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A picture of Chinese President Xi Jinping on display at a military museum, Beijing, Oct. 24, 2016 (AP photo by Andy Wong).

Can Xi Pivot From China’s Disrupter-in-Chief to Reformer-in-Chief?

Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016

Standing at about 6 feet tall, Chinese President Xi Jinping cuts an imposing figure, especially compared to the famously diminutive Deng Xiaoping, the transformative leader who, after Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, guided China through monumental reforms from 1978 until his formal retirement in 1989. Xi’s baritone and precise Mandarin, surprisingly uncommon for former top Chinese leaders, projects added self-assuredness and gravitas. This aura of confidence seems only appropriate for someone of Xi’s political stock: a princeling descended from communist revolutionaries who were present at the creation of modern China under Mao.

Perhaps that is why many commentators have deigned Xi a Maoist, pointing out that he has created a cult of personality and abandoned the collective leadership model of rule by consensus that has characterized the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since Deng’s days. While Xi has certainly amassed significant political power—and is perhaps now the strongest leader since Deng—such comparisons are overwrought and largely inaccurate. Xi is no revolutionary like Mao, and in fact, hews closer to Deng’s vision of China’s future than he is usually given credit for. ...

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