Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, and the contrasts of leadership in the 21st century 16: some thoughts concerning how Xi and Trump approach and seek to create lasting legacies to themselves 4

Posted in macroeconomics, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on April 28, 2019

This is my 16th installment in a progression of comparative postings about Donald Trump’s and Xi Jinping’s approaches to leadership per se. And it is my 10th installment in that on Trump and his rise to power in the United States, and on Xi and his in China, as they have both turned to authoritarian approaches and tools in their efforts to succeed there. I began this line of discussion with three postings on cults of personality. And I continued from there to more fully address an approach to leadership that holds such cult building as one of its most important tools, in what I refer to as the authoritarian playbook. Then I began to put all of this into a larger and longer-term historical perspective by turning to consider legacies in this type of authoritarian system. See Social Networking and Business 2, postings 367 and loosely following (there labeled with accompanying tagging text that identifies these postings for their more Trump-related significance. I also offer links to them with corresponding China and Xi-oriented tagline text attached at Macroeconomics and Business 2.)

I have focused more recently on Donald Trump and his approach to both authoritarianism and to legacy building. And I have discussed Xi Jinping and his approach to all of this, in those installments from a more comparative perspective. Then I laid a foundation for more explicitly discussing Xi and his story at the end of the immediately preceding installment to this one in this narrative progression: Some Thoughts Concerning How Xi and Trump Approach and Seek to Create Lasting Legacies to Themselves 3.

I began that anticipatory note by identifying two very powerful but conflicting sources of influence that I would argue have both significantly shaped what Xi does in his here-and-now, who he seeks to be and become, and what he seeks to accomplish longer-term as his lasting legacy. And both of those sources of influence very clearly serve to shape his vision and understanding of how he will be remembered, at least insofar as he succeeds in his authoritarian ambitions and in his authoritarian legacy building objectives. Both can be seen as playing significant and even defining roles as Xi seeks to both develop and realize his more personalized understanding of his overarching China Dream: the defining core of his more publically stated Zhōngguó Mèng (中国梦.)

• One of those sources of ambition-defining influence can be found in the myth and history of China’s last hereditary dynasty: the Qing Dynasty, and particularly as it achieved what is now thought of as its Golden Age under the rule of the Kangxi Emperor who ruled from 1661-1722, and the Qianlong Emperor who ruled from 1735-1795 and who remained in power as a de facto “emeritus emperor” after officially stepping down from the throne and until his death in 1799. (The Yongzheng Emperor: the third Qing emperor to rule over what was seen as China as a whole, who served during the interregnum between his father and his son: the Kangxi and Qianlong Emperors, primarily sought to achieve effective government as a continuation of what his father had built, and as a legacy that his son who would follow him on the Dragon Throne would inherit.)
• And the other seminal source of influence on Xi and his thought and action that I would cite here can be found in the imperial, and even seeming god incarnate rule of Mao Zedong, as he founded his at least proclaimed proletarian empire under his Communist Party rule, and more importantly, under his own personal direct all powerful rule.

And I proceeded from there to divide my discussion of Xi and his ambitions into three admittedly tightly interconnected aspects: three faces of his Zhōngguó Mèng as he would make it his, and China’s, and the world’s reality:

• Xi’s effort to reshape China through massive infrastructure changes within the country,
• His effort to reach out to the world, using infrastructure development among other political tools to make his China a globally recognized superpower,
• And his effort to reshape China’s culture and its societal perspective, and with a cult of personality that is built around his story and that is of his creation, serving as a defining linchpin that all of this ongoing New would be built from.

My goal for this posting is to begin preparing for a more detailed analysis of these three pieces of Xi’s Zhōngguó Mèng: his China Dream, by more fully outlining and discussing those two defining sources of influence that he has acted and reacted in terms of: his perhaps more idealized understanding of the Golden Age of the Great Qing and his equally idealized, or at least stereotypically reshaped understanding of Mao as he served as god emperor of China in his day. And I begin with the Great Qing and by pointing out one of its defining details. The Qing was a dynasty of outsider rulers, of Manchu descent. And they brought new ways and new ways of thinking to China as a whole. Cutting ahead of myself here for a moment, I would note that the Communism that Mao Zedong claimed as the supportive justification of his rule, was even more outsider in its origin, coming initially from Karl Marx, a German European who lived for many years in Great Britain and who developed much of the theory behind Communism there. But the basic narratives that I would build from here, in at least briefly discussing those sources of influence diverge from that seeming point of similarity and on many if not most of the key points that I would raise here. And those points of contrast will prove significant.

