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Here's To Eternal Power

At the end of their biggest holiday, as many of them returned home from family reunions miles away, Chinese citizens were greeted with the news that President Xi Jinping, who has only finished one term so far, may rule them forever.

The Chinese communist party has announced that it will amend the constitutional provision that allows a president only two terms. Mao Zedong's almost 30-year rule, which lasted till his death, was what made his successor and ideological rival, Deng Xiaoping, introduce this provision in the Constitution.

Mao was a mass icon, almost a god for many who saw him as the one who had liberated them from near-slavery. Xi doesn't come close, despite his continuous attempts to acquire a cult status - his 'thoughts' will now be part of the Constitution, an honour so far given only to Mao and Deng.

Escape route

Xi is popular among the people for his anti-corruption drive, which has affected both ordinary and highly-placed party officials. But his five-year-rule has not helped reduce the other problems that ordinary Chinese grumble about - the lack of job opportunities (except at the lowest level), food adulteration, pollution, fake medicines, reckless construction, forced evictions, the absence of bargaining rights at the workplace and intense competition in education.

Those who can afford to find ways to escape. This diarist's friend lives on the mainland but sends his son to school in Macau, even though this entails an hour's travel each way, while the government school is barely five minutes' away. His son will achieve the fluency in English that will open doors that were closed to him, he hopes. Another friend, a pharma executive, revealed that once his daughter finishes high school, he will send her abroad to study and then he and his wife would follow her in a few years.

Interestingly, 'emigrating' was among the words that popped up most on the internet after the news of the proposed constitutional amendment was published.

Words hurt

There's a long list of words blocked on the internet by the censors since that announcement. They include 'The Emperor's Dream', 'Winnie' (Xi is often compared to Winnie the Pooh), 'Brave New World', '1984', 'Ascend the Throne', 'Chairman for Life System', 'Great Men Sent from Heaven', as well as references to historical figures who tried to instal themselves as monarchs. One meme that has gone viral reads: "My mom said I must get married within Daddy Xi's term in office. Now finally, I breathed a long sigh of relief."

But this proposed amendment is being seen by many intellectuals as too crucial to critique through veiled satire. Beijing's Zhao Xiaoli, in a long impassioned post, describes the amendment as "a betrayal of ideals forged by 100 years of revolution. A trampling underfoot of the social contract and civil rights."

"For 20 years", writes Zhao, "I learnt to protect myself while expressing my opinion. But hiding in silence has brought us neither strength, nor space. Silence has brought about the proposed amendment. I will no longer be silent. If I speak, I'm afraid of paying the price. But if I don't, I'm afraid I'll spend the rest of my life in pain and shame. I publish my political opinion now, in order not to fall into eternal silence.''

Appealing to those like her, Zhao writes: "If you also believe this is a critical and desperate moment, don't give up on the power of words. Don't wait for the day when we can't use words. Words can be taken away, so they inevitably will be."

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