Xi Jinping, the leader of China since 2013, has a way of arranging national events so that they fit snugly into his own career plans. After serving as president of China for five years, he's now arranged to hold his job for the rest of his life, if he chooses.
At the recent National People's Congress, attended by about 3,000 delegates, 2,964 voted to remove constitutional time limits on the president's position. Two delegates voted against the change and three abstained, none of them announcing their names. There was no public discussion before the vote, no chance for the expression of differing views. Everyone knew this was Xi's desire, and almost everyone wanted to please him Through a swift vote on a swift change, China has now moved closer to a one-man dictatorship than anything it has experienced since the days of Mao Zedong, who died in 1976. It was a coup, a rare example of a one-man coup.
Xi is like no previous leader in China. He likes to make speeches, and enjoys publicity. He tries his best to appear affable. He's always ready to smile at a camera. He even welcomed a reporter to write a day-in-the-life of him. (It was a reporter from official media, of course.) He's the author of a two-volume treatise, The Governance of China, mainly a collection of speeches. The newly revised constitution will include a section called Xi Jinping Thought.
Five years ago, in the pre-Xi years, it was believed Beijing was being ruled by a collective leadership. Hu Jintao, then the president, apparently allowed the expression of differing views in the then nine-member Politburo Standing Committee. No one says that about Xi.
His mission, during his first five years in office, was gathering all the strings of government, from health care to the navy, into his hands. His method is the Communist Party, which has a cell in every national bureau in Beijing. The Communists steer the government's decisions and Xi in turn steers the Communists.
Xi Jinping favours extensive censorship and will likely bring more of it as he assumes his new status. Censors automatically block any mention of disturbing incidents involving Tibet, China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region (home to the mostly Muslim Uighur) or Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement in 2014. When the late Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, this fact was not mentioned in Chinese media; Liu, a critic of the government, was officially unmentionable. Censorship guidelines appear weekly from the Communist Party's propaganda department. China has a lot to be silent about.
GreatFire.org, a non-profit organization in the U.S., aims to "bring transparency to the Great Firewall of China" by monitoring censorship. Sometimes it's frustrated when a Chinese government attack tool named Great Cannon manages to hack Great-Fire itself.
China Digital Times published a list of terms and phrases that have recently been censored on social media The list includes phrases like "incapable ruler" and "I oppose," as well as words: "shameless," "disagree" and "emperor." No one, apparently, is to use such words. Unmentionable books on the list include anti-Communist classics by George Orwell, Animal Farm and 1984. But there are some surprises, most notably Winnie the Pooh.
How did he get into this column? Someone, two or three years ago, decided that Xi Jinping resembles Winnie the Pooh, the bear in the stories of A.A. Milne. When that notion went on-line, people started writing Winnie the Pooh when they meant Xi Jinping. They had given the president a new name. He was not amused and an order went out. And so no one, for any reason, can write Winnie the Pooh on social media -- not even someone who just wants to compare him with Eeyore or Tigger. One of the most famous children's stories, nearly a century old, has acquired a fresh if furtive meaning.