Xi the Exterminator & the Perfection of Covid Wisdom

Xi Jinping’s Empire of Tedium
Appendix XV

As Xi Jinping, China’s party-state-army leader, consolidated power in 2013, he established more and more ‘special leading groups’ which allowed him to meld his role as the primus-inter-pares leader of the Communist Party with the functions of civilian government. Xi made himself chair of the leading groups that in effect carried out a rolling coup against the civilian government. In the process, boundaries between the Party and the State which had painstakingly evolved from the 1980s, were effectively dissolved. At the time, this led me to dub Xi Jinping China’s ‘Chairman of Everything’.

‘Everything in China’, it was declared in January 2016 (echoing what Mao had said in December 1973), ‘is under the direction of the Communist Party: party, state, army, civilian life and education, as are all points of the compass, east, south, west, north and the centre’ 黨政軍民學,東西南北中,黨是領導一切的. Now, Xi was not only Chairman of Everything, he was also Chairman of Everywhere and Everyone. (See A People’s Banana RepublicChina Heritage, 5 September 2018.)

Over the years, the truculent masses have coined a plethora of unofficial titles for Xi Jinping. On the eve of the Twentieth National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party at which it is expected that Xi will be acclaimed as the Party boss for at least another five year term, a new title circulated on the Chinese internet. As a result of strict ‘Zero-Covid’ policies aimed at eliminating the spread of Covid-19 and its variants from 2020 — the so-called ‘dynamic elimination strategy’ 動態清零疫情政策 — Chairman of Everything Xi was now ‘Xi the Eliminator’, or ‘Emperor Zero Tolerance’ 清零宗 qīnglíng zōng.

This is Appendix XV in Xi Jinping’s Empire of Tedium and a chapter in New Sinology Jottings, an ongoing series in China Heritage.

— Geremie R. Barmé, Editor, China Heritage
Distinguished Fellow, The Asia Society
1 September 2022

***

Related Material:

***

líng: ‘zero’, ‘eliminate’, in the hand of Mao Zedong

Emperor Zero
清零宗

A Beijing friend with a notorious literary bent decided to spin the expression 清零宗 qīnglíng zōng into a satirical couplet:

白字王開張包子舖
指明帝原是清零宗

  • 白字王 báizì wáng: If 白 bái is placed atop 王 wáng it forms the character 皇 huáng, ’emperor’.
  • 包子舖 bāozi pū: Literally, ‘dumpling shop’. This is a reference to the occasion on which, in December 2013, Xi Jinping visited the Qingfeng Dumpling Shop 慶豐包子舖 Qìngfēng bāozi pū at north of Yuetan in Beijing and had a meal of dumplings and spicy swine offal. Thereafter, he was playfully referred to variously as 包子 bāozi, ‘The Dumpling’, 包帝 bāodì, ‘The Dumpling Emperor’, and 慶豐帝 qìngfēng dì, ‘Emperor Qingfeng’. In the wake of Xi Jinping’s visit, over 140 Qingfeng dumpling outlets sprang up in the Chinese capital. Regardless, in December 2021, it was reported that Xi’s Qingfeng dumpling outlet had gone out of business. It is not clear if this was a result of The Dumpling’s covid policies.
  • 指明帝 zhǐmíng dì: From 2020, Chinese state media has repeatedly declared that Xi Jinping is a leader who ‘indicates the way ahead’ 指明方向 not only for China, but for the whole world. Xi is thus known as ‘Emperor Director’ or ‘Emperor Indicator’. We have previously translated 指明帝 zhǐmíng dì as ‘Emperor Do It My Way’ (see You Should Look Back, China Heritage, 1 February 2022).
  • 清零宗 qīnglíng zōng: The word  zōng, ‘ancestor’, is used in the posthumous temple title or 廟號 miàohào of emperors.  The Qing dynasty emperor Aisin Gioro Injen 胤禛, who ruled under the reign title Yongzheng 雍正, is also known by his temple title Shizong 世宗, thus 清世宗. The temple name of his son, Hungli 弘曆, who is better known as Qianlong 乾隆, is Gaozong or 清高宗. The term 清零宗 qīnglíng zōng is a play on this tradition; it uses the term 清零 qīnglíng, ‘Zero-covid’, to mock the draconian policy of Xi Jinping.

Thus, in prose translation the couplet:

白字王開張包子舖
指明帝原是清零宗

Reads as:

‘A man with imperial pretensions who made a mark with a dumpling shop. He became an emperor who thinks he can tell everyone what to do and where to go, but in the end he’s just turned out to be The Great Eliminator, a Big Fat Zero.’

