“The culture of Chaozhou and Shantou is an important part of the Chinese culture,” he said on a visit to the former on Monday.
“Chaozhou’s embroidery and the region’s wood carvings, sculpture, opera, tea and cuisine are precious treasures of the Chinese culture,” he said. “We love this city so we must take good care of it.”
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China watchers and analysts say Xi’s interest in China’s cultural heritage is not just a personal matter but also underscores his desire as the nation’s leader to reinforce the concept of the “Chinese dream”.
“From Xi’s perspective, the Chinese dream and traditional culture are two sides of the same coin,” said Chen Daoyin, a political commentator and former professor at the Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.
“To realise the Chinese dream, he needs to promote Chinese traditional culture.”
Steve Tsang, a political scientist at the University of London, agreed.
“Projecting China’s past in a very positive light is essential to making China great again, or for the rejuvenation of China,” he said.
Visits to sites of cultural or historical interest have been a trademark of Xi’s provincial tours, and he has frequently made reference to ancient Chinese sayings and proverbs in his speeches.
In a 2014 speech at Peking University, he said Chinese culture was “part of the people’s DNA, rooted in people’s hearts” and imperceptibly influenced the way they thought and acted.
Xi, 67, was born in Beijing but spent seven of his teenage years living in a village in China’s northwestern Shaanxi province under Chairman Mao Zedong’s scheme to have city dwellers learn from and live like peasants.
Shaanxi is considered one of the cradles of Chinese civilisation and was where the president’s father, Xi Zhongxun, was born.
“Xi is very Chinese,” Chen said. “Like his parents, he came from a traditional area and so had a close connection to the nation’s culture.”
Other experts say that stressing the value of Chinese culture gives the Communist Party more legitimacy in the eyes of the people as China grows in stature on the world stage and its leaders try to present an alternative to Western ideals.
“There are two ways to convince a population that you represent them,” said Chandler Rosenberger, an associate professor of international and global studies and sociology at Brandeis University in Massachusetts.
“One is to hold elections. The other is to convince the people that you embody their deepest and most cherished ideals whether or not they have been able to vote for you.”
The mandate of cultural nationalism allowed Xi and the Communist Party to claim they represented the people because they helped fulfil their century-old aspirations of building a unified country, he said.
Chen said: “The projection of traditional culture … dovetails with most people’s understanding and psychology, so it can reconstruct the legitimacy for Xi in the new era.”
At a seminar in 2016, Xi said: “China can follow its own path with great determination, with boundless horizons ahead and a peerless civilisation behind it.”
China’s rulers have also tried to use the nation’s culture as a channel for international communication and increasing their soft power.
But the tactic has not always worked. China’s Confucius Institutes were intended to provide a cultural bridge between China and the rest of the world but have often been accused of being nothing more than vessels for Communist Party propaganda.
Gu Su, a political scientist at Nanjing University, said Beijing had to find a better way to promote Chinese culture to the world.
“It should not be too politicised and it should not exclude universal values such as equality, freedom, and justice,” he said.
Rosenberger said China wanted the world to think of it as “offering an alternative to Western-led international politics, and that the alternative is rooted in traditional Chinese culture”.
But concerns over major issues like human rights meant many nations remained sceptical, he said.
“If this ‘sinicisation’ is an example of the promotion of traditional Chinese culture, the world wants nothing to do with it,” he said.
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This article Xi Jinping puts culture, heritage at heart of his Chinese dream first appeared on South China Morning Post