Welcome to the ‘school’ of Xi Jinping thought

Via Foreign Affairs comes Kevin Carrico, lecturer in Chinese studies at Macquarie University, the translator of Tibet on Fire, and the author of The Great Han: Race, Nationalism, and Tradition in China Today:

Classes in Marxism have long been compulsory in Chinese universities, normally welcomed by tired students as an excellent chance to catch up on their rest. But now students and workers alike are suffering a new imposition: the need to study Xi Jinping Thought. The ideas of Xi, China’s most personally powerful leader since Mao Zedong, are increasingly mandatory and have even been enshrined in the country’s ever-changing constitution.

From the outside, Xi Jinping Thought might seem like authoritarian banality mixed with a growing personality cult. That’s why I was so excited to learn this August of a new course offering on the edX website, a U.S.-based learning platform: Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism With Chinese Characteristics for a New Era—the official full name of Xi Jinping Thought. The instructor was none other than the Tsinghua University professor Hu Angang, known for his close links to senior government leaders and his claims that China has already overtaken the United States as the primary global superpower. Who could be better to explain the intricacies of the new era? I determined that I was not only going to take the course—I was going to ace it.

The course’s promotional materials promised that learners would obtain “[s]ystematic and full knowledge of the [Chinese Communist Party]’s people-centered core concept,” as well as a “deeper understanding of the socialist road with Chinese characteristics.” Admittedly, I might not have been the student they had in mind. I’ve spent the past two decades studying Chinese political culture. And at the moment, I am unable to visit mainland China due to my work on self-immolation in Tibet, as well as other writings criticizing Xi’s dictatorial tendencies and comparing him to a knockoff Vladimir Putin. This would be a welcome chance to rectify my thought.

I am well-versed in the bloviations of Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory, both of which I studied in graduate courses in Nanjing. I also lived in China during the Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao eras, gaining—much to the annoyance of my friends who took no interest in these matters—an understanding of their respective philosophical contributions of the “important thought of Three Represents” and the “scientific outlook on development.” My exile has thus left me feeling slightly left out of Beijing’s latest self-congratulatory ideological contortions. On top of learning the new political language in which Beijing now chooses to describe its policies, anyone who paid a $49 fee, as per edX policy, would receive a verified certificate with the instructor’s signature upon completion of the course. That sealed the deal for me.

I paid the fee, uploaded my driver’s license for identity verification by edX, buckled my seat belt, and entered the “new era.” It’s not clear how many other people did the same; on the online discussion board, there were just seven other participants.

If there were ever a university course able to be concisely summarized in a brief article, this would be it. After four hours of watching Hu’s brief, wandering, yet also repetitive video lectures, I can tell you this: Xi Jinping Thought is the greatest invention since sliced bread.

The course itself is divided into six sections, each on a supposedly distinct yet also interrelated (and generally awkwardly subtitled) form of development derived from Xi Jinping Thought: people-centered development, innovation development, green development, coordination development, opening-up development, and sharing development.

Learners begin from people-centered development, as it is, according to Hu, the core of Communist Party governance. Novice learners may be puzzled as to how Hu imagines Western societies are structured when he states, “It’s fair to say that China is a society different from the Western society. It mainly established a people’s society.” More advanced learners, however, will know that for a government to truly represent the will of the people, it needs to use the word “people” anywhere and everywhere.

So, Hu reminds us that the Chinese republic is the people’s republic, the national bank is the people’s bank, the police are the people’s police, and the army is the people’s army. But wait, there’s more. Hu proudly reports that Xi used the term “people” 203 times in his report to the 19th Party Congress in 2017—more than any other term. This is, of course, equivalent to arguing that America is “huge” simply because the current president uses the word frequently. But as if to quell any doubts, the number 203 flashes triumphantly across students’ screens.

People-centered development is the core of Communist Party practice, according to Hu, from which it has never wavered. At the same time, it is also the only solution to contradictions that have emerged in the process of development, which has always been people-centered but perhaps just not people-centered enough until Xi arrived. Searching for logic in this is missing the point; this is about ideological fealty, not argument. Hu, five decades after the Cultural Revolution, confidently declares via edX to the people of the world that Xi’s people-centered thought is a “spiritual atomic bomb,” mimicking his comrade in arms (and later condemned traitor) Lin Biao’s famous assessment of Mao Zedong Thought.

Setting aside for a moment the ideological acrobatics, my glimpse into the new era suggests that its real essence is disorganization.

