Context: "IMPORTANT CHINESE PRESIDENTS AND THEIR CONTRIBUTION" is an important topic for UPSC GS Paper 2.
The president of the People's Republic of China is the head of state of the People's Republic of China. The presidency is held simultaneously by the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, who also serves as the chairman of the Central Military Commission, thus is often the paramount leader of China.
The presidency was first established in the Constitution in 1954 and successively held by Mao Zedong and Liu Shaoqi. Liu fell into political disgrace during the Cultural Revolution, after which the presidency became vacant. The presidency was abolished under the Constitution of 1975, then reinstated in the Constitution of 1982, but with reduced powers. The official English-language translation of the title was "Chairman"; after 1982, this translation was changed to "President", although the Chinese title remains unchanged.
During the Mao era, there were no term limits for the presidency. Between 1982 and 2018, the constitution stipulated that the president could not serve more than two consecutive terms. In 2018, term limits were abolished.
The current president is Xi Jinping, who took office in March 2013, replacing Hu Jintao. He was re-elected in March 2018.
Mao Zedong (December 26, 1893 – September 9, 1976), also known as Chairman Mao, was a Chinese communist revolutionary who was the founding father of the People's Republic of China, which he ruled as the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party from the establishment of the PRC in 1949 until he died in 1976. Ideologically a Marxist–Leninist, his theories, military strategies, and political policies are collectively known as Maoism.
From 1953 to 1958, Mao played an important role in enforcing the planned economy in China, constructing the first Constitution of the PRC, launching the industrialisation program, and initiating the "Two Bombs, One Satellite" project.
In 1955, Mao launched the Sufan movement, and in 1957 he launched the Anti-Rightist Campaign, in which at least 550,000 people, mostly intellectuals and dissidents, were persecuted. In 1958, he launched the Great Leap Forward that aimed to rapidly transform China's economy from agrarian to industrial, which led to the deadliest famine in history and the deaths of 15–55 million people between 1958 and 1962. In 1963, Mao launched the Socialist Education Movement, and in 1966 he initiated the Cultural Revolution, a program to remove "counter-revolutionary" elements in Chinese society which lasted 10 years and was marked by violent class struggle, widespread destruction of cultural artefacts, and an unprecedented elevation of Mao's cult of personality.
During Mao's era, China's population grew from around 550 million to over 900 million while the government did not strictly enforce its family planning policy.
Deng Xiaoping[a] (22 August 1904 – 19 February 1997), also known by his courtesy name Xixian was a Chinese revolutionary and statesman who served as the paramount leader of the People's Republic of China (PRC) from December 1978 to November 1989. After Mao Zedong died in 1976, Deng gradually rose to supreme power and led China through a series of far-reaching market-economy reforms earning him the reputation as the "Architect of Modern China". This led to China becoming the world’s largest economy in terms of its purchasing power in 2014.
Having inherited a country beset with institutional disorder and disenchantment with Communism resulting from the chaotic political movements of the Mao era, Deng started the "Bolduan Fanzheng" program which gradually brought the country back to order. From 1977 to early 1979, he resumed the National College Entrance Examination that had been interrupted by the Cultural Revolution for ten years, initiated the Reform and Opening-up of China, designated special economic zones including Shenzhen, and started a one-month Sino-Vietnamese War.
On 1 January 1979, the PRC established diplomatic relations with the United States, and Deng became the first Chinese paramount leader to visit the U.S. In August 1980, Deng embarked on a series of political reforms by setting constitutional term limits for state officials and other systematic revisions, which were incorporated in China's third Constitution (1982). In the 1980s, Deng supported the one-child policy to cope with China's overpopulation crisis, helped establish China's nine-year compulsory education, and launched the 863 Program for science and technology. Deng also proposed the One Country, Two Systems principle for the governance of Hong Kong and Macau, as well as the future unification with Taiwan.
The reforms carried out by Deng and his allies gradually led China away from a planned economy and Maoist ideologies, opened it up to foreign investment and technology, and introduced its vast labour force to the global market, thus turning China into one of the world's fastest-growing economies. He was eventually characterized as the "architect" of a new brand of thinking combining socialist ideology with free enterprise, dubbed "socialism with Chinese characteristics" (now known as Deng Xiaoping Theory). However, he was criticized for ordering a military crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, as well as not thoroughly correcting the mistakes of the Cultural Revolution, yet was praised for his reaffirmation of the reform program in his Southern Tour of 1992 as well as the reversion of Hong Kong to Chinese control in 1997 and the return of Macau in 1999.
Jiang Zemin was President of the People's Republic of China from 1993 to 2003. Jiang represented the "core of the third generation" of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders since 1989.
