Hostesses on hand for the National People’s Congress outside Beijing’s Great Hall of the People this week. Picture: AFP
China’s 2980 delegates to the National People’s Congress — starring an 89-year-old veteran of 14 parliamentary terms branded a “hand-raising robot” — will vote tomorrow afternoon to allow Xi Jinping stay in power for life if he wishes.
The delegates, who will abolish the limit of two five-year terms for the presidency, effectively form Xi’s own cheer squad with almost 75 per cent being newly selected to the NPC for its annual session now under way in Beijing.
Not everyone in the Chinese realm is cheering, however, according to The Australian report.
The country’s hundreds of thousands of “net police” are working overtime to delete swiftly the many adverse online posts and adding phrases to those already banned from internet searches — such as “personality cult”, “I disagree” and “Animal Farm”.
And overseas, despite Chinese students coming under fire for acting as extensions of the party-state, some are clearly not.
Twin posters, in Chinese and English, have been pasted around university campuses in Australia, the US, Britain and Canada with the words “Not My President” superimposed on a photo of Mr Xi.
Just more than a third of delegates to the NPC are party or government officials, whose support is assured.
Not a single delegate has criticised the proposed constitutional changes — including adding “Xi Jinping Thought” — since the NPC’s opening session on Monday.
An Inner Mongolian delegate, Zhao Huijie, sobbed as she spoke to Mr Xi — a fellow delegate from the autonomous region — during a discussion in the Great Hall of the People.
“We are so grateful to the government, to the party, and to the leader … especially for the improvement in toilet conditions,” she said of sanitary promises made by Mr Xi.
Song Fengnian, a delegate from Henan province wearing a golden Mao Zedong badge, told Singapore’s Straits Times that Mr Xi should remain president forever. “China must worship its chairman. If we don’t worship him, who will?”
Mr Xi has devised a special slogan for the veteran delegate, an 89-year-old “model farmer” from Shanxi province: “We promise to pass on Shen Jilan’s spirit, generation to generation”.
During the very first NPC meeting, in 1954, Ms Shen talked with Mao and helped elect him as chairman of China.
She has been chosen as a member of all 13 succeeding NPCs, voting for every measure placed before her: for the deadly Great Leap Forward, then for the rehabilitation of leading cadres punished for opposing it; for the Cultural Revolution, then to denounce it; to limit the terms of China’s presidents, and now to remove the restriction.
“We are elected as representatives of the people, so we don’t need to communicate with the people,” she told Phoenix TV last year.
A netizen commented online, in a post swiftly removed: “She has voted yes to everything. She lives to vote yes for everything. She keeps being ‘elected’ because she votes yes. I am being represented by such a representative!”
Another posted: “Long live the hand-raising robot!” State media have attacked such critics, saying that Ms Shen deserved more respect, since she had worked hard on a farm all her life.
She is among the 16 per cent of NPC delegates who are farmers or workers, and among the 25 per cent who are women.
About 15 per cent come from China’s 55 “ethnic minorities,” and 9 per cent from the People’s Liberation Army.
Under Mr Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao, a few of the delegates began to be elected directly, starting in Beijing, although all were pre-approved.
However, that experiment has been dropped under Mr Xi. Many veteran “princelings” — communist party royalty — who have long been delegates, have also been dropped for this NPC, including Mao Xinyu, grandson of Mao Zedong; Zheng Nan, daughter of Deng Xiaoping; Zhu Heping, grandson of Marshal Zhu De; and Li Xiaolin, daughter of Li Peng.
Introducing the constitutional change, Wang Chen, the vice-chairman of the NPC standing committee, said “the masses, party members and cadres in many regions” had “unanimously called” for this move.
They would appear to include billionaires who are also NPC delegates, including China’s richest man, Tencent founder Pony Ma.
The bold few to disagree publicly include Li Datong, the editor of the intellectual magazine Freezing Point that was banned for contradicting the communist party’s view of the Boxer Rebellion.
Li posted an open letter — soon deleted — saying that setting term limits is “one of the most important political legacies of Deng Xiaoping … preventing personal dictatorship and personal domination of the party and government” following “the immense suffering wrought by the Cultural Revolution”. “There is emphatically no reason (for removing the limits) … which means moving backward into history, and planting the seed once again of chaos in China,” he wrote.
But such messages have no effect on the power elite and tomorrow the Xi cheer squad will support the move emphatically — perhaps even unanimously.