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Will China Bring Back ‘Chairman’ Title?


A salesperson sits near posters of the late communist leader Mao Zedong on display for sale at a shop near Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 2016. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)


China has only one chairman, and that is Chairman Mao Zedong.

Mao served as chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. The position was so powerful that party leaders did away with the title within years of Mao’s death in 1976.

But is the title truly gone forever? Maybe not.

On June 30, at a military parade in Hong Kong, President Xi Jinping met troops from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The troops responded to greetings from Xi by shouting, “Greetings, Chairman.”

The title was heard again on July 30, during a military parade to mark the 90th anniversary of the PLA in Inner Mongolia. At that event, troops also responded to Xi’s greetings by saying, “Greetings, Chairman.”

FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping is displayed on a screen as Type 99A2 Chinese battle tanks take part in a parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender during World War II, Tiananmen Gate, Beijing, China.
FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping is displayed on a screen as Type 99A2 Chinese battle tanks take part in a parade commemorating the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender during World War II, Tiananmen Gate, Beijing, China.

A new position for Xi?

Currently, Xi is both general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China as well as chairman of the Central Military Commission.

But some wonder if Xi might use the National Congress meeting this autumn to claim the position of party chairman.

The move is important because it would permit Xi to have veto power over all the other members of the committee. It could also permit him to hold on to power longer. Xi’s current position as general secretary is limited to two terms.

Tai Ming Cheung is an analyst of Chinese and East Asian defense and national security affairs with the Institute of Global Conflict and Cooperation at the University of California, San Diego.

He said that Xi’s two recent meetings with troops showed that “if the PLA and the country go to war, he is in charge.”

With the National Party Congress set to meet, one might expect a few candidates to be working to follow Xi as party leader. “But there were no other political leaders at any of these parades, so it looks as if he’s not grooming a successor, and it looks as if he controls the military,” Cheung told VOA Chinese.

Tom Fingar is a Shorenstein Asia-Pacific research fellow at Stanford University in California. He said the PLA’s response to Xi as party leader shows the army takes orders from the party, not the people.

“I do not see this as elevating Xi to the stature of Mao,” Fingar said.

Why is the title important?

History may explain why some Chinese worry about bringing back Mao’s title of chairman.

Wenqian Gao is a senior policy adviser at Human Rights in China. He said, “All the biggest disasters that occurred during the Communist rule were due to Chairman Mao’s unchecked power.”

FILE - In this file photo taken Sept. 14, 1966, youths are seen at a rally during the height of the Red Guard upheaval waving copies of the collected writings of Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong, often referred to as Mao's Little Red Book and carrying
FILE - In this file photo taken Sept. 14, 1966, youths are seen at a rally during the height of the Red Guard upheaval waving copies of the collected writings of Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong, often referred to as Mao's Little Red Book and carrying

In May 1966, Mao started the Cultural Revolution to take full control over the Communist Party.

The New York Times said the exact number of dead during the Cultural Revolution is not known. But a number of one million or more is most commonly reported. Many died from food shortages, and others were killed by the government or died in prison because they were not seen as loyal enough to the Communist Party.

I’m John Russell.

Ning Xin reported on this story for VOANews.com. Bruce Alpert adapted this story for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

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Words in This Story

title - n. a word or name that describes a person's job in a company, government or organization

respond - v. to say or write something as an answer to a question or request

groom - v. to prepare someone for a particular job or position

successor - n. a person who succeeds another person

elevate - v. to make someone more important

stature - n. the level of respect that people have for a successful person, organization

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