Under Jiang's leadership, China experienced substantial economic growth with the continuation of market reforms, saw the return of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom in 1997 and Macau from Portugal in 1999 and improved its relations with the outside world, while the Communist Party maintained its tight control over the state. However, Jiang has controversially faced criticism over human rights abuses which also led to the crackdown of the Falun Gong movement.
His contributions to party doctrine, known as the "Three Represents," were written into the party's constitution in 2002. Jiang vacated the roles of General Secretary and highest-ranking member of the CCP Politburo Standing Committee in 2002, but did not relinquish all of his official leadership titles until 2005, and continued to influence affairs until much later. At the age of 95 years, 102 days, Jiang is the longest-living paramount leader in the history of the PRC, surpassing Deng Xiaoping on 14 February 2019.
Hu Jintao was President of the People's Republic of China (PRC) from 2003 to 2013, and Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) from 2004 to 2012. Hu was the paramount leader of China from 2004 to 2012.
During his term in office, Hu reintroduced state control in some sectors of the economy that were relaxed by the previous administration and was conservative with political reforms.
He sought to improve socio-economic equality domestically through the Scientific Outlook on Development, which aimed to build a "Harmonious Socialist Society" that was prosperous and free of social conflict.
Under his leadership, the authorities also cracked down on social disturbances, ethnic minority protests, and dissident figures which also led to many controversial events such as the unrest in Tibet and the passing of the Anti-Secession Law. In foreign policy, Hu advocated for "China's peaceful development", pursuing soft power in international relations and a corporate approach to diplomacy. Throughout Hu's tenure, China's influence in Africa, Latin America, and other developing regions increased.
Hu possessed a modest and reserved leadership style. His tenure was characterized by collective leadership and consensus-based rule. These traits made Hu a rather enigmatic figure in the public eye. His administration was known for its focus more on technocratic competence than a persona.
Xi Jinping is a Chinese politician who has been serving as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) since 2012 and President of the People's Republic of China (PRC) since 2013. Xi has been the paramount leader of China, the most prominent political leader in China, since 2012.
Since assuming power, Xi has introduced far-ranging measures to enforce party discipline and to impose internal unity. His anti-corruption campaign has led to the downfall of prominent incumbent and retired Communist Party officials, including a member of the Politburo Standing Committee. He has also enacted or promoted a more assertive foreign policy, particularly about China-Japan relations, China's claims in the South China Sea, and its advocacy for free trade and globalization. He has sought to expand China's African and Eurasian influence through the Belt and Road Initiative.
Xi has often been described as a dictator or an authoritarian leader by political and academic observers, citing an increase of censorship and mass surveillance, a deterioration in human rights, the cult of personality developing around him and the removal of term limits for the leadership under his tenure
As the central figure of the fifth generation of leadership of the People's Republic, Xi has significantly centralised institutional power by taking on a wide range of leadership positions, including chairing the newly formed National Security Commission, as well as new steering committees on economic and social reforms, military restructuring and modernization, and the internet.
On November 11, 2021, China's Communist Party declared Xi's ideology the "essence of Chinese culture". This is the third fundamental resolution of the Chinese Communist Party since its inception. The first resolution was adopted in 1945 to increase and ratify the power of Mao Zedong. The decision to issue one under Xi symbolically raises him to the same level of prestige as Mao.
The recent Resolution passed by CPC highlights the growing stature of President Xi Jinping equivalent to that of Mao Zedong. China is preparing for a major long-term shift in its politics under Xi
Following a meeting of its Central Committee last week, China’s Communist Party passed what it called a “Resolution on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century”.
Ostensibly about the past, it still holds enormous significance for China’s future. This is only the third such resolution on history passed by the party in its 100-year history.
The previous two resolutions, passed by Mao Zedong in 1945 and Deng Xiaoping in 1981, marked important inflexion points in China’s politics and established them as the dominant leaders of their respective generations.
It also called for “resolutely upholding Xi Jinping’s core position on the Central Committee and in the Party... and upholding the Central Committee’s authority... to ensure that all Party members act in unison”.
The significance of the 1945 and 1981 resolutions lay not in their reflections on the past but in how they would change the exercise of power, bringing dramatic consequences for China’s future.
The first established Mao’s ideology as the party’s guiding ideology. By doing so, it made it heresy to question Mao and paved the way for the creation of his disastrous personality cult.
In 1981, Deng too established his dominance, but used his power to bring an end to rule by ideology, instead of turning the party’s attention to the development and bringing China to its era of reform and opening up.
Now, 40 years after Deng, as China’s current leader looks to write his place in the party’s history, the past might be held in reverence, but it will not be allowed to dictate the contours of the future when the country prepares to take yet another political turn.