Xi’s thoughts have become China’s new laager

Laager, meaning an encampment protected by a circle of wagons, is from Afrikaans, the language of Boers of South Africa. As the Zulu tribals frequently attacked these farmers of Dutch origin, they defended their families and cattle from behind a circle of wagons interlinked together. The first recorded use of such wagon fortification is, however, from 119 BC in China during the Battle of Mobei. When enemy unexpectedly charged Han prince Wei Qing’s forces, he ordered his heavily armoured war wagons to form a circle. Protected behind these Wu Gang Chariots, the archers and crossbowmen were able to inflict heavy casualties on the attackers forcing them to retreat. Since then, during their long history, it seems to have become a national trait for the Han people who are the dominant ethnic group in today’s China. Whenever faced with an external threat, they retreat and fight from behind a Great Wall, or the residential enclosures called Hutongs or behind the metaphorically laager of their leader’s thoughts.Mao’s thoughts acted as China’s laager protecting it from external ideas of freedom and democracy. At present Xi’s thoughts seek to serve that purpose.

Nowhere in the world thoughts of a leader had so obsessed a nation as Mao’s thoughts did in China. The book titled “Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung” was published by People’s Liberation Army (PLA) General Political Department continuously till mid-70s during the Cultural Revolution. There was a pocket version too, called the Little Red book and during that period it was risky to be caught without this book in the pocket or being unfamiliar with its contents.The book was more ubiquitous than even portraits of Mao. It was mandatory part of PLA training and the official goal was that 99% of the population would read this book. Its printing was given priority over textbooks and even over the works of Marx and Engels and hundreds of printing presses were established exclusively for printing Mao’s thoughts. China did not ignore international readers either. The party brought out editions in all major European and Asian languages and the book was sold in 117 countries. Estimates vary but at least 6 billion copies were distributed in China and the rest of the world by 1976. World’s population at that time was about 4 billion.

After Mao’s death on 9 September 1976, Maoism declined. His wife Jiang Qing, a former stage and film actress whom Mao had married when she was half his age, was arrested 27 days later. She was accused of persecution of more than 7 lakh people and death of more than 34,000. At her trial she said, “I was Chairman Mao’s dog. I bit whomever he asked me to bite.” She was sentenced to death but it was later commuted to imprisonment for life. She was released in 1991 but committed suicide shortly after her release. With her death, it was expected that Mao’s thoughts, which had been long discredited in China, would also fade away. Xi, however, appeared on the scene in 2012 as a saviour.

On 19 November 2020, China’s official news agency Xinhua reported that Li Zhanshu, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) said that Xi Jinping Thought on the Rule of Law serves as the fundamental guideline for overall law-based governance in China.Earlier, Xinhua had reported that NPC had adopted constitutional amendments, enshrining “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” in the Constitution.The Party, however, is outperforming itself every day in elevating Xi and his thoughts.In September last year, Xinhua said that Xi Jinping has started a new era in China. The article included 27 photos of the leader. The Red Book of Mao’s thoughts had only 12 images of the founding leader. In 2108, Xinhua reported that at a Meeting of the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party presided by Xi himself, it was declared that Xi was  “worthy of the core of the CPC Central Committee and the whole Party.” Meanwhile, the third volume of Xi’s thoughts was released in July this year with the official media calling the series “textbooks”.

It is one thing to ask party cadres to read their leader’s thoughts but it took a new dimension when journalists were asked to study and pass a test on Xi Jinping’s thoughts if they wanted to be recognised by the state. On September 20 last year, The Guardian’s Beijing correspondent Lily Kuo reported that Chinese journalists shall be tested on loyalty to Xi Jinping. The Chinese media regulator issued notices to news organisations in October last year to pass an examination on the propaganda app called “Study Xi” if they wanted to have their press credentials renewed. To help the journalists, sample questions were uploaded on the app. The program was a great “success” as by the end of October this year more than two lakh journalists had passed the “test” and had received press licences. This added Xi’s one more personal cart to the thought laager. Earlier the press was tested on Marxist journalistic ideals, which were perhaps found not having too many “Chinese characteristics”. To ensure that like Mao’s Red Book, all the thoughts of Xi can be found in one place, Xuexi Qiangguo was launched. This translates as “study to strengthen the nation”. Itis a news aggregation platform for writings and videos ofXi’s political philosophy.Xuexi Quiangguo itself has more than 100 million users and has been downloaded on the Apple store by a greater number than TikTok!

If press being made to take an examination on leader’s thoughts for earning their accreditation was unusual, there was more to come. Earlier this month Buddhist monks were asked to study the thoughts of the “core” leader and the communiqué from CCP’s fifth plenary session. As more and more countries react to China’s hegemony display, the CCP is placing the nation behind the laager of Xi’s thoughts. Yet, using this war tactic of the second century BC to defend trade and ideology in the 21st century may have its limitations. After all, even Mao’s thought laager had disintegrated with his death.

Source : Daily World

The writer RN Prasher is a retired IAS officer of Haryana cadre | Personal Opinions

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