Tue, Oct 10, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Hail, Xi-sar!

An exhibition trumpeting the triumphs of Xi Jinping’s first term has all the hallmarks of Chairman Mao mania, leading many to speculate the Chinese president’s reign is only just beginning

By Tom Phillips  /  THE GUARDIAN, BEIJING

Top: A visitor takes a photograph of a picture of Xi Jinping during an exhibition at the Beijing Exhibition Hall last month.

PHOTO: EPA ,Wu Hong

The Five Years On exhibit marks the end of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) first term in power but some wonder whether he will ever relinquish his leadership.

When Soviet architect Sergei Andreyev designed the Beijing Exhibition Center more than six decades ago, it symbolized the awkward alliance between former Chinese Communist Party (CCP) chairman Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) China and the USSR.

In the autumn of this year it has become a monument to just one man.

“Maybe he’s our idol,” says Huang Xingchen, a 28-year-old policeman and one of thousands of Xi Jinping fans to stream into the 1950s expo hall since a show trumpeting the feats of China’s current leader opened there last week.

Officially, the Five Years On exhibit — timed to mark the end of Xi’s first term in power — is a celebration of the advances China as a whole has made in that time.

But Xi, whose supremacy will take center stage when the CCP’s 19th National Congress kicks off in Beijing on Oct. 18, is the undoubted star of the show.

THE TALENTED MR XI

Scores of photographs of the 64-year-old strongman adorn the walls of the retrospective, split by CCP curators into 10 thematic “zones” touting Xi’s purported triumphs in areas such as foreign policy, the environment and the war on corruption.

Exhibition guides in burgundy flight attendant uniforms proffer anecdotes about the travails of a leader party officials now hail as their “core.”

“I bet Theresa May would like to have an exhibition like that in five years time,” says Roderick MacFarquhar, a Harvard University professor and former British MP who specializes in the nebulous world of elite Chinese politics.

The Xi on show in the Beijing exhibition is a man of many friends and many talents.

In one room, visitors find an image of Xi the international statesman rubbing shoulders with the Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip on Horse Guards Parade. In another, field commander Xi brandishes a Chinese assault rifle while touring a People’s Liberation Army garrison in Macau.

Visitors also encounter Xi the conservationist: he caresses a baby elephant at a Zimbabwean wildlife sanctuary; he is applauded by environmental officials on the Tibetan plateau; he appears at the 2015 Paris climate conference, quoting Victor Hugo as he commits to fighting global warming: “Les ressources supremes sortent des resolutions extremes,” China’s green supremo declares.

BRINGER OF BLUE SKIES

Xi’s conquests are also remembered in cross-stitch form. An embroidery entitled “The One Who Cares the Most” hangs from one wall, memorializing the day Xi dropped in on villagers in Hunan province to advance his crusade against poverty.

Xi the wordsmith is also honored. A towering bookshelf is stacked with copies of his tome on governance in Russian, Portuguese and Hungarian.

“We all support him,” says Xu Fangchao, 29, a HR worker who was admiring the collection with friends.

Where there are no images of Xi, glass cabinets contain tributes to his reign. One features a bright yellow jersey sent to him by Pele, Brazil’s footballing king. Another holds a football shirt gifted by high schoolers during a US tour: the number “1” is written on its back next to Xi’s name in mustard lettering.

Visitors to the exhibit — many bureaucrats attending at the behest of their CCP work units — voiced support for their ruler.

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