Deng Xiaoping (top right) had his eponymous 'Theory' written into the constitution after his death. Xi Jinping Thought has been enshrined while he is still in office. Photo: Reuters / Thomas Peter

The 9th congress of the Chinese Communist Party, held at the apex of the Cultural Revolution, was celebrated at the time as “a congress of unity and victory.” There was, however, nothing unifying or victorious about the 9th congress. The Cultural Revolution had decimated the party as an institution.

The looming 19th party congress is comparable to the 9th congress, not least in terms of the political atmosphere surrounding it. Under Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption regime, more officials have been arrested than during the Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao combined. And yet, the upcoming congress looks to be a victory rally for Xi on almost every front.

Legitimacy reaffirmed

Xi was officially named as the party’s “core” – a title to be reconfirmed in the presence of 2,300 party elites at the upcoming congress – last fall, during the 6th plenum of the 18th congress.

Titles carry meaning. “Core” shows that Xi is his own man and that he embodies power, unlike his immediate predecessor, Hu Jintao, who never held the same designation.

A mild consensus builder, the extent of Hu’s power was often in doubt, and the Chinese public adorned him with the facetious moniker “young daughter-in-law” due to the perception that he was always being bullied by Jiang’s underlings, who surrounded him. With his “core” title, Xi is now a legitimate paramount leader. It is even possible that he will acquire some of Mao’s old titles — Great Supreme Commander, for example — at the 19th congress.

Photo: Reuters / Marko Djurica

With his “core” status cemented, the advancement of some kind of Xi-ist ideology will surely follow soon. In fact, party journals have already begun promoting “Xi Jinping Thought.”

Although the specifics of Xi-ist philosophy are still up in the air, sociopolitical uniformity, military might, economic statism, cultural traditionalism and gradual state-led reform would no doubt feature.

Anti-corruption campaign likely to cool

History shows us that no repressive political campaign can continue indefinitely with the same momentum it enjoyed from the outset. Like the Cultural Revolution, which entered a cooler phase after the 9th congress, the pace of Xi’s anti-corruption campaign will eventually dampen. Nevertheless, the campaign will remain as a useful tool to suppress opponents.

While there is likely to be much self-congratulation at the congress regarding anti-corruption gains, a decision will have to be made regarding Wang Qishan, China’s chief graft-buster, who has a “fast-growing” personal faction — a major taboo in Chinese politics. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Wang has come under increasing fire over murmurs of his own alleged involvement in corruption.

As an old Chinese saying goes, “with the birds gone, the fine bow will be locked away.” Whether Wang will be kept or granted an honorable discharge, or transfer, will become clearer at the 19th congress.

The Xi Syndicate

It is expected that Xi will fill the Central Committee with as many members of his own camp as possible.

While he has been assertive enough with the current Politburo Standing Committee, he remains uncomfortable on a council staffed with Jiang and Hu allies. This is evident from the creation of numerous Xi-dominated “leading small groups” and the powerful Central National Security Commission.

Four years of purges have sent Jiang’s Shanghai Gang reeling, while Hu’s Communist Youth League power base has been hit hard under the pretext of “reform.”

At the upcoming congress, Xi’s group is poised snatch up as many critical positions as possible, leaving his rivals with only minor offices.

More cult of personality

Mao once argued that a cult of personality is a good thing, so long as it is for a good person. Thus, he justified the cult of his own personality. Xi appears to share a similar belief.

Xi has mobilized the entire state propaganda machine to rally public support for his “charismatic authority,” regrettably the only type of leadership that works under the current Chinese political system, in keeping with Max Weber’s theory.

Chinese propagandists have craftily blended traditionalism into the cult’s rhetoric and positioned Xi as the defender of traditional Chinese culture

Xi portraits and quotes now loom over every Chinese city. But the cult is not just superficial hero worship based on never-ending loyalty dances. Chinese propagandists have craftily blended traditionalism into the cult’s rhetoric and positioned Xi as the defender of traditional Chinese culture. This concoction of leader worship and neo-traditionalism has proved much more palatable for ordinary Chinese, particularly conservative ones.

Already well-formed, Xi’s personality cult will rear its head at the 19th congress and will be further propagated in the coming years of his leadership.

In essence, the 19th congress will be a celebration of the triumph of Xi over his enemies, and of the supremacy of his ideology. Where he is set to take China in the next five years is still a mystery. But perhaps party historians will one day look back questioningly at another so-called “congress of unity and victory.”

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