It’s hard to keep up with the fast-swelling Xi Jinping personality cult. Officials in one town are paying homage to a (thriving) tree the Chairman-of-Everything once planted. Minions in another are ordering villagers to replace pictures of Jesus with images of the true divine prince. Xinhua’s 8,000-word mega-puff describes him as the unrivalled helmsman.
Presumably, dictators don’t have to specifically request this sort of treatment – aides pass the word down, and eager bureaucrats not already engaging in pre-emptive groveling rush to join in. Remember that Xi has fired, imprisoned, ruined, hounded, humiliated and tormented thousands of possible rivals and opponents (or ‘consolidated power’ as they say), so bowing to a tree to be safe is a no-brainer.
The test comes when the emperor notices the extent of the adulation: do his modesty and good taste lead him to ask the spin-doctors to tone it down, or does he love it and want more?
While we are waiting to find out how Louis XIV Xi goes, shoe-shiners will keep up the obsequiousness, and those with the right sort of motivation will probably sincerely buy into the worship and the hubris. It is a slide from the ridiculous to the disturbing.
Behold a little column by a Malaysian-born Hong Kong lawyer in the Standard somewhere along this incline…
Such public and zealous expressions of patriotic faith are hardly new in Hong Kong (since the 1980s, people have bent with the wind, opportunistically leaped to support the new winning team, avenged old colonial racial scores, or just hedged their bets for family or business reasons). But we should expect a lot more of it as Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing and pro-establishment camp adjusts to a ‘new normal’ of shoe-shining.
Even if the propaganda machine refrains from full-blown deification of Xi Jinping, it will certainly turn up the glorification of the Communist Party and nation. As economic growth slows and financial, demographic, environmental and other long-term problems become apparent, the leadership must depend more on strident Chinese nationalism for legitimacy/survival.
As the Mainlandization of Hong Kong continues, local pro-Beijing forces will have to go along with it. Specifically, the traditionally secular business/bureaucracy establishment will have to more openly embrace Xi-New Era-style Chinese-ness and the Communist Party and its symbolism. (Which uni here will be first to open a X-thought Institute?)
At best, it’s going to be seriously stomach-churning.