What makes for greatness?
Photo: Ronnie Macdonald. Source: Wikimedia
There’s a telling exchange in the movie “Lawrence of Arabia” where King Faisal tells British Lieutenant Lawrence that the medieval Arab city of Cordova had two miles of public lighting while London was still a village. “You were great then,” Lawrence replies. “Time to be great again, my Lord.”
When Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, people were curious. He was largely an unknown quantity. Would he continue the reforms that Deng Xiaoping had begun almost 40 years earlier?
Xi soon made his priorities clear: reflecting on China’s 5000-year history and indelible contribution to world civilization, Xi made a call for China to return to its rightful place as a great power in world history. He evoked memories of the Middle Kingdom as a source of innovation, regional dominance, and trade. For Xi, China’s greatness hinges upon several concrete objectives: continued economic growth, a powerful military, and a strong social safety net.
This path places Xi at the center of the process. His plan doesn’t merely continue the path of reform and renewal of his predecessors. Instead, he is centralizing authority under his personal leadership, intensifying the role of the state in every aspect of Chinese life, creating a Great Wall of Regulations to tightly control the flow of culture and ideas to, from, and within society. And he wants China to have a much more expansive role in the world.
Xi is setting himself up to try to be a Great Leader – an historic figure who can lead China back to a place of National Greatness. China has been blessed and cursed with many “great” leaders over the years, from Deng to Mao to Yu the Great, and the role is fraught with risk: for the leader, for China, and for every country she has dealings with.
Which today means every country in the world.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Charter Trust Company
“The Best Trust Company in New England”