Time Magazine’s Oblivious Critique of China’s Rulers
By Christopher Westley
Because confession is good for the soul, I admit that I have become a regular reader of Time magazine. This is not because I consider it an important news source in any sense, but because of its status as the "newsletter of the nation-state," I find it worth studying if only to keep tabs on (a) what issues the US establishment thinks are important and (b) how it prefers that we think about them.
In that sense, I took notice of a recent story (gated) critical of the leader Time calls "the most powerful ruler on the planet." You can be sure his initials are not B.O.
Rather, the story examines a supposed personality cult rising in China around its president, Xi Jinping who (Time warns us) has been "using some of Mao's strategies to unite the masses and burnish his personal rule."Time quotes a "Harvard expert" who advises that "[l]ike Mao, Xi thinks if China succumbs to Western values, these forces will destroy not only China's exceptionalism but also the stability of of the Chinese Communist Party."
If Time's editors were honest, they would admit they aren't against personality cults per se, but just those that have the potential to threaten a particular one based in Washington. So cults surrounding Salman in Saudi Arabia, Erdogan in Turkey, or Modi in India do not require the attention of its editors. Cults in China, well, those are an entirely different bowl of rice.
Consider the obliviousness with which Time critiques Xi. First, it finds this statement from a former Chinese university professor: "Xi Jinping is like an emperor who rose from red nobility. People dare not criticize him."
This quote is quite funny — not only because the statement is itself a criticism, but because it is read in the magazine that for decades featured Hugh Sidey, the journalist most closely associated with establishing the cult of the US presidency in the twentieth century, serving as one of the chief apologists for the growth of executive power. It is also funny given that Time itself, for a November 2008 cover, photoshopped Obama's face onto the body of the sainted FDR — exemplar of America’s version of red nobility — in an overt attempt to deflect criticism of the statism that was to follow.
Later, we read about how Xi visited "the headquarters of [China's] biggest newspaper, TV network, and news agency" to ensure "absolute loyalty," telling members of China's MSM that their work should "reflect the party's will and views, protect the authority of the central party leadership and preserve the party's unity." This should concern those who see nothing but a strongly enforced absolute loyalty to a narrow spectrum of left and right statism from our own MSM.
Time hysterically notes that "Xi's name appeared in 11 front-page headlines" of China's People's Daily in the month of December alone. Would someone please pinch me when it ever concerns itself with the number of times any sitting president's name appears in the New York Times' front-page headlines, in any month?
There are other proofs of this dangerous cult of Xi. China has been "shaping elections in Africa and consumption patterns in Europe," as though the US government has been a mere disinterested observer. Xi has been blaming regional tensions in the South China Sea on the US, which, after all, has warships in the South China Sea. China held a "massive military parade" in September to show off its growing military might, something equivalent to B-52 flyovers at NFL games each fall. Finally, we are informed that in 2015, Xi "globe-trotted to 14 countries and was feted in each," as if US presidents, in contrast, fly coach to foreign lands where they avoid the limelight and sleep in Holiday Inns.
What Time doesn't get, or what it prefers we ignore, is that "Western values" are those of classical liberalism. By defending the natural right of every individual to property and privacy, the rule of law, and the freedom of association, religion, and the press, it threatens every nation-state. The Chinese government, a large, redistributive enterprise in its own right, reacts in ways no different than our own.