A man in power wants all things his way. And in China, a man with absolute power wants one particular thing above all else: immortality for his words.
That’s perhaps why Chinese emperors had court historians record even their most mundane utterances as profound words of wisdom and inspiration. And that’s definitely why communist dictator Mao Zedong had his “Quotations of Chairman Mao,” popularly known as the Little Red Book, printed as the ultimate life guide for the proletarian masses, distributing, by some estimates, an astonishing 6.5 billion copies worldwide.
Now the country’s latest supreme leader, President Xi Jinping, is continuing that splendid tradition of imperial pomposity, with his own collection of sayings that is a riot of bureaucratic gobbledygook mixed with profundity, platitude with inspiration.
Since he rose to power a little more than three years ago, Mr. Xi has steadfastly been promoted as today’s greatest intellectual source of China’s existential development, its national strategies and, above all else, the complete fulfillment of a grand “China Dream” that will re-establish Beijing’s pre-eminent place in world affairs.
As with Mao, Mr. Xi’s inspirational wisdom takes the form of personal quotations, enhanced by modern information technologies. And 2015 has proved to be a great year for the popularization of “Chairman Xi’s” quotations in official propaganda.
This wasn’t one of those threadbare collections of presidential musings pushed out on some party-sanctioned national holiday. Instead, the Communist Party Central Committee’s Party School in April rolled out a “Chairman Xi’s Quotations” app for the 88 million party members, which was soon made available to the entire nation for downloading.
The app, simply called “Xi Jinping Quotations,” contains a massive file of data including all of Mr. Xi’s speeches, catchy quotations and important maxims. Users can even tap the app’s buttons to locate the times and places these profound and immortal words were first uttered. It also includes praise and commentaries by Chinese Marxist theorists on the president’s quotes, inspirational stories of Mr. Xi’s road to greatness and various Chinese proverbs and pithy poems he is fond of citing.
On Monday, the editors at the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, put out an annotated summary of the president’s top 20 quotations and inspirational phrases uttered in 2015, words that have gone viral on China’s Web.
Topping the list is the phrase “political rule,” said to have been uttered by Mr. Xi on Jan. 13 in the midst of an internal purge of political enemies who had all been charged with being “derelict of the party’s political discipline,” a euphemism for disobeying the president’s authority. The People’s Daily helpfully provides an example of its usage in a Xi sentence: “It is a fundamental political rule for us to uphold the Party’s leadership role, the essence of which is to uphold the Party Central Committee’s centralized and comprehensive leadership.”
Another big 2015 phrase for Mr. Xi was “the crucial minority,” referring to members of the Communist Party. Being a consummate Marxist-Leninist, with a doctoral degree in scientific socialism from the Tsinghua University, Mr. Xi places the utmost importance on elite politics and the role of the unelected few as the vanguard of the vast Chinese proletariat.
“To comprehensively rule the nation by law, we must concentrate on the ‘Crucial Minority,’ by which I mean the party’s leading cadres,” Mr. Xi instructed on Feb. 2, his first recorded use of the catchphrase. It was soon picked up by the party propaganda machine, making it in the People’s Daily account “one of the most mentioned words during the Two Conferences” — the annual March conventions of the nation’s rubber-stamp parliament and a political consultative organization.
But not every one of the 20 buzzwords uttered by Mr. Xi in 2015 was of cosmic heaviness. Take No. 9 on the list: “Toilet Revolution.”
On April 1, the president, deeply disturbed by the persistence of crude traditional means of human waste disposal in increasingly affluent rural provinces, called for a “Toilet Revolution.” On July 16, Mr. Xi once again made headlines by issuing an edict for an immediate action to redress the problem during an inspection tour in the northeastern province of Jilin, when he spotted the unsightly “feudal residue” of the nation’s septic practices.
Flush with the president’s inspiring message instruction, the Chinese government on Nov. 19 held a mass ceremony in Beijing to honor “World Toilet Day and China’s Toilet Revolution Propaganda Day.”
Other Xi phrases and quotations that have made it onto the People’s Daily’s top 20 list include: “new mode of international relations,” “pushing the boulder uphill, climbing the hill and crossing the ditch,” “The Four Comprehensives,” “global governance,” “check the pulse and prescribe,” “The Four Diehard Cadres” and, last but not least, “the community for cyberspace predestination.”
All, according to People’s Daily, are profound and inspirational.
• Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at email@example.com and @Yu_miles.