This entire Chinese village is a shrine to Xi Jinping

It's the kind of artwork you'd expect to see celebrating Mao Zedong, Vladimir Lenin or Kim Il Sung.But this is...

Posted: Mar 19, 2018 12:34 PM
Updated: Mar 19, 2018 12:35 PM

It's the kind of artwork you'd expect to see celebrating Mao Zedong, Vladimir Lenin or Kim Il Sung.

But this isn't Communist propaganda that harks back to Cold War days. The simple mural of Xi Jinping painted on the side of a dusty wall in this small village is a modern-day shrine to China's new "president for life."

The portrait sits in the middle of Liangjiahe, where Xi spent his formative years living in cave homes and working as a young Communist Party cadre. It has since been transformed into a theme park of sorts, dedicated to enhancing a myth that paints Xi as a champion of the masses.

You can pay 60 yuan (about $10) for a tour guide to show you where Xi slept, the well he helped dig, and to hear stories about how selfless he was.

The cult-like adoration Xi has fostered is palpable here and shows how Xi's past is being used to legitimize his future -- a future that's highly likely to see him rule China indefinitely after presidential term limits were removed from the constitution.

A rite of passage for young Chinese

Like millions of young people from big cities, Xi was sent to this once hardscrabble village for "re-education," under orders from Mao during the tumultuous 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution.

Xi ended up in the tiny and impoverished Liangjiahe, hundreds of miles away from the seat of power. Unlike many "sent down" youth, Xi hadn't been a Red Guard -- the group largely responsible for the violence that characterized the early years of the Cultural Revolution.

But Mao also wanted well-to-do city dwellers like Xi, who was the son of a high-ranking official, to get a sense of how difficult life was for poor farmers.

Now, thousands of ambitious Communist Party members flock to the site each month, eager to show that they want to learn from the experiences of the party's most important person in decades.

"All we need are Chairman Mao and President Xi," said one visitor, who declined to give his name, but told us he's already visited the park several times.

One anecdote the tour guides share is that Xi was rewarded with a motorcycle for doing good work but he turned it down, choosing instead to purchase two machines that could grind corn for the village.

The guides walk for miles each day wearing thick blazers, wool skirts, and heels in blistering heat. Sporting white gloves and holding an umbrella to shield her from the sun, our perfectly made-up young guide shows us the three cave homes where Xi lived during his seven-year stay.

Elderly villagers who lived here the same time as Xi seem eager to share old memories.

"I joined the Communist Party together with Xi Jinping," said 79-year-old Shi Yuxin. He was then ushered away by a village official who'd been following and filming the CNN team before we could ask him any more questions.

The village has benefited handsomely from its association with Xi.

Where once there was no running water, the town now has paved roads, tree-lined walkways and a gleaming visitor center. Vendors sell everything from ice cream to hand-made hatchets.

A cult of personality

The village has become a perfect example of the cult of personality Xi has propagated since taking control of the nearly 90 million-strong Communist Party in late 2012. It's part of the reason, scholars say, that he has been so successful in consolidating political power.

"This personality cult built around Xi, this anachronistic proliferation of larger-than-life achievements of Xi will be exacerbated as long as he is the ruler," said Willy Lam, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a longtime China watcher.

"Because he probably believes these over-the-top eulogies work for the majority of ordinary Chinese who don't care about politics," he said.

Xi's power grab has been equal parts successful and swift. Critics say his popular anti-corruption drive was a ruthlessly effective way to purge his political enemies.

He quickly stocked important positions within the government with his lieutenants and prot-g-s, and tightened party control over state media.

At last year's party congress, Xi oversaw the creation of a new standing committee, the country's top decision-making body that included not only his allies, but no obvious successor.

"Xi Jinping Thought" was formally written into the party's constitution, an honor only Mao himself had achieved before.

Return to one-man rule

On Saturday, Xi began his second term but it's unlikely to be his last. The country's rubber-stamp parliament has also removed a constitutional clause that limited presidents to two consecutive five-year terms.

Critics have argued that this is a return to the kind of one-man rule China has not seen since the Mao years.

"As a citizen, of course I have a sense of historical responsibility," said Li Datong, a former editor of the state-run China Youth Daily newspaper and one of the few voices of open opposition. "As a person, I care about what my children and grandchildren think of me."

