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The Moral Righteousness of the Charismatic Leader

Moreover, according to Confucian theory, the mandate of a regime must be constantly re-examined by “heaven” based on the ruler’s capacity for good governance and the ruler’s personal virtue (Cong 2013: 917). Chinese leaders believe that “traditional moral values and education can produce selfless leaders who can pragmatically rule in the interest of people” (Ortmann 2012: 345). The problem is it is difficult to establish longterm succession without disrupting the power of the current charismatic leader. As a consequence, successors typically endeavour to make charisma part of the fixed routines, thus incorporating them into the sacredness of the past (Hamilton 1984: 397). Thus, it is widely shared that China’s “moral improvement of predecessors tradition gives rise to the China Dream discourse, as every new generation of leaders in China needs to be ‘uniquely unique’” (Horesh 2013: 98).

That is to say, in communist organizations, in theory the leader must know where history is going and what the truth about history is (Lewis 1970: 8). Variations in a one-party government especially depend on the strength of the party that exists at the time the leader comes to power and on his personality (8). Thus, as scholars argue, the China Dream discourse is also a Chinese leaders’ rhetoric which advocates the improvement of leaders’ moral behaviour based on “the Confucian principle of the ‘people as the foundation’” (Ortmann 2012: 345-346). Furthermore, the ability to maintain social order and good performance have become the proof that people support the current regime (Cong 2013: 917). As President Xi aruges:

If you don’t discipline yourself, how can you discipline others. The comrades of military commission are in high position, all the army officers, soldiers and people are looking at us. They want to know if we are decent and clean or not? This is the issue concerning the Party and the military’s image. We should play an exemplary role in front of the entire army, then we have the confidence to improve the army’s work style construction. If we are misbehaving and are unclean, people will criticize us behind our back, then how should we discipline others? It’s impossible and useless.

(8 July 2013)

In a subsequent speech, President Xi further elaborated on these points. He focuses on virtue, accountability and the necessity of making examples of corrupt leaders:

It’s not the end of the world! No matter who you are and how high your position is, if you break the law, you must be held accountable and face the consequences. Their punishment will not be the end of the world for us ... “Do not compare with the past!” For more than a year, dozens of ministerial cadres have been exposed. Comparatively, it’s more than it used to be. But we do not compare with the past, if there has been corruption then there must be punishment. The prospect and fate of the Party and the country is on our shoulder, so we should take the responsibility. Just in Du Fu’s poetry saying: Practice no vice because it’s trivial. Neglect no virtue because it’s so.

(26 June 2014)

Thus, President Xi as a reflexive agent and leader of the Party has been accused of “working assiduously to move ethical reflexivity across and up organizational decision making, including the advocacy of unpopular or unheard of alternatives that he has carefully considered, all the while evincing some measure of humility and uncertainty about that which is being advocated” (Amoureux 2015: 133). By so doing, President Xi is able to gain populist support, and based on this support, he has been emboldened to advocate nationalistic themes (Fewsmith 2013: 1). However, the description of the China Dream discourse as a populist strategy to win over the Chinese people is oversimplified and can be hardly satisfactory. As Holbig argues, populism is normally used to describe politicians’ tactical behaviour in election campaigns (Holbig 2009: 36). Yet, in President Xi’s case, he is neither in opposition to the entire elite nor an outsider to the system (Levitsky and Loxton 2013: 110), and more importantly he is not interested in the democratization of the Party; his goal is the legitimization of the Party in the eyes of the people, and possibly the rest of the world.

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