Queen Elizabeth II Versus Xi Jinping: Differences in Leader Recognition

CommentaryBritish monarch Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her platinum jubilee this year, which will be widely celebrated across the country. Even if one chooses to not join any of the activities, one may receive a commemorative copy of the Holy Bible, published by the Cambridge University Press, and procured and mailed out by certain parishes for free. As a new immigrant, I will produce a video on the Queen and Hong Kong. During her reign, she witnessed the economic rise of Hong Kong, and has six public buildings named after her—two stadiums, two secondary schools, one hospital, plus one commercial building. In contrast, China’s Xi Jinping, whose status is no different from a monarch, has no secondary school, stadium or hospital named after him, in Hong Kong or in mainland China. Why this difference? The ten-year Cultural Revolution was an unprecedented disturbance in China that resulted in the rise of a large number of “poor and backwards” (yi qiong er bai) people. Regime leader Mao Zedong, before his death in 1976, needed to be held accountable for this human-made disaster. The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 1981 definitive resolution about the party’s “historical problems” says that Mao’s assertiveness and cult of personality grew unchecked, and coupled with the efforts of conspirators like Lin Biao, Jiang Qing, and Kang Sheng who used Mao’s mistakes to feed their ulterior motives, led to the disaster of the Cultural Revolution. The resolution explicitly says that collective leadership must override “any form of cult of personality.” As a follow up, the State Council of China, in 1986, issued a “Place Name Regulation” stipulating that names of people are not to be used as place names, and prohibits the naming of any locations after national leaders. At a glance, China’s determination to avoid another cult of personality is notable. However, one cannot help asking: what is the relationship between cult of personality and naming places after national leaders? Anyone who has traveled abroad knows that naming places after celebrities and leaders is a worldwide practice. For example, in the United States, presidents are a popular source of place names. There are 127 places named after Washington, and 70 after Lincoln. Many schools are named after the presidents; Lincoln, for example, has more than 600 schools named after him. In Britain, one example of the ubiquity of the names of national figures is that all mailboxes carry the initials of the monarch reigning at the time of placement, a tradition used since Queen Victoria despite the ever changing outward design of the boxes. As for Hong Kong, a lot of streets and public places were named after the governors since the beginning of British rule.  Pottinger Street (named after the first governor), Hennessy Road, Des Voeux Road, Robinson Road, Clementi Secondary School, Southorn Centre, Graham Hospital, MacLehose Trail, Edward Youde Aviary, Wilson Trail are just a few. People would be surprised if such naming strategies resulted in cult of personality in the relevant country or territory. Prohibiting the naming of places after national leaders is an easy out for the CCP, which doesn’t need to promote political participation and continues to benefit from the highly centralized political authority. The belief in and favor of sages (shengren) and enlightened rulers (mingjun) is in the blood of Chinese citizens, and they just await leaders such as Xi to resuscitate the cult of personality. This became a reality evidenced by the publication of Xi’s little red book modelled after “Quotations from Chairman Mao” from the Cultural Revolution. If cult of personality is a drama, an expensive one as it involves the countrywide propaganda machine, Hong Kong is an interesting stage for it with dual stages. On the national level, countless pro-establishment supporters in Hong Kong (called Nancies) receive and forward texts and multimedia messages that praise Xi on a daily basis. On the local level, a person who has remained low in all approval ratings suddenly became a cult of personality when he was the only candidate in the rubber-stamp election. A man who confused Mother’s Day with Christmas, is praised as ‘a master in both civil and martial arts; and his ability to submit all his homework when he was a secondary school student is praised as a virtue, an achievement that is irrelevant to his position as leader of an international city. Hong Kong, from Queen Elizabeth II to Xi, has witnessed the rise and fall of civil society and political participation. The introduction of a cult of personality will be part of the epilogue of this once exemplar Asian success story. Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times. Follow Hans Yeung is a former manager at the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority, specializing in history assessment. He is also a hi

