'New Era' Chinese Subway Train Keeps Passengers on Right Ideological Track

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Chinese President Xi Jinping applauds during the opening session of the National People's Congress, China's ceremonial legislature, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 5, 2018.
Chinese President Xi Jinping applauds during the opening session of the National People's Congress, China's ceremonial legislature, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 5, 2018.

Anxious to climb aboard an accelerating personality cult around President Xi Jinping, authorities in the northeastern Chinese province of Jilin have launched a brand-new subway train decked out in themed decor linked to the presidential buzzword, "a new era."

The "New Era," a municipal subway train in the provincial capital Changchun, is decorated throughout in the ruling Chinese Communist Party's livery, sporting red leatherette seats and gold calligraphy expressing the "thoughts" of the president.

Performers also ride the Xi train, performing selected quotes from their "core" leader's Collected Works in a traditional Chinese recitation style accompanied by bamboo clappers, to ensure passengers' thinking is along the right lines.

The city authorities said the train was a birthday present to the ruling party to mark the 97th anniversary of its founding on July 1.

The train was conceived as a way to deliver a condensed experience of Xi's ideas in the wake of constitutional changes that allowed him to begin an indefinite term in office following a vote by the National People's Congress (NPC) in March.

The NPC also gave the green light to amendments to the national constitution and the party's own charter that enshrined the president's ideas as "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era."

Political commentators point to a growing cult of personality around Xi, whose birthplace in the northern province of Shaanxi is fast becoming a pilgrimage site for anyone anxious to show their loyalty to the president.

Last month, state broadcaster CCTV released a documentary following the lives of farmers in Xi's home village of Liangjiahe, which has seen visitor numbers double or triple in the past year to around 12,000-13,000.

Apples, jujubes, sorghum, millet and other agricultural products from Liangjiahe are now also selling fast, media reports indicated.

Remote village made popular

A resident of nearby Yan'an surnamed Ma told RFA that local residents are benefiting from the remote village's surge in popularity.

"It's natural that the government is promoting Liangjiahe as a tourist attraction, and it could benefit both the country and the people," Ma said.

But he said that support for the growing political significance of the site among local officials is far from unanimous.

"They wouldn't dare to oppose the idea; they would support it publicly but undermine it privately," Ma said. "In reality they'd be opposing or failing to implement [central government proposals]."

He said the Shaanxi government had been lackluster when it came to pursuing Xi's anti-corruption campaigns.

"Basically, they haven't really achieved anything," Ma said.

Local rights activist Zhao Lichun said the development of Liangjiahe is linked to Beijing's propaganda campaign to bolster enthusiasm for the "new era" under Xi, who has reorganized the government to concentrate power in the hands of his supporters.

"There's a lot of this themed propaganda around now, you can see it,"

Zhao said. "I have been on the receiving end of propaganda since I was a child."

"It's quite a long way from being geared towards a fair, just and human society," she said. "It seems to undermine certain things I thought I knew."

Scramble to show loyalty

Hebei-based freelance journalist Zhu Xinxin said officials in Beijing are now scrambling to show their loyalty, and coming up with any idea that could win them credit in Xi's new cult of personality.

"Xi Jinping needs this because it will allow him to promote his own ideas and policies," Zhu said. "But local governments won't necessarily implement these plans in their entirety, so central government have to come up with ideas to put pressure on them, while at the same time currying favor."

"This is basically a tradition in Chinese officialdom, but it will eventually lead to a backlash if they continue down this road," he said. "When cults of personality get out of hand, they wind up having a comical effect, and people make fun of them."

President Xi has long been known to be sensitive to any satire or criticism targeting him in person.

Government censors blocked HBO's website in China last month after John Oliver, who hosts the channel's Last Week Tonight show, highlighted Xi's sensitivities for laughs.

"Apparently Xi Jinping is very sensitive about his perceived resemblance to Winnie the Pooh," Oliver said during the offending episode. "The fact he’s annoyed about it, means people will never stop bringing it up."

In a later episode, Oliver refers to Xi as "a honey-eating talking bear."

"The resemblance is striking," Oliver quips. "I don't know which is which."

Last September, authorities in the eastern province of Shandong stripped a defense attorney of his license to practice after he defended a social media user jailed for two years after he called President Xi Jinping by a forbidden nickname in an online post.

Zhu Shengwu had represented defendant Wang Jiangfeng after he used Xi's nickname "steamed buns" online, in a reference to a trip made by the president to a well-known Beijing restaurant to eat alongside ordinary Chinese people.

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Lin Ping for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.





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