***

Other popular terms for China’s leader that have been coined over the past decade include titles that reflect Xi Jinping’s authoritarian lineage, such as:

  • 習特勒 Xi-tler;
  • 習奧塞斯庫 Xi’aușescu (after the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu who was executed in 1989);
  • 習列日涅夫 Xirezhnev (after Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev, the General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1964 to 1982 who oversaw years of stagnation); and,
  • 習武帝 Xi the Martial Emperor (after Wudi of the Han dynasty).

(One correspondent who is fluent in Russian, Japanese and English suggests adding ‘Dzer-Xi-nsky’ to this noxious list, in remembrance of the Chekist ‘Iron Felix’ Dzerzhinsky.)

Other nicknames / sobriquets 綽號 chuòhào that the online masses have devised for Xi Jinping include:

一級築牆士、超高學歷大學士、小學生(小學博士、初中博士)、總加速師(Chief Acceleration Officer,簡稱CAO,音同「肏」)、習豬頭、習遠平、習特勒習歪頭習柿子小熊維尼(習維尼、习噗噗、噗噗熊)、習包子、射精平 、慶豐帝、習惠帝、崇皇帝、刁近平、習大犬(含習太大、習太太、習人夫、習天天、習小小等關聯字改編)、刃近平、細頸瓶(吸精瓶)、撒格爾王、不換肩、扛麥郎、大撒幣、翠翠、寬衣帝、習一尊、習禁評、袁二(袁世凱二號或袁世凱二世)、雜種書記(粤拼zaap6 zung2 syu1 gei3,在粵語中與“習總書記”同音)、奭(shì,象形字,一人扛两百斤粮食)、勾邁傘(或刁邁乎,為象形字)等等。

***

A Political Climacteric

In August 2022, shortly after having been hailed as Emperor Zero, Xi Jinping was also anointed as China’s 停經帝 tíngjīng dì, literally ‘The Menopausal Monarch’. The expression 停經帝 tíngjīng dì is a contraction of the phrase 掉中國濟的皇, ‘The Emperor Who Has Cut Off the Lifeblood of China’s Economy’. Xi’s critics reasoned that on his watch:

  1. The economy of Macau was in the doldrums and Hong Kong was all but undone;
  2. Shanghai ground to a standstill and Beijing was on life support;
  3. The supply chain of the Lower Yangtze Delta was disrupted;
  4. The major light industrial regions at Yiwu and Suzhou were under stress and Suzhou, an epicentre of Japanese investment, has even seen a young woman pilloried for wearing a kimono; and,
  5. Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have tussled over the prostrate economy of the Pearl River Delta.

In response to the new title 停經帝 tíngjīng dì, our Beijing wag composed another couplet:

清零僭主敗家子
停經老兒加速師

‘The tyrannical eliminator is China’s prodigal,
An economic spoiler speeding to oblivion.’

***

Xi Jinping at Drepung Monastery outside Lhasa on 22 July 2021

***

Praying for Xi’s End
祈翠

On 18 August 2022, a giant panda in at the Wolong Reserve in Sichuan province gave birth, Central Chinese TV launched a campaign via Weibo to find a name for the cub. As the mother was called Cuicui 翠翠, or Jade, viewers were quick to suggest that the answer could readily be found in the word ‘jade’ 翠 cuì itself. After all, one viewer wrote, ‘it’s such a beautiful name, so moving and irreplaceable.’

It did not take long for the authorities to realise that Weibo users were enthusiastic about the name ‘Jade’ 翠 cuì because the character 翠 was made up of the following components: 习  + 习 Xí + 卒 , thus ‘Xixi Die’.

The name 祈翠 Qícuì also proved to be something of a popular hit. ‘Qicui’ could be interpreted to mean ‘Pray for Xixi to Die’.

The competition was soon closed down and users comments deleted from the Weibo account of CCTV as well as such partner media outlets as Beijing Daily and People’s Daily. One of the last posts published before the whole operation was shut down read: ‘I’m sure this little darling will be able to eat 200 catties of bamboo at one sitting’, a pointed reference to Xi Jinping’s widely mocked claim that ‘Back in the day I could carry 200 catties of wheat on a shoulder pole for ten li of mountain paths without changing shoulders’ 我那個時候扛200斤麥子,十里山路我不換肩。

***

Not Even for a Minute

‘Not even a minute can be spent out of the embrace of Team Party. Not for even one minute can we let ourselves be diverted from the course set for us by the General Secretary. We must not allow ourselves to be out of the sight of the General Secretary and Party Central for even minute.’

