China Forbids Addressing Xi as ‘Great Leader’

In an urgent document on the “spirit of propaganda work,” the Chinese authorities ordered various local governments and propaganda units to remove the phrase “Great Leader General Secretary Xi Jinping” from all publications, and not use the phrase “Great Leader Xi Jinping” and any document.

The backdrop: Some local state media recently appeared to begin building a personality cult around Xi. For instance, Guizhou’s Qianxinan Daily ran front page articles on Nov. 10 and Nov. 14 that carried the phrase “Great Leader General Secretary Xi Jinping.”

As of Nov. 19, Qianxinan Daily has removed all mention of “Great Leader” from its online articles. Web portals Baidu and Sina Weibo have also scrubbed searches for “Great Leader Xi Jinping.”

Our take:

  1. Mao Zedong was addressed as “Great Leader” during the Cultural Revolution, but Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders abandoned the title when the period of reform and opening began during the late 1970s. Chinese officials also stopped placing a picture of the serving CCP leader on the Chairman platform during meetings. So the title of “Great Leader” is commonly associated with the adulation of Mao during the tumultuous decade of his Cultural Revolution.
  2. When former Politburo Standing Committee member Liu Yunshan oversaw the propaganda apparatus, he sought to undermine Xi by building a Maoist personality cult around him and utilizing other “advanced blackening” (gaojihei) tactics. For instance, in May 2016, an organization held a Cultural Revolution-themed concert at the Great Hall of the People in the name of the Propaganda Department despite regulations against promoting the Cultural Revolution. Nearly 10,000 attended the concert, which used the title of a famous song by Peng Liyuan, Xi’s wife, as its theme. Xi was reportedly incensed over the incident. 
  3. Xi has expressed his displeasure at the propaganda apparatus’s excessive flattery, which includes releasing flattering songs about him and his wife, and addressing him as “Xi Dada” (“Uncle Xi”). In 2016, Xi ordered the propaganda apparatus to stop calling him “Xi Dada.”
  4. While Xi’s allies are now in charge of the propaganda apparatus, they need to strike a balance between promoting Xi’s elevated standing in the CCP and preventing the regional propaganda machinery from defaulting to excessive flattery when carrying out the new publicity campaign.