Long-time China watcher Geremie R. Barmé says Xi Jinping is "reminiscent of the leader complex of ... older socialist states"

Historians in the News
tags: China, Xi Jinping



Geremie R. Barmé is a professor of Chinese history and founding director of the Australian Center on China in the World at the Australian National University. He has just released “China Story Yearbook 2014: Shared Destiny,” a lively collection of essays on China under President Xi Jinping, edited with Linda Jaivin and Jeremy Goldkorn. Mr. Barmé chose the essays on the basis of readability, as well as depth of knowledge.

Mr. Barmé began his career in 1972 studying Chinese at the Australian National University. In 1974, at the age of 20, he went to China to continue his studies, moving from Beijing to Shenyang and Shanghai. As the Cultural Revolution wound down, he did a stint picking apples in northeastern China and observed the collapse of Maoism. From 1978 to 1991, he wrote for Chinese-language newspapers in Hong Kong. He has been based at Australian National University since 1989, with diversions into making films, writing books and even offering suggestions for speeches on China by Australian prime ministers.

In an interview, he explained why, to understand Mr. Xi’s tenure, “you have to have a basic understanding of Mao.”

As a longtime China watcher, what is special for your craft in the Xi era?

As an historian who went to universities in Australia, China and Japan and as a Sinologist who learned Chinese from and did a doctorate with Pierre Ryckmans, the Xi era is something of a gift. The dark art of Chinese rule combines elements of dynastic statecraft, official Confucianism, the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist legacy and the mixed socialist-neoliberal reforms of the post-Mao era.

Under Xi Jinping, the man I like to call China’s C.O.E., or Chairman of Everything, these traditions are being drawn on to build a China for the 21st century. For those used to thinking about China as being a country that “just wants to be like us,” or as one that fits neatly into the patterns of the Euro-American past, the Xi era is a challenge. For the many students of China who haven’t bothered reading Mao, taking the Marxist tradition seriously or familiarizing themselves with the country’s dynastic legacies, Xi’s version of China is positively discombobulating. ...




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