'Unrivalled helmsman'? We read Chinese media's enormous ode to Xi so you don't have to

Tom Phillips in Beijing
Chinese president Xi Jinping, pictured alongside studious predecessor Jiang Zemin, is Xinhua’s editor-in-chief. Photograph: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

China’s official news agency, Xinhua, has released a titanic and oleaginous 8,000-word profile of the country’s leader, Xi Jinping. Pushed for time? Here’s a quick Xi-nopsis

Name: Xi Jinping.

Age: 64.

Job titles: Lots. General secretary of the Communist party of China, chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Communist party of China, president of the People’s Republic of China … AKA the chairman of everything.

Number of times his name appears in Xinhua’s 7,649-word opus: 113.

Which words crop up more? Only six: “the” (534), “of” (264), “and” (250), “to” (188), “a” (180) and “in” (175).

How often is democracy mentioned? Just once.

Why write such a long article now? Because Xi has just been crowned China’s most powerful leader since Mao and recently declared a new era of Chinese prosperity and power. Xi is also, in effect, Xinhua’s editor-in-chief.

OK. So who is Xi then? According to Xinhua’s fawning profile, he’s China’s “unrivalled helmsman” – a title that harks back to the country’s revolutionary founder and great helmsman, Mao Zedong. But that’s not all – Xi is also a reformer, a world leader, a philosopher, a servant of the people, a pathfinder, a consummate communicator, a man who makes things happen and an architect of modernisation. Oh, and he’s also the core.

The what? The CORE.

Anything else? Yes, he’s also “the doer”. “Imagine what he will bring next,” Xinhua wonders.

So ... what will he bring next? That depends on who you ask. Xi fans – of whom Xinhua appears to employ rather a few – say he is on a historic quest to rid China of “a plethora of headaches” including a slowing economy, rampant corruption, an environmental crisis and extreme poverty.

What do his critics say? That he is building a cult of personality and he has led the worst crackdown on human rights since the Tiananmen massacre in 1989.

What does Xinhua’s profile have to say about that then? Not very much.

Right. But what do they think of him elsewhere, say in Laos? “Xi is a very great leader. He works not only in his office, but among the people,” his Lao translator tells Xinhua.

And his Russian translator, Olga? Oh, she’s also a fan. “I was absorbed the first time I read [his three-and-a-half-hour speech],” Olga is quoted as saying. “I read from morning till midnight, even forgetting to have meals.”

And in Geneva? They love him there, too. “In 47 minutes, Xi won more than 30 rounds of ovation” when he spoke there in January, the profile claims. “At key parts of his speech, almost every sentence was greeted with applause.”

Lots of applause then? Yes.

Any criticism? Erm, no.

Do say: “Xi’s roadmap for China’s future is inspiring … At this point, Xi is the unrivalled helmsman.”

Don’t say: “Facts are sacred, comment is Xi.”

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