Focus topics

Xi – A man sees red

By Johnny Erling
Ein Bild von Johnny Erling

The People’s Republic of China, like other socialist states, has become accustomed to the symbolic color red (红色), but party leader Xi Jinping now wants to apply the revolutionary paint for his party and society with an even thicker coat and newfound vigor. Only if the youth grows up with “red genes” would China “never change its color.” Shortly before the CC plenum meeting in Beijing at the end of November, the last major party conference to set the course for the upcoming election party congress next autumn, Xi is bringing the party, the nation, and its people into ideological line. At the same time, he is making China back-pedal in terms of the market economy. The party leader is doing everything he can to extend his ten-year rule over China in 2022. The entire country must become even redder: “We’ll start with the babies.”

Actually, the word “red” falls under the group of adjectives that are non-gradable. But in China, things are different. Last week, the party’s theory magazine “Quishi”, published by the Central Committee, printed an unpublished speech by Xi to his Politburo on the occasion of the National Day: In it, he repeats the word “red” a total of 22 times, linking it to more than half a dozen terms. From red culture, red successors, red resources, red monuments, red ideals, red genes to red country. (红色文化 红色血脉 红色资源 红色旧址 红色理想 红色基因 红色江山).

Xi delivered his internal address on June 25, a week before Beijing’s pompously staged 100th-anniversary celebrations of the founding of CP China. The first thing he did was to lecture the country’s top officials with a truism: “Red is the freshest shining, the fundamental color of the Communist Party of China and the People’s Republic. There are red resources scattered everywhere in our vast nation.” By this, he means museums, monuments, or squares meant to commemorate the Party’s decades-long revolution leading up to its victory and founding of the People’s Republic. “These resources must become places of pilgrimage for the ideological and patriotic education of the youth so that the red genes are propagated from generation to generation. This would guarantee that our red country never changes its color.”(把红色基因传承好,确保红色江山永不变色.)

To this end, he urges his closest comrades-in-arms: “I have told you time and again that revolutionary ideals reach higher than the sky,” and demands them to think just ideologically as he does: “Having red arteries is the concentrated expression of the political essence of the CP of China and the source of our spiritual strength.”

Since taking office in 2012, Xi has repeatedly inspected historical memorials of the revolution during his travels throughout the country. He felt “shaken to his soul” by the commemoration. Last June, Qiushi magazine selected 32 of Xi’s quotes from these visits. Among them, he talks about his “project to pass on the red genes from one generation to another,” (红色基因代代传”工程). The Party could not start early enough with the patriotic education of its youth, he said. “Revolutionary traditional education must start with babies so that the red genes enter the blood.”(革命传统教育要从娃娃抓起, 使红色基因渗进血液).

On November 25, 1968, a stamp was introduced that was too red even for Mao’s Cultural Revolutionary China. “The whole country is red” was written on the stamp, which, however, did not show the island of Taiwan as a white spot and the islands in the South China Sea claimed by Beijing at all. The stamp was immediately confiscated. It is now a rarity. At a Hong Kong auction, the pair seen above was sold for HK$1.725 million.

Only during Mao’s reign, Beijing’s use of the symbolic color red was even more inflationary. The Great Chairman had himself be praised as the “Red Sun”, let his people sing the song “The East is Red” and unleashed the Red Guard. On November 25, 1968, a special stamp issued in honor of Mao’s Cultural Revolution with the inscription: “The whole country is red” became a grotesque display of red madness. The stamp was withdrawn hours after it was issued because the island of Taiwan was marked in white and the islands in the South China Sea claimed by Beijing were not marked at all. Sinologist, journalist, and expert on Mao memorabilia, Helmut Opletal, estimates that only a few hundred copies entered circulation. As the most valuable rarity in Chinese philately, these stamps fetch unbelievable prices today.

On the stamp, the Cultural Revolutionaries wave Mao’s little red book with the “Words of the Chairman”, also known as the Red Mao Bible. That is why Xi Jinping had to find a different color for his book of words. In 2017, his first anthology was published under the title: “Learn from Xi’s Golden Sentences”. Since then, more “Golden Sentences Books” have been published.

Xi’s flooding China with red propaganda is not a mere thickly applied whitewash to legitimize the party’s autocracy. It is also a move to maintain the ideological superstructure with which he can steer China’s economy back on a socialist track. His recent plea for a policy of equally distributed wealth, Beijing’s promotion of state-owned enterprises, and spectacular campaigns against economic monopolies, power, and influence in private hands all point in the same direction. The latest issue of the Economist called it “China’s New Reality,” or “Xi’s Taming of Capitalism.”

Inspired by the famous Red Mao Bible (Words of Chairman Mao), Xi Jinping also had selected quotes from his works published, but he had them named differently: “Learn from Xi’s Golden Sentences” is the title of Volume 1, which was published by the Party Publishing House in 2017.

The party leader has never hidden the fact that he is not a pragmatic economic reformer, but a nationalist and a man of conviction who intends to transform economy, society, and ideology – in Chinese fashion, to be sure – but in a socialist manner, to turn his nation into a global empire. But many in the West didn’t want to believe that. After he was elected party leader, he said in his inaugural speech to the new Central Committee on January 5, 2013, “In these years, people at home and abroad keep questioning whether what we are doing is still socialist. Some call our system socialism shaped by capital, state capitalism, or neo-bureaucratic capitalism. (资本社会主义, 国家资本主义, 新官僚资本主义) They are wrong about that.

In his most recent speech printed on October 1st, Xi said, “We bear the name ‘Communist Party,’ recognizing the ideals of communism as our own (…) Our Party has been in power for more than 70 years and will be for a long time to come.” Xi has remained true to himself. He is a man who sees red.


    Forging prettier numbers
    A big payoff from US-China climate cooperation
    At what point does cooperation lead to complicity?
    China’s true soft power