The personal lives of Chinese leaders are such closely guarded secrets that few in China even know the birth dates of their leaders.
So when Prime Minister Narendra Modi early today posted a message on China’s social media platform Sina Weibo – a Twitter equivalent where he has 1.7 lakh followers – wishing Chinese President Xi Jinping on his birthday, it came as ‘news’ and remarkably as quite a surprise to Chinese internet users.
PM Narendra Modi post, in Mandarin, read, “On the occasion of President Xi Jinping’s birthday, I congratulate him, and wish he lives till one hundred years and has a healthy life.”
PM Modi added, “A few days ago, I met with President Xi Jinping during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Astana, and we had a fruitful discussion to further promote the development of India China relations.”
PM Narendra Modi’s tweet was liked by 750 people and forwarded and commented on by more than 200. The numbers suggest Sina Weibo is screening comments as it usually does when China’s leader is involved.
NOT A QUESTION OF PRIVACY
In China’s heavily censored internet, news about the personal lives of Chinese leaders – from their birthdays to their families – is strictly off limits.
The “Great Firewall” of restrictions doesn’t tolerate discussions on personal lives of leaders, only usually allowing news reports that are sanctioned and discuss their work.
One reason why showcasing personal lives is a strict no-no, beyond the Communist Party’s abiding objective of controlling public opinion and the public image of its leaders, is a historical post-Mao aversion to personality cults of any sort.
XI JINPING TREADING WITH CAUTION
Xi Jinping is perhaps the only leader after Mao and Deng Xiaoping who has allowed some elements of a public persona to emerge, unlike his cautious predecessor Hu Jintao. Xi’s visit to a local steamed bun shop in Beijing, for instance, was allowed to receive wide coverage, in part because it presented him as a populist leader.
Still, his birthday and other personal details are off limits and sharing such details could land internet users in China in trouble – unless, of course, it is the Prime Minister of India who is sharing them on China’s social media.