The Liuyang River bends through nine bends, and the fifty-mile waterway reaches the Xiangjiang River. There is Xiangtan County by the river. Ah, there is a Chairman Mao, who “leads the people to liberate”. The song to the Great Chairman and his river, “Liuyanghe,” which has been sung for 70 years, has become an evergreen among revolutionary hits that millions of Chinese still warble along with today. Meanwhile, the new chairman Xi Jinping is following in Mao’s footsteps. A hymn dedicated to him and his river “Liangjiahe” in Shaanxi, from which he set out on his political career, has appeared in the copy-happy People’s Republic. The sonorously recited cycle of poems is the latest highlight in the increasingly grotesque Chinese cult of personality. But opposition is also stirring within the party.
“Rise, become rich, become strong” (站起来，富起来, 强起来). The three terms introduce the refrain of the “Ballad of Liangjiahe” (梁家河组歌). They come from the mouth of party leader Xi and have become common words in the People’s Republic. Melodically performed (朗诵) by well-known artists, the spoonerism of the refrain goes like this: “You come from Liangjiahe, steering China into a new era, never forget how it all began, staying true to the mission, and carrying on the project of Chinese socialism in the new era!” (站起来，富起来，强起来. 你从梁家河走来，领航中国走进新时代。不忘初心，牢记使命，新时代中国特色社会主义继往开来！)
Patriotic ballad about the deeds of the young Xi
It almost sounds like the praise song “Liuyanghe” (浏阳河) written by poet Xu Shuhua (徐叔华) in 1950 that “Chairman Mao is the Red Sun in Our Hearts”. The new revolutionary ballad about Xi narrates his career in nine verses after the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution sends the 15-year-old to the countryside in January 1969. For seven years he toils with and among the local farmers in the village of Liangjiahe on the eponymous river before he was allowed to return to Beijing to rise politically.
In the fifth verse, the poem praises young Xi, who was forced to abandon his secondary school education because of the Cultural Revolution, as a brilliant autodidact. After a hard day’s work, he keeps himself awake “half the night” to read world literature, from Goethe’s Faust (浮士德) to Shakespeare’s King Lear (李尔王), by the “light of an oil spark” in his “dark den”. Of course, he devoured the Marxist classics, especially Das Kapital (资本论) by Karl Marx. That’s what fascinated and enlightened him so much, China’s news agency Xinhua wrote in an endless eulogy to Xi that took China Daily seven parts to translate into English. Xi had read Marx’s “‘Das Kapital’ three times and filled 18 notebooks with his reflections on the text.
Ten (sic.) notes of the new poem on Xi explain what the poet Cheng Guanjun is alluding to. “Big guns” are hand-rolled coarse tobacco leaves that Xi smokes for his fatigue; the “mother’s heart and a small pouch for needle and thread” (娘的心。小小针线包) refers to an anecdote. According to it, “when he went to the countryside, Mother Qixin gave her son a cloth bag with sewing materials, on which she had embroidered the words ‘Mother’s Heart’.” Other touching recollections of Xi’s mother and her relationship with her son under the title “The Promise Two Generations of Communists Made to Each Other” are spread by major party media in China.
With personality cult to absolute power
The eulogies in verse are an overture for the grand concert that the 20th Party Congress is supposed to put on for Xi to cement his absolute power at the end of 2022. There is a lot of calculation behind the enacted cult of personality. For example, Cheng Guanjun, as the author of the poem in praise of Xi, is not a part-time or hobby poet, but an author who writes for the main Party newspapers. He is also an expert on party history and a senior theoretician at the Beijing CC Party University. Before his recent Xi Anthem, he had already written a similar poem, “You Come from Liangjiahe.” It found its way into the Xi training material “Strong China” (中宣部 “学习强国”) published by the CCP and was distributed by all party media. His song poem is currently being performed by professional recitation artists over radio and stages.
Within the party, however, Xi’s personality cult seems to be met with resistance. An indirect hint of this is hidden in an extensive programmatic manifesto of the Central Committee, which the CC’s publications department published on August 26 under the title: “The Chinese Communist Party: Its Mission and Contributions.” The document was apparently so important that the English-published newspaper China Daily translated it in full on more than half a dozen of its pages.
In one particular paragraph, it says: “Upholding the leadership core of the CPC in no way involves the creation of any kind of personality cult – something the CPC has resolutely opposed ever since it was first founded. The Party’s Constitution explicitly stipulates that ‘The Party proscribes all forms of personality cult.’ The Party leadership core never wields unlimited power or engages in decision-making at will.”
Just ten weeks later, the Party’s “historical resolution,” adopted at a plenary meeting of the Central Committee, appeared in mid-November as the ultimate statement of principles on its history and the maxims of its development. CCP chief Xi, who lets himself be called the “core of the party,” presided over the meeting, led the three-member drafting group for the resolution, and presented it. It no longer mentions personality cult. Xi did not explain why.
In exchange, the resolution praises “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era marked the third breakthrough in the adaptation. The Resolution points out that this Thought is the Marxism of contemporary China and of the 21st century. It embodies the best of the Chinese culture and ethos in our times.” This is written in prose. But it reads like another hymn by party poets to their leader.