It’s way too soon to judge how good or great a leader Xi Jinping will be at this point in time. It’s even more premature to say whether Xi will surpass Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China’s reforms and opening. One thing can be certain though : No One, Xi included, can ever replace Mao as the greatest leader of the New China, notwithstanding the mistakes Mao made in the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.
While some senior party members are heaping praises on Xi, he is not the type who would let such praises go to his head. In this respect, Xi is like Deng : A hardcore realist not given to hubris.
All the media hype about Xi attaining Mao-like cult status reveals a thorough ignorance of Chinese psyche and society in the 21st century. After the decade-long turbulence and turmoil during the Cultural Revolution, most Chinese are keenly aware and wary of the danger and harm of a cult-like leader. It’s precisely because of such concern that Deng did an orderly leadership transition, starting with him. And since Jiang Zemin’s term, collective leadership by the Politburo Standing Committee has been institutionalized.
From Hu Jintao onwards, emphasis has been on making rule of law, instead of rule of man, the centerpiece of governance in China. It’s Xi who said “putting the powers back in the cage”. Powers should be replaced by laws as much as practicable.
Using a fashionable phrase in China today, we are living in a post-hero era. The Chinese people don’t need a hero or a cult leader, but an able and incorruptible leader with a vision and mission to enable people to live a better life. And Xi looks like the person who fits the bill.