Originally advertised in English, for a number of weeks only one out of six sections of the lectures, delivered in Mandarin, had English language subtitles. Gradually, subtitles for all videos were provided, although some translated transcripts remain incomplete, while others are nearly incomprehensible.

For example, in section three on “green development,” students are told that “in the whole picture of China’s modernity, ecological civilization becomes important from an unimportant position, turns into a priority from a trivia, and changes from aimless to ambitious.” Moments like this left me yearning for the relative clarity of Martin Heidegger.

Once all of the transcripts were provided, a final issue remained—as of Oct. 12, two weeks before the end of the class, no homework had been posted. Having paid my $49 fee, I faced the possibility of not receiving a certificate solely because the relevant authorities had not posted any assignments. After posting questions about this conundrum on the discussion board with no responses, I wrote a brief email to edX support last week explaining the situation. They reassured me that they would be in touch with the conveners and this issue would be corrected.

Within a few days, 34 multiple choice questions were posted, addressing the course’s six sections. Based on my notes and a few Google searches on topics that the quiz setter had included but that hadn’t been addressed in lectures, I was able to receive a final score of 100 across all the multiple choice quizzes. A new notification appeared on my edX sign-in page: My PDF certificate was now available.

I was now a certified master of Xi Jinping Thought.

In essence, Xi Jinping Thought is not all that different from his predecessors’. People, development, reform, ecological civilization, innovation, opening—anyone who has spent any time in Beijing in the last 40 years will consider these terms all too familiar terrain. But the unwavering emphasis on Xi Jinping Thought as fundamentally new is different, and the greatest takeaway from the class was in fact the state of political and intellectual life in China today under Xi’s leadership.

The Chinese government claims to be building “world-class universities.” It has designated 42 universities as qualified to develop to “world-class” level by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the Communist takeover. Tsinghua University, the content provider for this particular course, is regarded as one of the leading academic institutions in China today, ranked 22nd in the World University Rankings.

But at the same time, China is clearly dedicated to enforcing an ever greater degree of ideological purity in higher education. Several universities have in recent years established institutes for research on Xi Jinping Thought. Researchers seeking funds must include slavish praise of Xi in their bids, and money flows, even in relatively free Hong Kong, to anything related to Xi’s pet project, the Belt and Road Initiative. Even the smallest deviation from the Xi line means exclusion or persecution: Just last week, Zhao Siyun of Zhejiang University of Media and Communications received an official reprimand for a speech advocating the ideal of the “public intellectual” who comments on national affairs. Such matters, I assume, are now the sole purview of Xi himself.

There is a fundamental incompatibility between these two goals: One cannot simultaneously have world-class universities and rigid ideological servitude. Nowhere is this contradiction more glaring than in this course on Xi Jinping Thought, which gives a global community of learners an unprecedented opportunity to observe the poverty of China’s state-enforced ideology. It comes across as a cash-rich North Korea. Yet some committee decided that this particular course would be an appropriate way to introduce Tsinghua’s “world-class” education to the world. Perhaps, most likely, once the idea of offering such a course on a global platform was raised, no one at Tsinghua had the courage to raise any questions or doubts.

Nor, of course, did edX see any problem with this. Assuming that edX has quality controls, someone there also greenlighted this empty paean to a dictator who has overseen the arrest of hundreds of human rights lawyers, the destruction of civil society, and the arbitrary and indefinite detention of more than a million Muslims in internment camps.

These dangers, in the end, are the real lessons of Xi Jinping Thought—a subject in which, I remind you, I have a verified certificate.

One wonders if a few locals aren’t recent graduates…

David Llewellyn-Smith
Latest posts by David Llewellyn-Smith (see all)


  1. It’s kinda amusing in a way.
    The Chinese by a long shot have the highest IQs in the world.

    Yet for all the brains Xi clearly has, he’s still too caught up in his own ego to realise it’s likely to cause his downfall.

    How long before the Chinese recession hits?
    Can’t wait for the mandate from heaven to be revoked.

      • Hmm, I thought it was different to that, but…

        Hong Kong = ethnic Chinese
        Singapore = Mostly ethnic Chinese
        Korea = Ethnically Han (mostly associated with China)
        Japan = long split offshoot of whatever the ethnic Chinese were a few thousand years ago

        I mean, ok, I’m technically wrong, but… well, you gotta say, especially with only 3 points in it, it’s broadly correct on an ethnic basis.

    • “The Chinese by a long shot have the highest IQs in the world.’

