Chinese censors move to block ridicule of ‘Emperor’ Xi Jinping’s power grab
Beijing’s vast army of online censors have been mobilised to stamp out the ridicule and criticism to the announcement that President Xi Jinping could rule for life.
China proposed to remove a two-term limit from its president on Sunday, in a move which would see the current Chinese leader rule beyond 2023 and perhaps indefinitely.
The news was greeted in China by a wave of critical online messages, but moments later the comments were removed from the internet by censors.
On Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, the search term “two-term limit” and other sensitive topics had been blocked.
Many of the critical posts had likened China’s future political direction to that of its neighbour, North Korea, where Kim Jong-un leads the country as an unelected third generation ruler.
Other negative comments said that Mr Xi was presenting himself as a new "Emperor of China".
Among the posts which could not be shared on messaging app, Wechat, on Monday, was an image of China’s last Emperor, Pu Yi, with the words "Emperor calls: ‘Is my Qing dynasty returning?’"
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Censors were also busy removing pictures of Winnie the Pooh that had been posted. The portly bear has been compared to Mr Xi by many web users in China.
Could've expected this, but still pretty creative. First images of "king Winnie" surfacing on Weibo in response to Xi's potential indefinite rule: https://t.co/u9kL5OYGwq #XiJinping #kingwinnie pic.twitter.com/Bb6Dmy46xH
— Manya Koetse (@manyapan) February 25, 2018
One of the posts showed Winnie hugging a pot of honey with the caption: “Find the thing you love and stick with it.”
Some of the censorship appeared to have been lifted late on Monday, but state media outlets were ramping up their propaganda drive to promote the new changes to the constitution.
The Global Times said any criticism against the move – which foreign observers predict will bring increased authoritarianism in China was due to “misinformation and external forces" and that the proposals were backed by "all Chinese people".
An editorial said: “Since reform and opening up, China, led by the Communist Party, has successfully resolved and will continue to effectively resolve the issue of party and national leadership replacement in a law-abiding and orderly manner."
Official state news agency Xinhua drew a similar conclusion to the Global Times – that handing Mr Xi extended power was the will of the people.
"The broad part of officials and the masses say that they hoped this constitutional reform is passed," it said, in an editorial that was printed in The People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece newspaper,
However, Jean Pierre Cabestan, a political scientist at Hong Kong’s Baptist University, said scrapping the presidential limit was a result of the Chinese leader’s supreme confidence in his own personal standing.
Mr Xi became the strongest leader since Mao Tse-tung at the 19th Party Congress last October, when a second term that officially begins next month was agreed by the party.
"The surprise is not the decision to drop the two term limit, but its timing," said Prof Cabestan.
"Xi secretly decided to impose it on the Communist Party leadership at the beginning of his second term, when he is at the peak of his power, before too much opposition to his intentions appear in the Party nomenklatura."
Prof Cabestan also said China’s plan to give its leader extended rule was in contrast to global trends.
"It shows that China is going backward as more countries have questioned life-long tenures," he said.
Additional reporting by Christine Wei