What is Xi's China dream


Ros Holmes

Ros Holmes is a lecturer in China Studies at St. Andrews University. She conducts research on China's art and visual culture in the 20th and 21st centuries. Your essays and reviews are in the Oxford Art Journal, in The China Journal, ARTMargins and The China Quarterly published.

China should become "strong" under President Xi Jinping. How did his rise come about? What narratives does he use to support his power? And how does it show itself on social media? A series of pictures.

(& copy picture-alliance, CPA Media Co. Ltd)
Xi Jinping was born in Beijing in 1953. In the photo, five-year-old Xi Jinping can be seen on the left, next to his younger brother Xi Yuanping and his father Xi Zhongxun. Xi's father was a "hero of the communist revolution" and became a vice prime minister when Xi Jinping was five years old. In the seclusion of Beijing's exclusive residential districts for the families of revolutionaries of the first generation of the Communist Party, the young Xi Jinping enjoyed a privileged and sheltered upbringing. However, in the early 1960s, Xi's father fell politically out of favor, lost his post, and was imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution.

(& copy picture-alliance, Xinhua News Agency | Lan Hongguang)

In the picture, Xi Jinping speaks to local residents in Liangjiahe while on an inspection tour. Liangjiahe is a remote village in Shaanxi Province, famous as the bastion of the communists during the civil war. In 1969, during the Cultural Revolution, Xi Jinping came to Liangjiahe with other "land-deported youths" at the age of 16. Xi worked there for seven years and lived in one of the "cave houses". These are characteristic dwellings that have been dug into the surrounding loess plateau. The early expulsion from home, away from the family, a political outcast in a cave, that's why Xi's myth of ascension grows.

(& copy picture-alliance / dpa, Luong Thai Linh / Pool)

In 2007, Xi was appointed to the Politburo Standing Committee from government and party posts in Shanghai and Fujian and Zhejiang provinces. In 2008, the National People's Congress elected Xi as Vice President of China. After assuming the highest offices as General Secretary of the Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission at the end of 2012, Xi officially became State President of the People's Republic of China in March 2013. Until he reached the top echelons of political power, Xi left almost no trace. He only drew attention to himself in 1987 when he married his wife, the famous singer (and major general of the song and dance ensemble of the People's Liberation Army) Peng Liyuan. Peng was born in Shandong Province in 1962 and is considered one of the most important singers in China. The couple have a daughter, Xi Mingze, born in 1992.

(& copy picture-alliance / AP, Ng Han Guan)

Xi Jinping has left behind the old maxim that China should "hide its strength and wait for its time" when expanding islands in the contested South China Sea or advancing the "New Silk Road" as an infrastructure plan with the help of multilateral banks, among other things. In the picture he can be seen at a military parade in Beijing in 2015, which marked the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II and the surrender of Japan. Over 12,000 soldiers, 500 tanks, missiles and other weapon systems and 200 aircraft took part in the military show. It was a representation of what the military called China's most advanced technology.

(& copy picture-alliance, HPIC / dpa | bei Piao)

As the son of a revolutionary comrade of Mao, Xi Jinping has shown himself to be adept at reinforcing his legitimacy by placing himself in this direct line of succession. On the other hand, when celebrating China's communist history, he is careful to balance Chairman Mao's worship with equal respect for his successor, economic reformer Deng Xiaoping. Xi says China "rose" under Mao and "got rich" under Deng. Now he promises that under his supervision, China will "grow strong". Xi talks on the one hand about Marxism, on the other hand about markets and communicates that unity and discipline under one-party rule are crucial for all of this.

(Wikimedia, Kubilayaxun) License: cc by-sa / 4.0 / deed.de

The message in Uighur and Chinese on a large billboard in the city center of Kashgar (Xinjiang, China) reads: "Secretary-General Xi Jinping is deeply connected to the masses of all nationalities in Xinjiang". It shows Xi Jinping posing with a large group of school-age children and their teacher, all of whom belong to the Uighur population of Xinjiang. This paints the image of a multi-ethnic and united "Chinese nation" that ignores the forced internment, disappearance and "re-education" of thousands of Uyghurs in what is possibly the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century.

(& copy picture-alliance / AP, Mark Schiefelbein)

In 2014, a music video entitled "The Four Comprehensive Plots" went viral. The video deals with Xi's concept of "the Chinese dream": "To build a country with modest prosperity in an all-encompassing way, to deepen reforms, to rule the state according to the law and strictly govern the party". The "Chinese dream" has come to the fore more and more conspicuously in the cultural and political landscape of contemporary China: In its visualizations it is associated with "clever one-party rule" and the cultural rejuvenation of the nation. With its kitschy comic-style graphics, the video stands less for the infantilization of contemporary propaganda than for its targeted repackaging Social media-friendly format for mass consumption. These media are intended to undoubtedly make Xi appear more human by providing insights into his personal life and character, as well as presenting official statistics and data in a format that is visually more appealing than the traditional sterile government announcements.

(& copy picture-alliance, NurPhoto | Yichuan Cao)

Xi is described in many ways as a prime example of a modern multimedia leader. He has appeared countless times on a wide range of digital platforms over the past six years. In 2015, a website operated by the Communist Party's Central Party School launched a free app called Xuexi Zhongguo, directly translatable as "Study China", which is also a play on words with Xi's last name and in this way can also be understood as "Study Xi's China". The app offers intensive lessons for Xi Jinping's present writings and speeches in addition to functions such as a live map that tracks his travels. Although it was one of the five most downloaded iPhone education apps in China, many users are likely to have downloaded it precisely because of its pop culture elements - including free movie downloads, Social media-Functions and a game with an integrated rating system, in which you can show how good you are at thinking Xi Jinping.

Translation from English into German: Brigitte Höhenrieder