Under the so-called Four Pests Campaign of Chairman Mao Tse-tung (1893-1976) in the 1950s, China launched an offensive to eliminate sparrows along with three other “pests”--rats, flies and mosquitoes.

The sparrow’s “crime” was eating grain that was meant for the human table. Human wave tactics were employed to decimate the sparrow population.

Were there no scientists around who knew that sparrows are beneficial birds that eat crop-damaging bugs? Totally unreasonable as this campaign was, it continued anyway, probably because nobody dared cross the mighty dictator Mao.

Ultimately, the mass annihilation of sparrows resulted in crop failures from bug infestation.

The Cultural Revolution led by Mao also threw China into chaos, and the current collective leadership system came into being when the nation realized that the Mao-era one-man dictatorship and personality cult was rubbish.

That, at least, was what I thought. But now, I am not sure anymore.

The Chinese Communist Party on Oct. 24 amended its Constitution to solidify leader Xi Jinping’s standing by officializing what is referred to as “Xi Jinping Thought.”

Xi is the first living leader to be exalted in this manner after Mao. I can appreciate Xi’s popularity for smashing corruption, but it would certainly be disturbing to hear songs being sung in the streets glorifying him. And under him, China is said to be on its way to becoming an economic as well as military superpower.

During my business trip to China last year, my request for an interview with an economist was turned down. The economist did not want to talk apparently because the Chinese economy was faltering. Surely that is exactly the sort of time when economists should be speaking out.

If economists in general are simply avoiding foreign journalists, that is one thing. But Chinese society will not grow in strength if systems to make suggestions or raise questions are no longer functioning.

China is an unusual socialist state in that there exists socioeconomic disparities that are said to be greater than in the United States. To maintain the regime, the nation is presenting its top leader as an all-powerful figure and appealing to the public’s patriotism by stressing national strength.

As the leader of my next-door neighbor nation, Xi makes me nervous.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 26

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.