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Bookstores Become Sites of Subtle Protest Against Xi Jinping
Bookstores Become Sites of Subtle Protest Against Xi Jinping

Bookstores Become Sites of Subtle Protest Against Xi Jinping

Chinese bookstore shelf arrangements rarely go viral—that is, unless they contain a hidden message calling for Xi Jinping to step down. Since Xi has risen to power, placing Xi’s works next to other books to make a political point has become a relatively common, low-key mode of political dissent. It’s often unclear whether the juxtapositions are created by bookstore employees or the product of cheeky swaps by politically astute customers—or simply accidental.  

The latest incident occurred last week. A photograph taken inside a Hangzhou bookshop showed the novel “Changing of the Guard” displayed next to the 2023 edition of “Study Outline for Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics,” a juxtaposition that some read as an implicit call for Xi to step down: 

The novel “Changing of the Guard” displayed at left, alongside “Study Outline for Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”

The novel itself is not a work of secret dissent, but rather a paean to Party governance. Written by Zhang Ping, a former vice-president of the Party-dominated China Writers Association, the novel is set in the fictional city of Linjin. The novel’s plot centers on unprecedented rain and flooding striking the city just as the provincial and municipal authorities are set to undergo a leadership transition. Yet put alongside Xi’s works, the implication is obvious. 

Previous instances have seen Xi’s books paired with the work of the philosopher Karl Popper, novels by Ernest Hemingway, childhood psychology books, Winnie the Pooh, books on Hitler, and studies of China’s imperial system. CDT has compiled a slideshow of the works: 

Xi’s books are a staple in Chinese bookshops. In fact, the Party has previously mandated their purchase for its members. In 2018, a Party organization in Fujian mandated that subordinate organizations order enough copies of “30 Lectures on Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” to ensure that 50% of Party members owned a copy. One local propaganda bureau in Yunnan province went even further, mandating that every Party cadre own a copy. Efforts to sell Xi’s books abroad have sometimes backfired. In 2018, the Chinese booth at the London Book Fair, a major publishing industry trade fair, was dominated by advertisements for “Xi Jinping: The Governance of China.” The exhibit was widely mocked on the Chinese-language internet.

In 2023, China Media Project’s David Bandurski investigated the phenomenon of Xi Jinping’s prolific publishing output, jokingly bestowing on Xi the title “His Authorship”:

The gap I found between Xi Jinping and his predecessors in this arena is substantial. During his first decade in power, Xi published an average of 12 unique titles per year, all given rather prominent treatment in the People’s Daily. By comparison, Hu Jintao published just 1.5 titles per year. Jiang Zemin? Just 1.4.

[…] Xi Jinping’s books consolidated his “talks” and “speeches” on virtually every topic imaginable — from his ideas on media and journalism to the economy, diplomacy, Party history, and even women and children. Some were “study outlines“ (学习纲要) [xuéxí gāngyào] as the country was gripped — or so it seemed in the CCP’s own headlines — by a fever of Xi study. There were special volumes for his official tours: Xi Jinping in Zhejiang; Xi Jinping in Ningde; Xi Jinping in Fuzhou; Xi Jinping in Xiamen.

In 2021, the year in the run-up to the 20th National Congress, there were 28 Xi titles promoted in the People’s Daily. Many of these were also foreign language editions, as the CCP sought to advertise Xi Jinping’s ideas, such as “building a community of shared destiny for mankind,” as visionary not just for China but for the entire world. [Source]

Perhaps Xi’s penchant for publishing should come as no surprise. After all, he has “pointed the way forward” on over 240 topics as diverse as the global economy, cyberspace, sports, the future of Hong Kong, and pandemic prevention in Africa.