Xi Jinping’s train of titles seems to grow longer and longer. In an article posted earlier this week to an official WeChat account of the National Radio and Television Administration, the CCP’s general secretary was lauded with the phrase “proletarian revolutionary” (无产阶级革命家).
What is this phrase? Where does it come from?
Here is a screenshot of the post dealing with the response to the coronavirus epidemic, which is headlined: “Following the Example of General Secretary Xi Jinping, For a Loyal and Heroic Struggle for Early Victory.”
The post begins by talking about events six years ago in February 2014, when Xi Jinping’s “imposing figure” appeared in Nanluoguxiang, a well-known alley in Beijing, at a time when dangerously smoggy air was a hot topic across the country. The stunt was meant to signal to the public at the time that their leader was human and accessible, ready to breathe the same air. Yesterday’s post reads: “He did not wear a face mask that time. The news at the time said, ‘The smog has not dissipated, but the general secretary has already emerged.’”
The post includes a photo of Xi Jinping wearing a face mask during a tour of a Beijing neighborhood on Monday, part of a series of visits meant to show that he is present on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus.
The phrase in question, which I’ve highlighted above, comes a bit further down in the post. “Great proletarian revolutionaries are always filled to the brim with the optimistic revolutionary spirit,” it reads.
Since the People’s Daily newspaper was launched on May 15, 1946, 40 people have been described in this way, which may seem to suggest the term is not so exceptional. However, we should note that aside from Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, all of those mentioned as “proletarian revolutionaries” were labelled as such only after their deaths, and often in official obituaries.
It is exceptional to be designated a “proletarian revolutionary” during one’s lifetime.
The label was used early on and with some regularity for Mao Zedong, accounting for the majority of instances we find in the People’s Daily. For Deng Xiaoping, the title came only after his resignation as chairman of the Central Military Commission in 1989.
As for the others, here is a taste of the distinguished group:
Former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin
Former Soviet leader Josef Stalin
Former Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito
The novelist Lu Xun
Revolutionary-era figures Peng Pai, Fang Zhimin and Chen Tanqiu
German Communist Party founder Rosa Luxemburg
Deng Yingchao (a rare woman on the list)
The group also includes Xi Jinping’s father, Xi Zhongxun, who after his death was praised as an “excellent proletarian revolutionary” (杰出的无产阶级革命家).
But the reference to Xi Jinping as a “great proletarian revolutionary” faced a quick death online. The post was removed within 24 hours, yielding the following error notice reading: “This message is not viewable as it violates regulations.”
This is an interesting turn of events. A post made to WeChat by one of the chief regulators in the information terrain, the National Radio and Television Administration, is deemed to be in violation of regulations.
According to its public description, the account, “National Radio and Television Archive” (国家广电智库) is operated by the Development Research Center of the National Radio and Television Administration” (国家广播电视总局发展研究中心), and works to “explain policies in the radio and television sector in a timely manner, posting leadership speeches, industry news, development plans, radio and television laws and regulations, research reports and so on.”
But in this case, the account’s praise for Xi Jinping appears to have gone too far. It was very likely regarded as an embarrassing case of “high sarcasm,” or gaojihei (高级黑), damning through the act of praise.
[Feature image of Xi Jinping by UNClimateChange, available at Flickr.com under CC license.]