      Are you sure about that? I believe that it is in fact people of Jewish origin who hold that title. Apart from statistical studies, the distribution of Nobel Prizes certainly seems to favour Jewish ancestors.

      Either way, you are on dangerous grounds, since the current thinking on this is that IQ does not correlate with anything all.

      • North Asia more generally has the highest IQs led by the free-er thinking countries Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Japan. Ashkenazi Jews (those emanating from Eastern Europe) have the highest IQs of any racial group, but are dispersed geographically. Sephardic Jews (who dispersed through Middle East and North Africa) don’t share these traits.

        But what is IQ measuring? Its well known North Asian countries have fairly extreme educational regimes and a culture which emphasizes numeracy, rote learning and rigid social structures. Questionable that this is conducive to creativity, free thinking leading to novel ideas and innovations, though this is changing in the democratic countries.

      • .oriental north east asian populations specifically chinese, japanese and koreans have the highest iqs in the world of any major population, maybe a 2-3 point difference over aggregate european populations. this difference appears to be concentrated in spatial/performance sub-tests, with lower levels of performance on verbal iq sub-tests. there are also rumours asians have a more ‘average heavy’ bell curve than other groups when measured for iq as well, in that they tend to cluster more around their average and possess fewer outliers at the extreme ends (genius/retard), but i see little actual evidence for this.

        this psychometric difference is accompanied by measured differences in temprement and personality; north-east asians tend to exhibit higher levels of conscientiousness, neuroticism and higher levels of introversion. this might explain their typical career pathways and why, despite their academic overrepresentation and successs, they tend to be rarely seen at the highest managerial/executive levels where characteristics such as extroversion and aggression become more important.

        jews have the highest average iqs overall (probably about 107) but only ashkenazi (rhine) jews, who while admittedly are the dominant strain of global jewry, might be surpassed by the mizrarhi (oriental) jews due to differential israeli birthrates. also a lot of overseas jewish communities are disappearing due to out-marriage, especially in the u.s.

        iq is highly predictive of a lot of stuff and probably explains about 10% of the variance in incomes, and would more so if labour markets were more meritocratic, which is pretty significant.

      • “this might explain their typical career pathways and why, despite their academic overrepresentation and successs, they tend to be rarely seen at the highest managerial/executive levels where characteristics such as extroversion and aggression become more important.”

        Managerial “success” highly correlates with participation in team sports to the frustration of Asian Australians sent to academic coaching instead. But management is largely about interpersonal and leadership skills (perhaps combined with some competitive aggression) so this makes sense.

      • i think its more about sucking up, being good looking, fitting whatever stereotype is expected of people in that role, having the right mates and being a big dum fool but yeah

      • “they tend to cluster more around their average and possess fewer outliers at the extreme ends (genius/retard)”

        Tards tend to cluster on MB

    • lol. China has ghost cities. That does not seem like a smart decision. I think that is a waste of cement.

      Sri Lanka has a ghost airport. India has ghost cricket stadiums.

      Does Dubai have a ghost anything?

      Dubai is smashing everyone in the aviation market.

  2. On the bright side, that is not a recipe for world domination or even being a world ‘influencer’.

    Even the wizard Bernays and the Mad Men of Maddison Ave would struggle to package that for general consumption.

    You can make that stuff stick for a while if you have some other binding agent like a largely homogenous society – culturally or racially.

    Perhaps we should encourage the middle kingdom to get back into physical wall building.

    That way they can build paradise on earth without interference.

    They deliver us our cheap gadgets and we deliver them raw materials at the delivery dock.

    With a bit of luck they might offer to take any of our crypto authoritarians on the left and right who want to live and walk their talk.

    • True 007, it’s not a recipe for world domination, but the decaying empire it came from can still do enormous and lasting damage.

      • Chinajim,

        They certainly can but I can’t see China attempting an invasion of any of its neighbours with the possible exception of Taiwan.

        I think the biggest risk is a paranoid declining World Police mindset in Washington seeking to generate the pretext for a ‘pre-emptive’ conflict before the ‘commies get any stronger’.

        Until China attempts to invade a neighbour the best defences are really simple.

        Stop selling them our capital assets and claims on our future income and only unilaterally reduce tariffs when it suits our purposes to do so.

        Nothing very remarkable about that as that is exactly the approach the Chinese took over the last 30 years to rapidly develop.

        The only catch is that our policy makers are a bunch of turncoats and ticket clippers who would sell out their grandmothers if there was a buck in it.

