A recent article from Xinhua praising Xi Jinping’s attention to citizens affected by natural disasters has been labeled as “low-level red, high-level black” propaganda. While it was meant to showcase Xi’s strong leadership, it inadvertently revealed how delayed his visits to disaster areas have been. The article focused on Xi’s recent trip to Zhuozhou in Hebei, which was hit by flooding in August. However, Xi’s visit did not occur until three months later. The article commended Xi for his habit of conducting post-disaster inspections, citing his 2014 visit to Yunnan five months after an earthquake, a 2020 visit to Anhui one month after flooding, and a 2021 visit to Shanxi three months after storms destroyed thousands of homes. A screenshot of the article with highlighted dates of these delayed visits quickly spread on social media. One of the top comments sarcastically remarked, “How timely!”
The 2023 Zhuozhou floods caused a political controversy for Xi Jinping. Shortly before the floods, the Ministry of Water Resources in China released a compilation of Xi Jinping’s statements on managing water resources and arranged for discussions among water bureaus at various levels. After the floods, internet users ridiculed Xi’s tendency to provide guidance on topics he may not be knowledgeable about by sarcastically praising his book: “It’s great that a study session on ‘Xi Jinping Thought Regarding Water Management’ is being organized for flood control experts around the world! He has truly pointed the way forward for global flood control!”
The recent passing of Li Keqiang, who held the position of Premier and was second in command to Xi in the Party hierarchy from 2012 to 2022, has brought attention to Xi’s delayed visits to disaster areas. Li was known for being the first to arrive at disaster sites. During the Anhui disaster in 2020, Xi Jinping was criticized for keeping his shoes clean while visiting the flood zone, while Li Keqiang waded through the mud during his inspection of the Chongqing floods. (As Premier, visiting disaster areas is part of the job. Li’s predecessor, Wen Jiabao, was given the nickname “King of the Silver Screen” for his performances at disaster sites.)
Although Xi is praised as the “leader of the people” through propaganda, his infrequent visits to flood-affected areas demonstrate his distant relationship with the people. When he does meet with them, they are often mere background characters in his meticulously staged performances.