A 21st-Century Emperor
A 21st-Century Emperor
He appeared to be a humble man. A decade ago, on the day that Xi Jinping was announced as the next general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (ccp), he began his speech with a bashful smile and a seemingly warm apology for having made reporters wait. After the speech he was videoed lining up at an inexpensive restaurant and then paying for and eating a meal that would have been attainable for any ordinary Chinese.
It was a fitting start for a man who was expected to lead China in the tradition of his most recent predecessors: staying the course, maintaining and preserving the status quo.
Preserving the status quo would mean ruling the ccp within a framework of “collective leadership.” Rulers before Xi had established this framework because of the disastrous history of Mao Zedong, who ruled China with an iron fist from 1949 until his death in 1976. Mao had seen himself as someone closer to a god than man, and he had no interest in the counsel of other ccp leaders or anyone else. Under his reign, between 65 million and 75 million Chinese were killed: starved to death by imbecilic agricultural policies, executed as traitors, or bullied to suicide by Mao’s legions of enforcers.
So it was in recognition of the tragedy of Mao’s rule that subsequent ccp members put a premium on collective leadership. They recognized the need for fellow party elites to help them see potential blind spots and imbalances.
This meant even though a “general secretary” was head honcho, in practice he was only negligibly more powerful than the other six members of the ccp’s Politburo Standing Committee. And those six were only a notch above the 25-member Politburo. These two ccp bodies included men of competing factions who routinely disagreed in talks and votes about policy. And this disagreement was mostly positive for the government and the nation. It acted as a system of checks and balances on the general secretary and helped create circumstances of market-friendly reforms that fueled China’s rapid economic rise.
That was the system that Xi Jinping was expected to maintain when he was named as ccp head. But within a short time, it was clear that his humbleness had been a front and that he had drastically different plans for his reign.
Man Becomes Strongman
Xi began almost immediately to bypass State Council authorities by forming new policymaking party groups, many of which he personally chairs. He took personal control of writing policy on everything from China’s economy and international relations to its environmental strategies and Internet regulations. Xi also waged what he called an anti-corruption campaign that investigated at least 4.4 million ccp members and resulted in the arrest of a breathtaking 1.5 million of them.
This would be like the entire population of Hawaii suddenly being fired from important government positions and, in many cases, imprisoned. And untold numbers of these purged men and women were guilty, not of corruption but of not sufficiently submitting to Xi’s will.
Xi Jinping’s China also began to transform into the most-watched country in the world, with surveillance cameras installed by the millions and integrated with facial recognition software. Along roads, sidewalks and bike paths, mounted atop traffic lights and signs, placed inside schools, restaurants and banks, and even in taxis, the cctv cameras are inescapable. Many large cities would come to have more than one camera per person, with the national total exceeding 200 million unblinking eyes.
At the same time, Xi shifted into overdrive to make his the face of the nation. When I visited Beijing in mid-2017, his uneasy smile seemed ubiquitous: peering at shoppers from innumerable keychains and plates, looking out at bustling streets from the covers of countless books and newspapers, and gazing upon pedestrians from larger-than-life posters throughout the vast capital city. It was clear that China was being remade in Xi’s image.
Xi Jinping also began a brutal crackdown on some of China’s Muslim minorities, placing more than a million in concentration camps and committing unspeakable atrocities in order to make the ccp—not Allah—their main god.
Xi also implemented arduous military reforms that placed him at the top, as unchallenged commander in chief, of the world’s largest army. “[H]e not only controls the military but also does it in an absolute manner,” Shanghai-based military affairs commentator Ni Lexiong told Associated Press. And Xi began using his grip on the People’s Liberation Army to aggressively assert China’s authority on the global stage, particularly in the South China Sea.
With all these moves, Xi Jinping defied the early forecasts about how he would rule. And they showed that he was ambitious and self-reliant on a level that no Chinese ruler had been since Chairman Mao. But they were only just the start.
Strongman Becomes Authoritarian
With the end of Xi’s first five-year term in 2017 came a major bombshell. ccp norms required Xi to name someone who would succeed him (at the end of his second five-year term) as the new head of the party and nation. Xi broke from that convention, naming no next-in-line. This unprecedented move showed that he was planning something dramatic for himself—and that many ccp elites were backing him.
At the same time, Xi Jinping also achieved the rarest of honors by etching his name and personal ideology—“Xi Thought”—into the Chinese Communist Party Constitution. Both of Xi’s most recent predecessors, Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, had made some contributions to the Constitution, but neither was named in the document. Even the contributions of the deeply revered Deng Xiaoping were never named after him while he led China. It was only after Deng’s death in 1997 that his name was penned in alongside his additions.
The only other sitting ruler to have his name and ideology written into the Constitution was Chairman Mao. So this achievement essentially equated “Xi Thought” with “Mao Thought,” lifting Xi’s status unquestionably to the level of the near-mythical and notoriously despotic ccp founder.
Asian affairs analyst Chris Buckley wrote at the time for the New York Times: “Mr. Xi’s thinking will now infuse every aspect of party ideology in schools, the media and government agencies” (Oct. 24, 2017).
Time showed that this was no exaggeration. From 2017, Xi’s grip on the levers of power tightened significantly, and his role in Chinese life began spilling over the banks of politics into every aspect of society.