• The Golden Age of the Qing marked a point in history in which China held as large and diverse an overall territory as it ever has with that including all of what is the China of today, along with all of what is now the independent nation of Outer Mongolia, areas of Manchuria that are now part of Russia and more.
• And while this was a nation ruled by imperial decree from the Dragon Throne, it was also very much a nation of law, with that firmly based and certainly for day-to-day decisions and actions upon the Great Qing Legal Code. This was based in large part on the legal code of the Ming Dynasty as it was held to at its peak of power and authority, but it was greatly expanded in scope and it was far more evenly and uniformly resorted to in developing what for most circumstances was more a rule of law than of man.
• And crucially importantly here, and certainly as a point of contrast to what would come under Mao’s rule, the China of this Golden Age was outwardly facing and outwardly engaged. This was a period in China’s history when that nation held wider ranging and more impactful hegemony over what we now think of as the South China Sea and the East China Sea and their nations and peoples than it ever has since then, and with the Dragon Throne and China’s governance effectively holding sway over most of South East Asia as a whole, as a part of that too.
• The China of this age traded globally, and held the strongest voice and the surest power in all of Asia for that, effectively leading all such Asian contact and commerce with the West.
• And the China of this age was a leader in innovation and in the development of new ways of thinking and with an allowance for diversity that would actively support and enable that.

Am I simplifying a more complex reality there? Yes, but that image is important as it maps out a great deal of what makes people look back upon this phase of dynastic rule in China as a true golden age. And here, perception is in fact more important and impactful than the messier details of the reality that this image seeks to encompass. Perception of the past as an idealized starting point, drives and even significantly creates our current reality here.

To take that point out of the abstract with a specific example of how it is currently playing out, the China of today: the China of Xi Jinping, claims direct historically justified ownership of the Spratly Islands, the Paracel Islands and beyond, extending all the way to the Philippines and their Scarborough Shoal. And his government’s claims there are based in very large part on China’s historical territorial holdings and claims, as can be found in early texts and on old and even ancient maps. And some of their most compelling claims there, at least from their perspective, date from the Great Qing and its Golden Age when China in effect owned much of that entire region and actively so. Yes, Xi’s China offers a much longer historical record as justification for many of their current territorial claims, going back to what are now presented as initial island discoveries that trace back as far as their Han Dynasty (of 206 BCE to 220 AD). But these islands were actually held as parts of China by the great emperors of the Qing Dynasty, and their more recent documents are more geographically precise and accurate, and their claims are more forcefully argued because of that. See Territorial disputes in the South China Sea and in the area of the Scarborough Shoal for more detailed if still selective accounts of islands, and atolls and coral reefs that have been built up to become islands, that Xi now claims Chinese ownership of, based on those historical records.

So the Qing Dynasty of the Kangxi Emperor and his grandson the Qianlong Emperor, and of the interregnum ruler of China who governed between them: the Yongzheng Emperor, serves as an expansive and outreaching role model for Xi, and one that validates all of his globally reaching ambitions. In a fundamental sense Xi seeks to be such an imperial ruler and the father of such a golden age: a new golden age that would realize the farthest reaches of earlier Chinese imperial ambition and more.

And what of Mao and the second defining source of influence that Xi labors under that I would write of here? I at least begin to turn to that here, with that earlier and with-time more idealized golden age image in mind. But more importantly, I begin discussing Mao’s influence creating legacy to Xi here by addressing the size of China and perhaps more importantly, its overall stability and hold on the territory that it could still claim, in the decades leading up to Mao and the years that he lived through. This will of course mean my discussing World War II and China’s experience of it, as a territorially ambitious Japan laid claim to much of their land and all of their resources and at the cost of millions of Chinese lives. That narrative lies at the heart of Mao’s personal mythos as he rose to power in the face of adversity and as a leader in rebellion against it. But I will set the stage for that so carefully developed a legacy story, starting in the same Qing dynasty that I have written of here in this posting – but as that once great dynasty began to grow tired and unravel. I will begin that line of discussion with China as it was in the 1830’s and leading up to the abdication of China’s last hereditary emperor: Puyi in 1912. And in the course of that I will at least briefly touch upon such searing events as the Opium Wars, as forced upon China and its government and peoples by foreigners. And I will write of the often chaos of China’s post-dynastic years leading up to World War II and the conflicts that Mao himself rose to power through. All of that shaped Mao and who he was, and it made him the type and source of influence that he in turn has become.

Mao Zedong was shaped into the man he became, and into the ruler of China who he was and who he is seen to have been, by a very different historical dynamic than would be found in the Qing Golden Age. And the points of difference between those two sources of defining influence make Mao’s story and his role model example a very different one from that of the Great Qing, setting up a second half to the conflicting dynamics that have made Xi Jinping who he is, as he seeks to find and pursue a best of both historically shaped worlds.

I will continue this posting’s narrative in a next series installment, as briefly outlined here and with a primary focus on Mao and his story, and on the history that more directly shaped that. Meanwhile, you can find my Trump-related postings at Social Networking and Business 2. And you can find my China writings as appear in this blog at Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation, and at Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time and Social Networking and Business 2.

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