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Official publication says China needs Mao-like strongman leader, and that Xi fits the bill

China needs a leader like Mao Zedong and President Xi Jinping fits the bill, according to a media outlet affiliated to the Communist Party.

Analysts said the call to make Xi a strongman leader was an attempt to raise his status to the equivalent of “Great Leader”.

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The exhortation was made by Peoples’ Tribune, which is affiliated with party organ People’s Daily and came just ahead of a key meeting of top officials this week to lay the groundwork for the leadership reshuffle next year.

The article, published on October 18, also echoed praise from senior politicians earlier this year, calling for Xi to be named “the core” of the party leadership – a term that carries strong political meaning.

China needed a strongman politician so the nation could again rise to greatness amid a time of strategic challenges and risks, it said. Xi, as party general secretary, was widely regarded by officials and the public as such a leader, it said.

“There is no longer such salutation as ‘leader’ after Mao,” said Chen Daoyin, a political scientist at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

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Mao’s brief successor Hua Guofeng was once called “Wise Leader”, but no one used “leader” to address Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin or Hu Jintao, Chen said.

The magazine added that without the awareness of loyalty to the “core” leadership of the party there was a danger policies would never be adhered to outside the walls of Zhongnanhai, the nerve centre of the party and central government.

The salutation “core of the leadership” often represented the power of final approval or veto, Chen said.

Hu failed to win this status while party general secretary. He acted as “first among equals” in the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee, while Jiang was given the “core-ness”with Deng’s blessing.

Nearly 20 provincial party bosses publicly called Xi “the core” before the annual sessions of the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in March. But for reasons unknown to outsiders, the call died down during the gatherings.

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Beijing-based political commentator Zhang Lifan said the new spate of appeals for Xi to be named “core” suggested that some of his political goals were not realised during the Beidaihe conclave in summer, referring to the seaside resort east of Beijing where party luminaries gathered.

Additional reporting by Zhou Xin