The fact that President Xi Jinping is establishing rigorous centralized control over so many different aspects of Chinese life and politics, as per this latest article in the New York Times, is very significant.
This is a return to the sort of China that most Americans have never witnessed and can scarcely understand. I caught the tail-end of the Mao era a few years after he died when I became UPI’s bureau chief in Beijing in 1981. Deng Xiaoping was modernizing the country’s economy and creating a relationship with the United States.
But the old vestiges remained: My phones were monitored. There were bugs in my walls. My telexes were intercepted. Ditto the mail. My staff of an interpreter, telex operator, and others had regular meetings on Saturday to assess my ideological and professional inclinations. I was in the grip of a totalitarian state.
As I got to spend time with ordinary Chinese, I learned of the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. People were struggled to death and denied medical care. One man told me how his father-in-law had a heart attack and he took the old man to a hospital. But they were declined medical treatment because the old man was fan geming, or against the revolution. Others told me how they struggled their teachers so badly that they jumped from rooftops to commit suicide.
The language that official Chinese publications are using is a throwback to that era. Xi is being called the “core” of the leadership. Party officials are saying things like, “We need a staunch leadership core more than ever.”
As I’ve said repeatedly, there is something very deep happening in China and we don’t understand it.