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The narrative of a dictator

China’s personality cult is rewriting history


Chinese dictator Xi Jingping speaks at a Party event in Beijing. Associated Press/Photo by Andy Wong (file)

The narrative of a dictator
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China’s ruling Communist party ominously rewrote its official doctrine and history last week, and by strange coincidence the new history exalts its current despotic leader Xi Jinping in nearly idolatrous terms. It’s almost as if America inscribed its current president into the Constitution and renamed our founding principles after him.

All persons concerned about truth and liberty, especially Christians, should be concerned. This new doctrine chillingly declares:

Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era is the Marxism of contemporary China and of the 21st century. It embodies the best of the Chinese culture and ethos in our times and represents a new breakthrough in adapting Marxism to the Chinese context.

An official state-coerced ideology named for a living political leader, much less a dictator, is creepy. That this chieftain governs the world’s most populous nation and largest police state is all the more pernicious. The new document summons all party members, under Xi’s direction, to “act in unison.” There is no room for dissent.

President Xi Jinping is now officially equated with modern Communist China’s two other historically epic chieftains (Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping), which will further expand Xi’s already growing power as he heads towards an unprecedented third term. All despots, but especially the Chinese—who traditionally claim a heavenly mandate to rule—prioritize the self-serving manipulation of history.

Why does it matter? Christians are an historical people. We rely on an historical record of God revealing Himself across centuries, as the Bible presents. Objective facts are important. The story of humanity is ultimately the unfolding of God’s providential interaction with His creation. This narrative continues to unfold and will conclude according to a divine schedule. Accurate historical recall is imperative for right living.

True history records that all humans even at their greatest are sinful, fallible, and not meriting unquestioning trust. The Bible is a narrative of repeated human failure and redemptive divine intervention. Totalitarian ideologies, as alternative religions, claim divine perfection for their tyrannical heroes.

All tyrannies and dictators malevolently rewrite history to defame and intimidate their opponents. They also aspire to create mythology about their own virtue and power to compel admiration and loyalty. Despotisms rely on propaganda and the suppression of alternative views. Twentieth century totalitarians like Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were especially expert in using propaganda through state-controlled mass media.

It’s no coincidence that dictatorships that successfully distort history are also aggressive persecutors of Christians, who live by an alternative narrative not dependent on state propaganda. After decades of liberalization and relatively increased religious toleration, China is now restricting and persecuting the church. Christians, by definition threaten, any despotic state’s historical propaganda.

This week’s Chinese Communist Party Central Committee meeting of 370 members commemorated the party’s 100-year history with this rare resolution on the party's “achievements and historical experiences.” Officially elevating Xi to an iconic status with China’s founding Chinese communist chief Mao and Deng, who shifted China towards freer markets and relations with the West, is momentous. China’s Communists have approved such decisive acknowledgments only twice before, in 1945 for Mao and 1981 for Deng.

The new communist pronouncement on party ideology, unsurprisingly ratified unanimously, hails Xi as “the main innovator” of “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.” Previously, the party had defined its current doctrine as drawn from “the experiences and collective wisdom of the party and the people.”

Xi interpreted the new doctrine exalting him as a call to further homogenize China as “a solid piece of iron” while warning of “great struggle” and “even more arduous and strenuous efforts” amid “major risks.”

Note that leaders of democracies do not typically implore their people to abandon their individuality in favor of centralized iron-like control. Democratic leaders must persuade. Despots dictate. The new Chinese communist declaration naturally “calls upon the entire Party, the military, and all Chinese people to rally more closely around the Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core.”

Our Lord is no respecter of persons, not even Xi. May God rescue China from this totalitarian curse.


Mark Tooley

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy and editor of IRD’s foreign policy and national security journal, Providence. Prior to joining the IRD in 1994, Mark worked eight years for the Central Intelligence Agency. A lifelong United Methodist, he has been active in United Methodist renewal since 1988. He is the author of Taking Back The United Methodist Church, Methodism and Politics in the 20th Century, and The Peace That Almost Was: The Forgotten Story of the 1861 Washington Peace Conference and the Final Attempt to Avert the Civil War. He attends a United Methodist church in Alexandria, Va.


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