A city in China’s northeastern rust belt is offering commuters an ideological express to a “New Era”, rolling out a presidential propaganda train on the municipal subway system.
The train, dedicated to the political doctrine of Chinese President Xi Jinping, was put into service in Changchun, Jilin province, on Sunday as a “birthday gift” to the Communist Party on its 97th anniversary, the municipal government said.
The carriages are decked out in red and dozens of Xi’s quotes, and feature guides using a traditional rap style to preach the party line to the beat of handheld bamboo clappers.
The government described the train as a “highly condensed spiritual manual” of Xi Jinping Thought, reflecting the spirit of last autumn’s national party congress at which Xi embarked on his second term as the most powerful Chinese leader in decades. In March, he scrapped the constitutional term limits on the presidency, clearing way for him to stay in power beyond 2023.
Officially known as “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”, the president’s ideology is now written into the constitutions of both the party and the state, and is cited daily by officials and state media.
In addition, his slogans cover posters and billboards in cities across the country; school pupils are told to “plant Xi’s Thought in their minds”; and dozens of key research institutes have been set up in top universities to study his ideology.
Although propaganda has long been a crucial arm of the party, it has permeated all aspects of life under Xi, reaching levels unseen since the Cultural Revolution, a decade of mayhem set off in 1966 by late chairman Mao Zedong.
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“Every front page of People’s Daily devoted to Xi, every research institute devoted to Xi’s Thought, every subway train decorated with Xi’s aphorisms [is] a sign of something building up around him,” said Jonathan Sullivan, director of the China Policy Institute at the University of Nottingham.
“At this point we are as close to a personality cult around a Chinese leader since Mao.”
Xi is the only leader since Mao to have an ideology bearing his name to be written into the party constitution while in power. Grandiose appellations once associated with Mao are now revived and heaped on Xi – first by a cohort of obsequious officials and later by the ruling Politburo.
But Sullivan said there was still a difference between the two.
“Mao had the entire nation in thrall, it was a quasi-religious frenzy of worship for one man. Mao was venerated for his Thought,” he said.
“Indeed his every utterance was elevated to the status of scripture, with shrine-like portraits of him in every home and the ‘little red book’ memorised like a Bible.
“Xi Jinping does not command that kind of religious devotion.”