No Chinese leader since has held as much authority — until Xi. But he is not Mao 2.0. A disciplinarian, not a revolutionary, Xi is driven by a need for control. He is a legalist in the tradition of Han Feizi, the philosopher who taught China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, that people are fickle and selfish and must be kept in line through law and punishment. An ethnic nationalist, Xi holds a vision of Chinese revival that draws on allusions to past empires. He speaks in Marxist terms of class struggle and uses Maoist tactics such as self-criticism and rectification, but his brand of communism also promotes Confucius and e-commerce.
The Chinese president sees himself as a savior, anointed to lead the country into a “new era” of greatness propelled by rising prosperity and political devotion. Whether his vision matches reality is another question.
The stakes of achieving Xi’s grand plan are high.