Murmurs of dissent against the removal of the two-term limit for Chinese President Xi Jinping continue to surface despite an official blackout as an article displayed at the prestigious Peking University here accused him of building up a “personality cult”. In his 24-page article, Fan Liqin, a liberal intellectual who was educated at Peking University during the controversial Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong in the mid 1960s, condemned the constitutional amendment that paved the way for Xi’s lifelong tenure in power and was adopted by China’s parliament in March. “Removing the term limits is a fundamental denial of the 1982 Constitution,” Fan wrote in his article, excerpts of which were carried by the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post today. “It’s a challenge to the system and to the people,” Fan said in his rare article of dissent which has been blacked out on China’s social media. “Frankly speaking, Xi Jinping is building up a personality cult…He’s the first leader to name a ‘guiding principle’ after himself since Mao Zedong,” he said. Citing events from the Mao era including the Cultural Revolution – a decade of violence and upheaval that began in 1966 – Fan wrote that a personality cult around the leader would lead to great tragedy for China and the Chinese people. “I’m already over 70. I’m a survivor of hardships, I never dreamed that I’d see a leader building up a personality cult again in my lifetime,” he wrote.
Last month, Xi reportedly told foreign dignitaries and Chinese officials that he was “personally opposed” to lifelong rule, adding that critics had “misinterpreted” the constitutional amendment, the Post reported. The controversial move to scrap the term limit and allow Xi to stay in power beyond 2023 sparked a huge backlash among China’s liberal thinkers, even though the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) headed by Xi insisted it was widely supported by the public. Despite the heavy censorship, many of them have found ways to express their concerns and criticism, the Post report said. But few went as far as Fan Liqin, it said. Xi, 64, has emerged as the most powerful Chinese leader after Mao as he now heads the CPC, the presidency and the military. His thoughts on socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era have been included in the Constitution of the CPC and the country.
The first sign of dissent against removal of the term limit appeared a week before the National People’s Congress (NPC), regarded as a rubber stamp parliament for its routine approval of CPC policies, when Li Datong, a former editor with state-run China Youth Daily, wrote an open letter to legislators asking them to vote against the move. Li, 66, said his comments represented an unspecified group of “like-minded people”, which he described as professors, and business executives. Confirming that he wrote the article, Fan told the Post that “thanks to everyone for their encouragement, I was making these points on behalf of some of us,” he said. “This is what people of my generation ought to do…I’m well, no one is troubling me. I’m just tired and want to rest”.
After the Cultural Revolution, which only ended with Mao’s death in 1976, Fan worked for state-owned investment company Kanghua, and later for the China Disabled Persons’ Federation, a semi-official organisation. Millions of people were reported to have been killed during the Cultural Revolution, which was later criticised by the CPC itself. Fan’s article was put up on campus on May 4, the anniversary day of Peking University – known as ‘China’s Harvard’. The date was set to commemorate the May 4 Movement in 1919, which was led by students and has become a symbol for patriotism and the pursuit of democracy and science, the university said. “We are, after all, from Peking University – not like others,” Fan wrote. “(Peking) should not be like other universities,” he said, defending his move to speak up.