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Must-Read: Wilhelmine China: a rapidly-industrializing country ruled by a social caste that has lost its role...

Andrew J. Nathan: Who Is Xi Jinping?: "Xi Jinping’s respect for Mao is not a personal eccentricity...

...It is shared by many of the hereditary Communist aristocrats who... form most of China’s top leadership today as well as a large section of its business elite..... Contrary to the Western consensus that Deng saved the system after Mao nearly wrecked it, Xi and many other red aristocrats feel that it was Deng who came close to destroying Mao’s legacy.... The children of the founding elite see themselves as the inheritors of... a vast world that their fathers conquered under Mao’s leadership. Their parents came from poor rural villages and rose to rule an empire. The second generation... do not propose to be the generation that ‘loses the empire.’... They see no irony in cheering Xi Jinping’s attack on corrupt bureaucrats although Mao purged their own fathers as ‘capitalist roaders in power.’ Mao’s purges they excuse as a mistake. But they see today’s bureaucrats as flocking to serve the Party because it is in power and not because they inherited a spirit of revolutionary sacrifice from their forebears. Such opportunists are worms eating away at the legacy of revolution.

The legacy is threatened by other forces... a slowing economy... laid-off workers... underperforming giant state-owned enterprises... bad bank loans... climate change and environmental devastation... downsize and upgrade the military.... Any leader who confronts so many big problems needs a lot of power, and Mao provides a model of how such power can be wielded.... Xi emulates Mao in exercising power through a tight circle of aides whom he can trust because they have demonstrated their personal loyalty in earlier phases of his career.... Xi wants ‘rule by law,’ but this means using the courts more energetically to carry out political repression and change the bureaucracy’s style of work. He wants to reform the universities, not in order to create Western-style academic freedom but to bring academics and students to heel (including those studying abroad). He has launched a thorough reorganization of the military, which is intended partly to make it more effective in battle, but also to reaffirm its loyalty to the Party and to him personally. The overarching purpose of reform is to keep the Chinese Communist Party in power....

Deng built a system... senior leaders were limited to two terms... divided leadership roles... made decisions in consultation with other leaders and retired elders. By overturning Deng’s system, Xi is hanging the survival of the regime on his ability to bear an enormous workload and not make big mistakes. He seems to be scaring the mass media and officials outside his immediate circle from telling him the truth. He is trying to bottle up a growing diversity of social and intellectual forces that are bound to grow stronger. He may be breaking down... the consensus about China’s path of development.... He has broken the rule that retired leaders are safe once they leave office, throwing into question whether it can ever be safe for him to leave office. As he departs from Deng’s path, he risks undermining the adaptability and resilience that Deng’s reforms painstakingly created for the post-Mao regime.

As the members of the red aristocracy around Xi circle their wagons to protect the regime, some citizens retreat into religious observance or private consumption, others send their money and children abroad, and a sense of impending crisis pervades society. No wonder Xi’s regime behaves as if it faces an existential threat. Given the power and resources that he commands, it would be reckless to predict that his attempt to consolidate authoritarian rule will fail. But the attempt risks creating the very political crisis that it seeks to prevent.