Queen Elizabeth II Versus Xi Jinping: Differences in Leader Recognition

Commentary

British monarch Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her platinum jubilee this year, which will be widely celebrated across the country. Even if one chooses to not join any of the activities, one may receive a commemorative copy of the Holy Bible, published by the Cambridge University Press, and procured and mailed out by certain parishes for free. As a new immigrant, I will produce a video on the Queen and Hong Kong. During her reign, she witnessed the economic rise of Hong Kong, and has six public buildings named after her—two stadiums, two secondary schools, one hospital, plus one commercial building. In contrast, China’s Xi Jinping, whose status is no different from a monarch, has no secondary school, stadium or hospital named after him, in Hong Kong or in mainland China.

Why this difference?

The ten-year Cultural Revolution was an unprecedented disturbance in China that resulted in the rise of a large number of “poor and backwards” (yi qiong er bai) people. Regime leader Mao Zedong, before his death in 1976, needed to be held accountable for this human-made disaster. The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 1981 definitive resolution about the party’s “historical problems” says that Mao’s assertiveness and cult of personality grew unchecked, and coupled with the efforts of conspirators like Lin Biao, Jiang Qing, and Kang Sheng who used Mao’s mistakes to feed their ulterior motives, led to the disaster of the Cultural Revolution. The resolution explicitly says that collective leadership must override “any form of cult of personality.”

As a follow up, the State Council of China, in 1986, issued a “Place Name Regulation” stipulating that names of people are not to be used as place names, and prohibits the naming of any locations after national leaders.

At a glance, China’s determination to avoid another cult of personality is notable. However, one cannot help asking: what is the relationship between cult of personality and naming places after national leaders?

Anyone who has traveled abroad knows that naming places after celebrities and leaders is a worldwide practice. For example, in the United States, presidents are a popular source of place names. There are 127 places named after Washington, and 70 after Lincoln. Many schools are named after the presidents; Lincoln, for example, has more than 600 schools named after him.

In Britain, one example of the ubiquity of the names of national figures is that all mailboxes carry the initials of the monarch reigning at the time of placement, a tradition used since Queen Victoria despite the ever changing outward design of the boxes.

As for Hong Kong, a lot of streets and public places were named after the governors since the beginning of British rule.  Pottinger Street (named after the first governor), Hennessy Road, Des Voeux Road, Robinson Road, Clementi Secondary School, Southorn Centre, Graham Hospital, MacLehose Trail, Edward Youde Aviary, Wilson Trail are just a few.

People would be surprised if such naming strategies resulted in cult of personality in the relevant country or territory.

Prohibiting the naming of places after national leaders is an easy out for the CCP, which doesn’t need to promote political participation and continues to benefit from the highly centralized political authority. The belief in and favor of sages (shengren) and enlightened rulers (mingjun) is in the blood of Chinese citizens, and they just await leaders such as Xi to resuscitate the cult of personality. This became a reality evidenced by the publication of Xi’s little red book modelled after “Quotations from Chairman Mao” from the Cultural Revolution.

If cult of personality is a drama, an expensive one as it involves the countrywide propaganda machine, Hong Kong is an interesting stage for it with dual stages. On the national level, countless pro-establishment supporters in Hong Kong (called Nancies) receive and forward texts and multimedia messages that praise Xi on a daily basis. On the local level, a person who has remained low in all approval ratings suddenly became a cult of personality when he was the only candidate in the rubber-stamp election. A man who confused Mother’s Day with Christmas, is praised as ‘a master in both civil and martial arts; and his ability to submit all his homework when he was a secondary school student is praised as a virtue, an achievement that is irrelevant to his position as leader of an international city.

Hong Kong, from Queen Elizabeth II to Xi, has witnessed the rise and fall of civil society and political participation. The introduction of a cult of personality will be part of the epilogue of this once exemplar Asian success story.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Hans Yeung is a former manager at the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority, specializing in history assessment. He is also a historian specializing in modern Hong Kong and Chinese history. He is the producer and host of programs on Hong Kong history and a columnist for independent media. He now lives in the UK with his family. Email: hku313@gmail.com