Tributes to Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), the man now seen as China’s most powerful ruler since Mao Zedong (毛澤東), have come in myriad forms: Xi Jinping tapestries, oil paintings, pop songs, exhibitions and even university departments.
Now he has received a hardwood homage with reports that senior Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials have made a pilgrimage to a tree honoring their country’s increasingly supreme leader.
Following what US President Donald Trump termed Xi’s “extraordinary elevation” at the CCP’s 19th National Congress last month, officials in Henan Province decided to express their allegiance by gathering around a Paulownia tree planted by then-CCP Politburo Standing Committee member Xi in April 2009.
As the cadres, includig CCP Henan Party Secretary Xie Fuzhan (謝伏瞻), gazed up at its branches in the morning on Sunday last week, “they were immersed in thought, filled with deep emotions,” a local propaganda report described.
“The tree is big, verdant and tall,” the author of the story gushed. “[Locals] warmly call it the Xi Paulownia tree.”
An accompanying video showed a group of almost entirely male leaders being escorted toward the arboricultural accolade by a female hostess.
“Eight years have passed [since Xi’s visit] and the tree has grown enormous and leafy,” she says.
The Xi tree is the latest exhibit in what some see as a mounting body of evidence suggesting a nascent Mao-style cult of personality is being built around China’s leader.
Those suspicions grew last month after Xi’s political ponderings were officially enshrined in the CCP constitution and Chinese universities began unveiling departments that would delve into what is now known as Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era.
Speaking to reporters earlier this month, Xie Chuntao (謝春濤), an academic at the Central Party School in Beijing, admitted that Xi enjoyed “a larger individual role” in Chinese politics, but rejected the suggestion that the blind worship of one man was being revived.
“The Chinese Communist Party has had a cult of personality before,” Xie told Reuters reporters. “The lesson has long been had, and I believe this will not reoccur.”
However, Fordham University professor of law Carl Minzner, who wrote End of an Era, an upcoming book about Xi’s authoritarian tack, said he saw a clear and troubling shift back toward the elevation of a single figurehead.
“In the long term, that has really deleterious impacts for governance in China,” he said.
Beijing begs to differ and last week launched a sequel to Xi’s tome on exactly that topic, The Governance of China. The book’s second volume reportedly boasts no less than 29 photographs of Xi, as well as 99 of his texts.
The China Daily, the CCP’s English-language mouthpiece, described it as “groundbreaking” and “reader-friendly.”
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