  3. UPDATE … NEW ZEALAND: When are the long – term ‘culture issues’ of the National ( Conservative ) Party going to be addressed ? …

    … Essential viewing …

    NZ politicians need to learn the ABCs of Chinese politics for a ‘constructive relationship’, foreign policy expert says … Q&A with Prof Anne – Marie Brady … 1 News Now


    A key issue to come out of last week’s events was the issue of political donations and concern over foreign influence on New Zealand politics, says Anne-Marie Brady, an expert on Chinese politics from Canterbury University.

    Professor Brady said it was “great for the Chinese community to be involved in politics in New Zealand, that’s what we want and it’s fine for wealthy people to be contributing to political parties”.

    “But it’s not ok for people who are connected to the politics of a foreign Government that has a deliberate policy to interfere in the policies of other nations.” … view & read more via hyperlink above …

    Google Search ‘Anne Marie Brady’

    Access yesterdays MB post …


    • … ( ADDED LATER ) … Note too … Prof Brady’s’ concluding comments on the Q&A programme about the provisions of the Education Act 1989 No 80 (as at 13 February 2015), Public Act – New Zealand Legislation … specifically S162 Establishment of Institutions (4) (a) …

      (v) they accept a role as critic and conscience of society …

      • http://www.100days.co.nz/ … Amy Brooke writes …

        Whom would you believe, Dr Anne-Marie Brady on Communist China’s influence – or our pathetically performing politicians?

        The marvel is that any New Zealanders at all still bother to listen to politicians. They, and the mainstream media, now make a pretty hopeless pair. And as, like most, I make a point of not wasting time by watching politicians perform for a TV audience, it was strictly by accident that I came across the Q&A programme this last Sunday evening. I stayed because of the promise of the appearance of the brave and well-informed to Dr Anne-Marie Brady, held in well-deserved respect world-wide because of her deep knowledge of the way that China’s Communist Party – the CCP – interferes in the internal affairs of other countries. … read more via hyperlink above …

      • CCTV put in office of China expert Anne-Marie Brady after burglary | Stuff.co.nz


        … extract …

        … After the February burglary of Brady’s home, Australia’s Charles Sturt University installed CCTV in Hamilton’s Canberra office. Hamilton says Brady is viewed as a heroic figure within China circles around the world, not only for her highly regarded work, but for the intimidation she’s endured. “I’ve found that she’s stoical, professional and enormously courageous.”

        He adds: “Anne-Marie Brady is a scholar working in a Western university and she shouldn’t have to take extreme security measures to protect her personal safety. It’s appalling. And yet the long arm of the Communist Party can reach as far as Christchurch in order to intimidate its critics.”

        New Zealand intelligence security expert Paul Buchanan, of 36th Parallel Assessments, tells Newsroom our Government’s response to Chinese influence – Brady has called for a series of investigations and new laws – has been tepid, so far. “I think that the cumulative pressure from allied Governments in the wake of the Brady expose may force some changes in the Government’s approach.” … read more via hyperlink above …

  4. …empty paean to a dictator who has overseen the arrest of hundreds of human rights lawyers, the destruction of civil society, and the arbitrary and indefinite detention of more than a million Muslims in internment camps

    I guess Ol’ Xi ain’t all bad then.

  5. Instead of doing the course, you can simply watch ‘Amazing China’ the movie. May want to have a barf bag ready in case you start vomitting during the 90 minutes of propaganda.

  6. Is Kevin Carrico, lecturer in Chinese studies at Macquarie University, a China expert? If so, then he could surely translate the Chinese course into proper English, rather than bagging on the course translation,(which is actually very understandable in the case he mentions).
    While some decent points are made, this is childish stuff. Weak analysis. Can’t (2nd tier) Macquarie University do better than this?

  7. Is Kevin Carrico, lecturer in Chinese studies at Macquarie University, a China expert? If so, then he could surely translate the Chinese course into proper English, rather than bagging on the course translation,(which is actually very understandable in the case he mentions).
    While some decent points are made, this is childish stuff. Can’t even a 2nd tier Macquarie University do better than this?

  8. DefinitelyNotTheHorribleScottMorrisonPM

    The mistake they make is just using the word “people” over and over again. You gotta say “orindary people on taxable incomes of less than 80k trying to get ahead” over and over again.

  9. Gonna start a new MOOC on ScoMo Brain Fart on Rentierism With Aussie Characteristics for a New Oi Oi Oi, anyone want to contribute?