一分鐘都不站在黨的隊伍之外,一分鐘都不偏離總書記指引的方向,一分鐘都不離開總書記和黨中央的視野。

Fu Hua 傅華, Editor-in-Chief & Party Secretary of Xinhua News Agency, 新華社社長、黨組書記, Building the Party 《黨建》, July 2022

***

‘Every breath you take, Every move you make, Every bond you break, Every step you take, I’ll be watching you… . Oh can’t you see, You belong to me?‘

Less Than Zero — Xi the Exterminator

When Cult Outstrips Personality

Over the first few years of Xi Jinping’s rule as head of China’s party-state-army, even the most dull-witted should have recognised in his grandiloquent speechifying and extravagant appeals to history, mission and destiny, that a leader nurtured in his early years by the Party’s philosophy of the right to rule and come of age during High Maoism had lofty ambitions. For my part, I commented on Xi’s messianic sense of self in 2014. Xu Zhangrun, whose work features so prominently in China Heritage, spoke out about the looming threat in January 2016.

By 2017, Xi was well on the way to claiming what I referred to ‘terminal tenure’, that is a lifetime in power, regardless of his formal position.

Thus, in late August 2022, during the run-up to the Communist Party’s Twentieth Congress scheduled for mid October — a meeting that it was presumed would see the further investiture of Xi Jinping — when three veteran Party members in Hubei province issued a public remonstration it seemed admirably quixotic.

In an open letter that circulated in China they took issue with a line at the end of the General Program outlined in the revised Party Constitution that stated: ‘The Party exercises overall leadership over all areas of endeavor in every part of the country’ 黨政軍民學,東西南北中,黨是領導一切的。 They pointed out that Mao had articulated this policy [in 1973] at a time when the Party was recovering from the disruptions of the Cultural Revolution. ‘Today’, the petitioners wrote, ‘the government is stable and functional, policies are implemented and rules and regulations are followed … given this state of affairs, does it not seem to be excessively dogmatic to parrot a Mao quotation from that earlier era as it is totally unsuited to present reality?’ 如今中國國家機構健全、政策法規配套……,在這樣的大背景下,照搬照抄當年語錄用於指導今天實踐,豈不是刻舟求劍?

The petitioners also protested that the Point Ten in Article Six of Chapter Two in the Party Constitution clearly states that:

‘The Party proscribes all forms of personality cult. It shall be ensured that the activities of Party leaders are subject to oversight by the Party and the people, while at the same time upholding the standing of all leaders who represent the interests of the Party and the people.’

They suggest that due to the vague wording of this proscription a line should be added to the effect that: ‘Any Party member who uses the authority of their position to promote a cult of personality should be expelled from the Party and furthermore it should be recommended that they are stripped of their administrative role(s).’ 對利用職權搞個人崇拜的黨員一律開除黨籍,並建議開除公職。

Media analysts of the open letter noted that the concerns of the three Party members about a revival of the personality cult of the Mao era and the danger of a return to Cultural Revolution extremism were both already much in evidence. One obvious example was that in the Third Historical Decision passed by Party Central in November 2021, Xi Jinping’s name was mentioned twenty-two times, four more times than Mao’s and sixteen times more than that of Deng Xiaoping.

***

An Unfulfilled Hope

Put an Immediate End to the New Personality Cult

An emergency brake must be applied to the unfolding Personality Cult. Who would have thought that, after four decades of Economic Reforms and the Open Door, our Sacred Land would witness a new Personality Cult? The Party media is going to extreme lengths to create a new Idol; in the process it is offering up to the world an image of China as a Modern Totalitarianism. Portraits of the Leader are now hoisted on high throughout the Land, as though they are possessed of some Spiritual Mana. This only serves to add to the absurd situation. On top of that, the speeches of That Official — things that were previously simply recorded by secretaries in a pro forma bureaucratic manner — are now painstakingly collected in finely bound editions, printed in vast quantities and handed out freely worldwide. The profligate waste of paper alone is enough to make you shake your head in disbelief.

All of this reflects the low IQ of the Concerned Official and His craving for fame. More importantly, we need to ask how a vast country like China, one that was previously so ruinously served by a Personality Cult [that of Mao Zedong], has no resistance to this new cult, and this includes the droves of ‘Theoreticians’ and ‘Researchers’ who acquiesce to it. In fact, they are outdoing themselves with their sickeningly slavish behaviour [舔癰吸疽, literally ‘licking the carbuncles and sucking liquid from the ulcers’ (of the Power-Holder to gain favour and solicit reward)]. It’s as though hundreds of millions of Chinese are oblivious; people tolerate the New Cult and allow it unfettered freedom; they are powerless in the face of the arse-kissing bureaucrats.