He took a direct role in shaping all levels of education so that students focus on what the state-run Global Times called “cultivating love for the country, the Communist Party of China, and socialism.” He tightened controls on media, muzzling tens of thousands of publications, silencing millions of social media accounts, and expanding the “Great Firewall of China” to block nearly all foreign news sites so that he alone shapes public opinion. And Xi’s business regulators began waging almost daily attacks on private power bases inside China, mainly tech moguls, to reduce their power and increase their subservience to the ccp. In many areas, he brought the private sector firmly under state control.
Xi also focused during this time on Hong Kong, a former British colony that London had handed to Chinese control in 1997 on the condition that China would let it preserve its free speech, free press and other political and civil rights for a period of at least 50 years. For the first two decades after the handover, Hong Kong was the freest place in China by far. But less than halfway through the promised 50 years, Xi violently crushed Hong Kong’s freedoms and turned it into just another harshly oppressed Chinese city.
Xi was transforming China in a terrifying way. Yet despite all of this, the ccp’s Politburo and Standing Committee still included some individuals who would question Xi and check him at times. This meant that there was still some room to hope that he may not take China on the darkest path—the path of a modern Mao.
But this year those hopes were dashed.
Authoritarian Becomes ‘Emperor’
As Xi’s second five-year term ended in October 2022, the ccp held its 20th Congress in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. And the results showed that the worst fears were coming true.
As expected, 69-year-old Xi Jinping seized a precedent-shattering third term. And given the power he has amassed and the cult of personality he has built, the only force now likely to remove him from the presidential palace is death.
As Xi secured his third term, he also ousted the last few men from the party’s upper echelons who represented even a potential challenge to his authority. And he stacked the Standing Committee and the Politburo with extreme loyalists and yes-men. “These are all officials who got to the highest level of power by agreeing with Xi Jinping on everything and by siding with him consistently,” said Victor Shih, associate professor of political science at the University of California–San Diego. “They will not start to challenge his decisions regardless of the merits of these decisions” (Bloomberg, Oct. 24, 2022).
Eurasia Group senior China analyst Neil Thomas called the moves “a consolidation of power unseen since the Mao era” (Oct. 29, 2022).
Just as Xi was stacking the deck with loyalists, he also had 79-year-old Hu Jintao forcibly removed from the Communist Party proceedings while Xi looked on coldly. Hu was Xi’s immediate predecessor as ccp general secretary, so he is a towering figure in Chinese politics. Medical explanations are possible, but many analysts see the move as a chilling demonstration of Xi’s new unchecked powers. Gatestone Institute senior fellow Gordon Chang called it “a deliberate attempt to humiliate [Hu] and to show Xi is in control—complete control.”
Xi is certain to use his growing power to increasingly pursue policies that “are dangerous, are murderous, malicious,” Chang said, and this means “we have to worry about the dangerous storm that is coming.”
A ‘Catastrophic Storm’
It is plain to Chang and more and more China watchers that under Xi, a “dangerous storm” is on the horizon. And this is a reality that a Bible prophecy recorded nearly 2,000 years ago told us to expect.
Luke 21:24 calls this age “the times of the Gentiles.” And the description in verses 20 through 26 (and related passages) make plain that it will be a profoundly turbulent era.
In the February 2020 issue of the Trumpet, editor in chief Gerald Flurry examined current geopolitical trends in light of this prophecy, writing: “These ‘times of the Gentiles’ are yet to be fully realized. However, we are in the outer edges of this catastrophic storm.”
Mr. Flurry explains that Gentile basically means “the nations,” or all peoples other than the Israelite people who descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Modern “Israelites” include the Jewish nation called Israel, and also the United States, Britain and some others. “Once you understand who Israel is, then you can see how the Gentiles—the non-Israelite peoples—have started to take charge of the world already,” Mr. Flurry wrote.
For most of the last two centuries, British and American leadership brought an imperfect but stabilizing force to mankind. These nations have biblically-influenced beliefs in the rule of law, the God-given rights of individuals and the injustice of despotism, and those beliefs helped billions around the world to live more stable lives.
But now the U.S. and Britain are declining and large Gentile nations are beginning to rise up to fill the void. Mr. Flurry continued: “[W]hen this prophecy is completely fulfilled there will be two major powers—one revolving around Russia and China, and the other around Germany.”
The power-hungry and ruthless way Xi Jinping has ruled China gives us a preview of how tempestuous the times of the Gentiles will be. As Mr. Flurry wrote, we are now seeing only the first gusts of this “catastrophic storm.”
In His warning about the blustering era ahead, Jesus Christ said, “Men’s hearts [will be] failing them for fear …” (Luke 21:26). But in the next verse, He assures us that the storm will break up and give way to ineffable celestial radiance: “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”
These times of the Gentiles, which we are already entering into, will be decisively ended by divine intervention. And then mankind will see the end of the age of cruel tyrants. The Creator of human beings will rule with a rod of iron to put an end to all of humankind’s violent, ignorant, ineffective, sinister governments—and to establish His government of love and harmony. In God’s government, there lies deep hope for the people of China of the present, the future and even of the past.