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Chinese textbooks reflect rise of Xi Jinping’s personality cult




When Chinese students returned to class in September 2021, they received a new series of manuals describing Chinese President Xi Jinping, or Grandfather Xis, political philosophy.

Each textbook on Xi Jinping’s Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era, as Xis’ Political Philosophy is officially called, is suitable for students in primary, secondary and higher levels.

Xi Jinping’s Thought Inscribed in Chinese Communist Parties (CCP) Constitution in 2017. Although the main stated objectives are to remain committed to reform and to build a moderately prosperous society, the realities of this political philosophy has been a tightening of party discipline and a reduction in social freedom.

Read more: China’s Sixth Plenum will consolidate Xi Jinping’s power and chart the country’s ambitions for the next 5 years

While the previous textbooks focused on the CCP, the new versions focus on the Supreme Leader of China. In this way, they reflect the growing cult of Xi Jinping’s personality, eerily reminiscent of the days of China’s founding father, Mao Zedong.

The Rise of Personality Cult

According to the Chinese National Textbook Committee, the

textbooks reflect the will of the Chinese Communist Party and the nation and have a direct impact on the direction and quality of the cultivation of talents.

In particular, the Committee declared:

Primary schools should foster a love and understanding of the Party, the country and socialism among the pupils.

The fundamental socialist values highlighted in textbooks include prosperity, patriotism and friendship.

Aimed at children, the nickname Grandpa Xi is part of the ongoing strategy to create a cult of personality in China. Authoritarian regimes like the Soviet Union also used the figure of the grandfather (Grandfather Lenin) as part of propaganda aimed at children. This improvement of Lenin personality cult across the Soviet nations.

Political scientist Pao-min Chang defines personality cult as

One man’s artificial elevation of status and authority [] by the deliberate creation, projection and propagation of a divine image.

Like Lenin, a personality cult around Mao Zedong emerged during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Although later rulers Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China’s economic reform, and Wen Jiabao, who served as prime minister between 2003 and 2013, are commonly known as Grandfather Deng and Grandfather Wen, they did not openly push for this image.

Young pioneers at a ceremony to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of former leader Deng Xiaoping in 1998.
Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China’s economic reform, was popularly known as Grandfather Deng.

Xi returns to Mao in his efforts to build a personality cult around him. Since coming to power, he has cultivated the image of a man of the people in order to make his authoritarianism more palpable among the masses.

Little Red Children and Grandpa Xi

The new primary school textbooks emphasize the wisdom, kindness and care of the Xis towards children. The first signs of this strategy can be seen in the government’s propaganda video, Grandpa Xi is Our Big Friend, which circulated online in 2015.

The video was checked in at Yan’an Yucai Primary School in Shaanxi. The location is important as the school was founded by Mao Zedong in 1937.

Read more: Xi Jinping leaves his mark on the history of the Communist Party, but is his support as strong as his predecessors?

In the video, Xi Jinping is not presented as a distant authority figure. Instead, Grandpa Xi is a great, caring friend. The children sing that her warm smile is brighter than the sun. Images of children waving sunflowers and words describing Xis’ visit as better than the warmth of a spring day accentuate her friendly character.

Most importantly, children sing about the need to study diligently to achieve the Chinese dream. This dream is Xi Jinping’s vision for China to become a prosperous society.

Statue of Mao Zedong
A personality cult around Mao Zedong was a big part of the propaganda during the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

The children wear red scarves and red stars in the video. Those symbols represent the national flag. The color red alludes to the blood of revolutionaries martyrs. They remind children of their connection to the nation and the Party.

Xi wears a red scarf in the video. In one scene, he places a red scarf over the shoulders of a child. This accessory and gesture is also represented in the textbooks of the primary 2021. Placing a scarf on a child means that the children take on the role of the vision of Grandpa Xis with happiness.

The Young Pioneers of the CCP

The textbook for lower elementary school students contains pictures of Xi planting trees with children and meeting them at school.

The books contain statements such as:

Grandpa Xi Jinping is very busy with work, but no matter how busy he is, he always joins our business and cares about our growth.

Xi shares his emotional memories when he joined the Young Pioneers of China (the youth organization of the CCP) in 1960. He then invites readers to describe their own feelings about being a part of the Young Pioneers, thus encouraging young people to join.

Xi Jinping tying a red scarf around a child in a Beijing primary school.
‘Xi Jinping’s page Thinking on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era’ for the first cycle of primary school.

Textbooks use illustrations with speech bubbles to make the ideological content more interesting. Some illustrations show students seated around a table teaching each other Grandpa Xis’ expectations of becoming a person of good character and who is diligent and thrifty.

The books also focus on acquiring knowledge about science and technology, as well as creativity and innovation.

Children must cultivate these markers of good citizenship to become what the books call skilled builders and successors of socialism. This rhetoric of children like nation’s hope has been in use since the end of the 19th century.

Read more: Chongyi Feng Academic: Chinese Profits, Freedom and “Soft Power” in Australia

The emphasis on qualification suggests that children must live up to the expectations set by Xi. The textbooks suggest that this is only possible because Grandpa Xis continued to care for them.

This image of Grandpa Xi as a great friend is a milder form of propaganda than that seen during Maos’ Cultural Revolution. Propaganda aimed at children during the Cultural Revolution positioned the Party as a surrogate parent. He also highlighted child violence while they were fighting for the socialist cause. The young Red Guards sang patriotic songs and read the little red book. These rituals promoted the cult of the personality of Maos.

It remains to be seen whether the new school curriculum is a harbinger of a future deification of Xi Jinping.




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