This just goes to show that China’s Enlightenment is far from over. Every generation must champion rationalism in public affairs and continue painstakingly to forge a way ahead into the future. This New Cult is proof that China faces a very long struggle before it can lay claim to being a modern, secular and rational nation-state.

「個人崇拜」亟需趕緊剎車。改革開放四十年,沒想到神州大地再度興起領袖個人崇拜。黨媒造神無以復加,儼然一副前現代極權國家的景象。而領袖像重現神州,高高掛起,彷彿神靈,平添詭異。再者,官員講話,本為秘書手筆,不過等因奉此,居然匯編刊行,精裝亮相,全球免費贈送,徒耗紙張,令人噴飯。此間不僅需要反思為何當事人如此弱智而好名,更需要檢討為何曾經遭遇此種戕害的偌大國家,包括她的芸芸「理論家」「研究者」,居然對此毫無抵抗力,卻不乏舔癰吸疽之徒。而億萬人猶如虛無,竟然容忍其大行其道,奈何不了那幾個馬屁精大員,正說明所謂啓蒙是一個未竟事業,需要每一代人在公共事務上公開運用自己的理性,方能如履如臨而砥礪前行。而且,它更加說明中國尚未完全進入現代世俗理性的常態國家境界,而有待接續奮鬥矣。

‘Hope Six’ in Xu Zhangrun, ‘Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes’ — a Beijing Jeremiad
我們當下的恐懼與期待, July 2018


Perchance to Dream

‘I dreamed last night…’, by Lao Shu, 29 August 2022

昨天夜裡做一夢,
此身住在山裡邊。
天天柴灶涮羊肉,
一樹梅花開門前。
點上松明看古畫,
打開手機數零錢。
忽然敲門如擂鼓,
開門看見倆保安。
趕緊快走別廢話,
你得下山做核酸。

I dreamed last night that I was living in the mountains. By day I gathered firewood to cook hotpot and a plum tree bloomed at my front door.

I’d look at ancient paintings by the light of a lamp, and use my mobile phone to count my change.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Two security men confronted me:

‘Hurry up, no excuses now! You’ve gotta go down into town to be tested for covid.’

— trans. G.R. Barmé


‘Wear China’s national dress (Hanfu 漢服); extol Chinese culture; be truly Chinese both inside and out!’ 穿真漢服,弘揚傳統中華文化,做堂堂正正的中國人!Source: @Jinping89810500, 25 August 2022. Our thanks to Callum Smith for sharing this image

***

The Sūtra of Perfected Covid Wisdom

In the Mahāyāna 大乘 tradition of Buddhism, the Buddha was born not merely in the physical realm, but in Absolute Wisdom, the Womb of Wisdom. This concept of birth is summed up in one of the most famous and oft-recited texts of northern Buddhism, The Heart Sutra 心經, short for The Sutra of the Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom (般若波羅蜜多心經 or Prajñāpāramitā Hdaya Sūtra). Its message, which melds well with elements of Lao-Zhuang 老莊 philosophical Taoism, has played a role in Chinese thought and culture ever since it appeared. Its origins are still contested; there is even a view that it was composed or back-translated into Sanskrit from a Chinese original. Whatever the truth, this simple text, and its most memorable, and oft-repeated, line ‘Form is Emptiness, and Emptiness is Form’ 色即空, 空即色 रूपं शून्यता शून्यतैव रूपम्, have resonated through Chinese culture for some 1500 years. Among the numerous resonances of its ideas in poetry, prose and art, it also profoundly influenced China’s most famous novel, The Story of the Stone 石頭記 (aka The Dream of the Red Chamber 紅樓夢), the opening chapter of which contains the theme of the book:

As a consquence of all this, Vanitas, starting off in the Void (which is Truth) came to the contemplation of Form (which is Illusion); and from Form engendered Passion; and by communicating Passion, entered again into Form; and from Form awoke to the Void (which is Truth) 從此空空道人因空見色,由色生情,傳情入色,自色悟空。

— trans. David Hawkes.

[Note: the term ‘wisdom’, prajñā in Sanskrit and 般若 in Chinese, occurs frequently in this text, and in Chinese Buddhism generally. Despite appearances to the contrary, 般若 is pronounced bōrě.]

