past errors. Hence, we often see them downplaying the number of deaths Mao was responsible for in his ‘Great Leap Forward’ plan and close to zero mentions of the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. In today’s case, the COVID-19 damage control is facing global backlash where lives were put at stake for the sake of censoring the doctors who raised the initial concern over the virus. 

Religious minorities are deemed as dissidents if they do not comply with the rules set by the party. Journalists and lawyers often face violence when they expose the government's corruption which raises questions because, as a leader, if Mr. Xi supposedly propagates fighting corruption, then shouldn’t free press be a basic right of the people? 

With the passing of the recent national security bill, his distaste for “one country, two systems,” is evident.  The bill allows China to keep a close eye on Hong Kong which jeopardises the essence of democracy. Thousands of Hong Kongers took to the streets amid the COVID-19 crisis, to speak out against the infringement of rights.  

(Also read:

Aside from the above mentioned factors, Mr. Xi  has ensured complete military support by employing  incumbents from his party to take up posts in the army. He has also developed this cult of a personality that creates an illusion of  an intrepid leader in the eyes of the citizens, something Mao was famous for. 

George Orwell’s 1984 seems like a field day compared to modern day China. Using its economic leverage to escape discussions on human rights in the country, the party is going down an alarming path of doom. 

(Also read:

No previous leader has been perfect, not even in democracies, but it’s time to look at the past and think of solutions so that history doesn't repeat itself. Past evidence shows how destructive totalitarian regimes are and combined with the power of modern technology, can culminate to a horrifying end. To Mr. Xi, the decisions that he is taking may bring him solace in the short run but, in the long haul, one can only see chaos and endless unrest.

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