Even when history doesn’t repeat itself, it does often rhyme. This seems especially true in Communist China.
In the wake of Mao Zedong’s disastrous 27-year rule over the People’s Republic of China, his successors pushed through a series of reform measures to ensure that Chinese history wouldn’t repeat itself.
At the heart of these reforms was a provision that the Chinese “state chairman,” or in other words the state leader, could only serve two five-year terms. The system worked as intended for three decades. While China’s human-rights record remained abysmal, at least the cult of personality that grew around Mao never developed under his successors.
China’s “well-choreographed annual parliament,” is set to remove the two-term rule for president in order to allow president Xi Jinping to rule for life.
Given the importance of China in the world’s economy and on the global stage, its slide towards one-man dictatorship is troubling enough. But even more troubling is the kind of dictatorship Xi seems intent on creating.
Xi’s subordinates and Chinese media have begun to refer to him as “lingxiu,” a reverential term for “leader” not heard since the days of Mao Zedong. The German media translates lingxiu as “Führer.”
The Communist Party proclaimed Xi as lingxiu last October. Since then, state organs have been using the honorific in ways that approach self-parody. In late February, a puff piece on Chinese television told viewers that the “People’s lingxiu is loved by the people!”
Someone seems to be trying too hard.
But it’s not just titles. The same Party Congress also enshrined Xi’s political thought in the Chinese constitution. It’s officially known as “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.”
That just rolls right off the tongue, now doesn’t it?
This emerging cult of personality has even led to a ban on images of Winnie the Pooh because of jokes about Xi resembling “the bear of very little brain.”
But seriously, this is no laughing matter. Jerome Cohen of New York University and the Council on Foreign Relations has written that Xi’s dictatorship “will have a profound effect on world order.”
Under Xi, China has assumed a more aggressive posture towards its neighbors and the United States. Recently, China came close to a shooting war with India over a remote part of the Himalayas. And it’s trying to turn the South China Sea into a Chinese lake.
The situation is even more grim for Chinese Christians. As the Washington Post reported, Christians in southern China were recently told that, “Jesus Christ won’t drag you out of poverty or cure your illnesses, but the Chinese Communist Party will, so take down those pictures of Christ and put up a nice photograph of President Xi Jinping.”
It was part of a campaign aimed at “melting the hard ice in the hearts of religious believers” and “helping turn them into believers in the party.” By “the party” they mean Xi Jinping.
So what does all of this mean? Well, we certainly should expect more crackdowns on house churches, and maybe even registered churches. There’s little room for Christianity in “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.” And as the Economist recently put it, we can go ahead and say that “the West’s 25-year bet on China has failed.”
The belief that China would become more democratic as it became wealthier has proven false. Instead, “repression, state control and confrontation” is on the rise, again.
Of course, this comes as no surprise to Chinese Christians. It’s the rest of us who are now catching up with reality.
John Stonestreet is President of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and BreakPoint co-host.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by BreakPoint.