28 May 2020

ThinkChina Analysis: Underneath the Mask - Why Does Xi Jinping not Tolerate Criticism?

Xu Zhiyong (left), Xi Jinping (centre), and Ren Zhiqiang (right).
Xu Zhiyong (left), Xi Jinping (centre), and Ren Zhiqiang (right)

China has now passed the first stage of the corona pandemic; the country is gradually opening up, and the wheels of the economy have started turning again. However, the Chinese leadership now face another challenge: Even though the Chinese leadership regard China’s handling of the corona crisis as a success, they now experience extensive criticism of their approach. International critics as well as Chinese public figures have even extended their critiques of the crisis (mis)management to outright criticism of China’s top leadership and Xi Jinping himself.

In this analysis, University of Copenhagen Professor Jørgen Delman investigates the critiques of such three public figures, namely Xu Zhiyong, Xu Zhangrun and Ren Zhiqiang. Despite risking the severe repercussions that public criticism of China’s leadership is habitually met with, the three critics spoke out against the inadequacies of the Chinese Party-state system, and the lack of freedom, free media, and democracy:

  • Prominent rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong contested that Xi Jinping is politically and managerially incompetent - a no-good political thinker. He further accused Xi Jinping of thoroughly mishandling China’s recent corona crisis, the US-China trade war, and the Hong Kong protests.
  • Tsinghua University law Professor Xu Zhangrun criticized Xi Jinping for revising the Chinese Constitution’s presidential term limits, and for developing a personality cult around himself, monopolizing all effective power, and creating a system with incompetence at all levels.
  • Retired businessperson Ren Zhiqiang accused Xi Jinping and the top leadership of trying to re-establish a single party dictatorship. Ren also criticized their lack of self-criticism, openness in communicating with the Chinese people, and the strictly controlled media.

Finally, Delman presents some possible explanations for the divergent perceptions of the crisis, as well as key arguments from both sides regarding the fundamental Chinese controversies of open discussion, political criticism, and the role of the people in China.

Download and read here