The Sūtra of Perfected Covid Wisdom

The Sūtra of Perfected Covid Wisdom, 1 September 2022

The Boddhisatva of Cotton Swabs was Covid-testing in the deep course of Wisdom
Looking down from on high,
Taking in all mouth and throats
Beholding every outbreak of Covid.
Transversing the land knowing that Red was not Green
Nor was Green Red.
Whatever is Red must be locked down and that
All lockdowns are in a state of Red.

Thus it was throughout the Realm.

All of that exists takes form but their own-being is but emptiness
Nothing comes and nothing goes. There is neither Heaven Above nor Law on Earth
Nothing is gained and naught reduced.

Here, then, it is thus because the People are held in contempt
There is no concern for whether the People live or die:
Those with other conditions are prevented from seeking treatment
The pregnant are banned from hospitals

All is interdicted

Farmers are banned from tilling the soil
For that is ‘spring planting with criminal intent’
Migrant workers returning home for Spring Festival
Are condemned for ‘returning to the countryside with malice’.
In the realm of zero-tolerance all must remain silent
and all fear for their secondary contacts.

If you come home after travelling elsewhere
You can only go out, but you may not return again
Yet once you are in, there is no more going out.

There is no where for you to plead your case
Isolation — for that is what has become of that proffered Beatific Dream.
Even those without symptoms must be isolated with their fellows
Seven plus seven days the policy states.

Thus will you come to know Perfected Covid Wisdom
It’s fuck-with-you wisdom
For it brings all suffering unto itself
This is reality, it is not emptiness.

Therefore one should know the prajñāpāramitā of Covid Wisdom and its great spell, the utmost spell. It runs like this:

The economy flatlines, China is brought low.
Any or everything might kill you now,
Except, of course, for Covid.

trans. G.R. Barmé

***

kōng: śūnyatā, ‘emptiness’, ‘the void’, in the hand of Huaisu 懷素

***

The Heart Sutra

Prajñāpāramitā Hdaya Sūtra

प्रज्ञापारमिताहॄदय सूत्रं
般若波羅蜜多心經

 

觀自在菩薩,行深般若波羅蜜多時,照見五蘊皆空,度一切苦厄。

舍利子:色不異空,空不異色;色即是空,空即是色,受想行識亦復如是。舍利子:是諸法空相,不生不滅,不垢不淨,不增不減。

是故,空中無色,無受想行識;無眼耳鼻舌身意;無色聲香味觸法;無眼界,乃至無意識界;無無明,亦無無明盡,乃至無老死,亦無老死盡;無苦集滅道;無智亦無得。以無所得故,菩提薩埵。

依般若波羅蜜多故,心無罣礙;無罣礙故,無有恐怖,遠離顛倒夢想,究竟涅槃。

三世諸佛,依般若波羅蜜多故,得阿耨多羅三藐三菩提。

故知:般若波羅蜜多是大神咒,是大明咒,是無上咒,是無等等咒,能除一切苦,真實不虛。

故說般若波羅蜜多咒,即說咒曰:

揭諦揭諦,波羅揭諦,
波羅僧揭諦,菩提薩婆訶。

***

Avalokita, The Holy Lord and Boddhisatva,
was moving in the deep course of Wisdom which has gone beyond
He looked down from on high,
He beheld but five heaps, and he saw that in their own-being they were empty.

Here, O Śāriputra, form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form;
emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness;
whatever is form, that is emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form,
the same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses and consciousness.

Therefore it is because of his non-attainmentness that a Bodhisattva, through having relied on the perfection of wisdom, dwells without thought-coverings. In the absence of thought-coverings he has not been made to tremble, he has overcome what can upset, and in the end he attains to Nirvana.

All those who appear as Buddhas in the three periods of time fully awake to the utmost, right and perfect enlightenment because they have relied on the perfection of wisdom.

Therefore one should know the prajñāpāramitā as the great spell, the spell of great knowledge, the utmost spell, allayer of suffering, in truth — for what could go wrong? By the prajñāpāramitā has this spell been delivered.

It runs like this:

Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond
O what awakening, all hail!

trans. Edward Conze, The Heart Sutra
from ‘Bathing Baby Buddha’, New Sinology Jottings, China Heritage, 3 May 2017


‘Wait’, by Lao Shu, 1 September 2022

朋友告訴我,
等待很重要。
我問等什麼?
他說不知道。

It’s important to wait,
a friend told me.
Wait for what?, I ask.
He said he didn’t know.

— Lao Shu, 1 September 2022