Now he has received a hardwood homage with reports that senior Communist party officials have made a pilgrimage to a tree honouring their country’s increasingly supreme leader.
Following what Donald Trump termed Xi’s “extraordinary elevation” at last month’s party congress, officials in Henan province decided to express their allegiance by gathering around a Paulownia tree planted by their chief back in April 2009.
As the cadres, including the provincial party chief, Xie Fuzhan, gazed up at its branches on the morning of Sunday 5 November, “they were immersed in thought, filled with deep emotions”, a local propaganda report described.
“The tree is big, verdant and tall,” the author of the story gushed. “[Locals] warmly call it the Xi Paulownia tree.”
An accompanying video showed a group of almost entirely male leaders being escorted towards the arboricultural accolade by a female hostess. “Eight years have passed [since Xi’s visit] and the tree has grown enormous and leafy,” she says.
The Xi tree is the latest exhibit in what some see as a mounting body of evidence suggesting a nascent Mao-style cult of personality is being built around China’s leader.
Those suspicions grew last month after Xi’s political ponderings were officially enshrined in the party constitution and Chinese universities began unveiling departments that would delve into what is now known as Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era.
Party officials scotch such claims. Speaking to reporters earlier this month, Xie Chuntao, an academic from Beijing’s Party School, admitted Xi enjoyed “a larger individual role” in Chinese politics but he rejected the suggestion that the blind worship of one man was being revived. “The Chinese Communist party has had a cult of personality before,” Xie said, according to Reuters. “The lesson has long been had, and I believe this will not reoccur.”
However, Carl Minzner, the author of an upcoming book about Xi’s authoritarian tack called End of an Era, said he saw a clear and troubling shift back towards the elevation of a single figurehead.
“I think this is dangerous. This is precisely the type of environment in which ‘yes-men’ proliferate,” he said.
Minzner said Chinese history showed the perils of the relentless focus on the ideas of just one man.
“The hallmark of China’s reform era [after Mao’s death in 1976] was the move away from one-man rule and the opening of a certain degree of space within the party for discussion and for criticism of state policies … What is now taking place is an eroding of that … In the long-term that has really deleterious impacts for governance in China.”
Beijing begs to differ and last week launched a sequel to Xi’s tome on exactly that topic, The Governance of China. The book’s second volume reportedly boasts no less than 29 photographs of Xi Jinping as well as 99 of his texts.
China Daily, the party’s English language mouthpiece, described it as “groundbreaking” and “reader friendly”.
Additional reporting by Wang Zhen