Updated: August 27, 2021 9:33:37 am
Xi Jinping is living the patriarch’s dream. Like men of a certain age and type on every family WhatsApp group, he has “thoughts” on morality, politics, nationalism, character, everything. The only difference is that Xi is arguably the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong and he has a captive audience of a billion. So, in schools and colleges across China, students will now have to sit through lectures on Xi’s “fundamental principles” to “cultivate the builders and successors of socialism with an all-round moral, intellectual, physical and aesthetic grounding”.
China’s supremo is hardly the only political leader to want what’s on his mind to be the talk of the classroom and the nation. Or, have an inflated sense of self-importance. Since there is no opposition in a one-party state — when it raises its head, it is instantly criminalised — the Great Leader can perhaps be forgiven for insisting that an entire generation imbibes, as dogma, his version of Marxism along with his plans for an ancient civilisation. But what the man on the pulpit often forgets is that these top-down lectures can be counterproductive.
As anyone who has sat through an interminable school assembly will attest, students are not swayed by the high-minded tripe that emanates from old men in power. In fact, even the most well-meaning lecture by a school or college principal is instantly satirised by the “back-benchers”. For years, educators as well as parents and grandparents have tried to instil sanskar in their wards. They have never quite succeeded. What “strong leaders”, in China and beyond, must be wary of is the subdued sniggering in the back of the room. And the young men and women, who may one day point out that the fine fabric they weave with their words is, in fact, see-through.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 27, 2021 under the title ‘What Xi thinks today’.