Does President Xi not like being called ‘Great Leader’?

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Souvenir plates with images of China's late Chairman Mao Zedong and President Xi Jinping are seen at a shop during the Communist Party's 19th National Congress in Beijing. Photo: Reuters/ Tyrone Siu

China’s President Xi Jinping can be called eight names – but not “Great Leader”, according to a Xinhua report published on November 17.

The eight names are “A pioneer in the new age”, “Pioneering leader”, “The core of the party formed in the great struggle”, “A servant who is seeking happiness for the people”, “A strategist for reform and development of the country”, “A commander who remodels the military and national defense, “A leader of a great power in the international arena” and “A chief architect of modernization in a new era”.

All this gilding of the lily was derived from a 10,000-word long article in a Xinhua Agency mouthpiece that sought to suggest appropriate ways to address the incumbent head of state.

The guideline came after the propaganda department in Guizhou province ordered a ban on calling Xi the “Great Leader and party secretary” in all slogans to reflect the tone of the 19th party congress, according to the mainland press.

Qianxinan, a local daily, called President Xi a “Great Leader”, words of praise that have not been used for nearly 50 years. The paper used the phrase twice in five days, and that stirred up controversy among the national press.

Last month, the Chinese Communist Party voted to put President Xi into the constitution, along with legendary Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping – something that US President Donald Trump could barely even imagine.

Mao had previously been the only leader added to the charter while he was alive, and Deng was included by the party after he died in 1997.

During the Cultural Revolution, Mao was referred to as “Great Leader”, “Great tutor”, “Great marshal” and “Great pilot”. But his successor Hua Guofeng was only known as “Wise leader”.

The official state mouthpiece has not used the term “Highest marshal” to describe the country’s paramount leader since the death of Deng.

The move to downplay Xi’s status is a contrast to the mood prior to the party congress, when many ministries and provincial leaders pledged their loyalty to President Xi and talked up his historic role. It became like a race to push Xi’s status as high as possible.

The ban on calling him a “Great Leader” now appears to be a cautious move not to overplay the propaganda about their powerful leader at this moment.

However, the motive behind the move remains unclear. Perhaps Xi wants to save the best for last, preferring to be named “Great Leader” only after his mission to transform China into a “moderately prosperous society” by 2020, a “modern socialist country” by 2035 and a powerful country by 2050 is accomplished.

Or maybe he thinks “Great Leader” is a title that refers to one who has passed away.

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