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Is Xi Jinping an ideological person? Not taking ideology seriously in China would be a mistake, but sweeping statements about ideology’s decisive influ-ence can obscure more than they illuminate. Treating the content of ideol-ogy as a variable that explains everything fails to appropriately account for politics and contingency. Linking ideology to specific actions faces serious methodological challenges, and outside observers have often gotten the role of ideology wrong in Leninist states. The life of Xi Jinping’s own father Xi Zhongxun suggests the difficulty of placing Chinese leaders clearly on an ideological spectrum. In his own remarks on ideology, Xi Jinping has dis-played two consistent “shticks” that might seem contradictory to outside ob-servers: a distaste for radicalism and dogmatism and a preoccupation with conviction, values, and dedication. 

Implications and Key Takeaways

  • Ideology is a term with many meanings, and policymakers should be explicit about what they are talking about when they use the term. New evidence shows the extent to which outside analysts have incorrectly understood the role of ideology in Chinese elite politics.
  • With regards to ideology, President Xi Jinping has consistently displayed two “shticks” that might seem contradictory to outside observers: a distaste for radicalism and dogmatism and a preoccupation with conviction, values, and dedication.
  • Despite the return of some Mao-era rhetoric, Xi views struggle not in a “class” sense but rather as “forging” experiences that increase party members’ devotion to the cause through hardship and challenge.
  • Two factors may indicate a shift in Xi’s approach to ideology: 1). Xi believes that the United States opposes Beijing for both ideological and power political reasons; that American efforts to undermine the CCP will only increase; and that Washington uses ideological infiltration to achieve that goal; and 2). As Xi’s time as top leader continues and the propaganda apparatus increasingly emphasizes his stature, the prospect of “leftist” adventures may become increasingly tempting.

About the Author

Joseph Torigian

Joseph Torigian

Wilson China Fellow;
 Assistant Professor, School of International Service, American University
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