"When they look back at this historical moment and ask me how I reacted, if I say I kept quiet, I'd be full of guilt -- I want to be able to tell them that I was firmly opposed," he said.

There is a fear among critics like Li that China could be revisiting a darker period of its history, when Mao's unchecked power led to a series of disastrous initiatives, culminating in the Cultural Revolution in which millions of Chinese died.

Xi's own family was a victim of Mao's whims. His father, senior politician Xi Zhongxun, was persecuted and imprisoned before and during the Cultural Revolution.

While many young Chinese sent to rural villages like Xi lost their faith in the party, Xi's own sense of loyalty grew.

"His worldview was formed when he was a teenager during the Cultural Revolution," said Lam, the China analyst. "He has been a Maoist for a long time. It was just that, before his rise to power, he was successful in hiding his inclinations."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 350070

Reported Deaths: 7590
CountyCasesDeaths
Hinds24512449
DeSoto23513283
Harrison21172335
Rankin15798293
Jackson15735254
Madison11171227
Lee10903180
Jones9223169
Forrest9027163
Lauderdale8087244
Lamar724890
Lowndes7199152
Lafayette6631125
Washington5661140
Pearl River5357154
Oktibbeha503198
Bolivar5004134
Warren4817128
Panola4812112
Marshall4739106
Pontotoc452473
Hancock440388
Neshoba4401181
Union438979
Monroe4369138
Lincoln4228116
Pike3739114
Leflore3676125
Alcorn355374
Tate354988
Sunflower351094
Adams347490
Scott346677
Yazoo342977
Copiah330869
Simpson327191
Itawamba317281
Coahoma315685
Tippah312869
Prentiss302563
Covington302384
Marion289882
Leake288676
Wayne280945
George277351
Grenada272188
Newton266864
Tishomingo240770
Winston238084
Stone235338
Jasper234748
Attala228674
Chickasaw221460
Holmes202574
Clay201954
Clarke189580
Tallahatchie185642
Calhoun183232
Smith183036
Yalobusha173641
Walthall150449
Lawrence145426
Greene141935
Amite139144
Noxubee137235
Perry136138
Montgomery133944
Carroll127031
Webster124332
Jefferson Davis119834
Tunica116127
Benton107825
Claiborne105931
Kemper104429
Humphreys102333
Franklin88424
Quitman86319
Choctaw83119
Wilkinson79332
Jefferson72228
Sharkey51918
Issaquena1746
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 592417

Reported Deaths: 11542
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson861091591
Mobile49771865
Madison37714533
Shelby27501259
Tuscaloosa27344465
Montgomery26343628
Baldwin25860329
Lee17336181
Calhoun15498334
Morgan15225291
Etowah15060370
Marshall13198236
Houston12191293
Elmore10977219
St. Clair10852252
Limestone10816158
Cullman10610206
Lauderdale10305254
DeKalb9594192
Talladega9005188
Walker7840288
Autauga7615114
Jackson7431117
Blount7417139
Colbert6752142
Coffee6443132
Dale5723117
Russell482243
Chilton4810117
Covington4804125
Franklin462781
Tallapoosa4571156
Escambia451083
Chambers3987125
Dallas3751163
Clarke372263
Marion3470107
Pike334079
Lawrence3277100
Winston300773
Bibb292865
Geneva288383
Marengo262967
Barbour253761
Pickens247762
Butler242472
Hale236778
Fayette228165
Henry216545
Monroe204541
Randolph202844
Cherokee200748
Washington186839
Macon171552
Crenshaw170658
Clay167159
Cleburne161845
Lamar151938
Lowndes146255
Wilcox132331
Bullock126542
Conecuh122132
Coosa119529
Perry111228
Sumter110633
Greene99337
Choctaw64425
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 82°
Columbus
Clear
82° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 64°
Feels Like: 84°
Oxford
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 80°
Starkville
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 63°
Feels Like: 81°
Wednesday starts off in the nice middle 60s, even some towns down into the lower 60s. We will stay with plenty of sunshine as we go through the day. Most of our high temperatures on Wednesday will be well into the 80s to near 90 degrees in the afternoon.
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather