On this week's episode of The Spectator Podcast, we look at China's new veneration of President Xi Jinping. We also discuss the unusual practices of the Palmarian Catholic Church, stars of Dan Brown's new novel, and wonder why good girls fall for bad boys.
First, the Chinese Communist Party has convened in Beijing this week for its quinquennial congress. With a growing control over the country and an army of youthful acolytes, President Xi is being described as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao. But who is he? And what does China's increasing confidence mean for an uncertain world? Cindy Yu describes the loyalty of China's population to their leader, and she joins the podcast. As Cindy writes:
"For the first time since the death of Chairman Mao four decades ago, a leadership personality cult is emerging in China. You can see it in Beijing’s streets, where President Xi Jinping’s face appears on posters on bus stops, next to those of revolutionary war heroes. Scarlet banners fly with bold white letters saying: ‘Continue Achieving the Successes of Socialism… with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core’. The city has this week been hosting the Communist Party Congress, during which Xi was affirmed for a second (and supposedly final) five-year term. But it looks and feels like a coronation."
And Jonathan Fenby also writes on the situation in the East, and he joins the podcast along with Kerry Brown to consider their role in the global power game. As Jonathan writes:
"Optimists speculate that Xi Jinping’s power accumulation is the prelude to a burst of liberalising reform in his second five-year term as the Communist party’s general secretary, which will be consecrated at the current Congress. Nothing seems more unlikely, with the Chinese leader insisting in his marathon opening speech on Wednesday that his country should ‘strive for the great success of socialism with Chinese characteristics’ to take ‘centre stage in the world’. While he recognises the need for China Inc. to operate more efficiently, his chosen route lies through the reinforcement of the party state, the repression of dissent and the centralisation of his authority."
Next: about 25 miles south of Seville, a giant cathedral rises from the Andalusian plain beside the tiny village of Palmar de Troya. It is the seat of the Palmarian Catholic Church, a schismatic order with scarcely more than a thousand followers these days, who have found themselves thrust back into the limelight as the villains of Dan Brown's new thriller, Origin. But who are they? And does their breakaway zest resonate in the 21st century? Damian Thompson investigates in this week's magazine, and he joins the podcast. As he writes:
"Pope Gregory, previously an insurance broker from Seville called Clemente Domínguez y Gómez, lost his eyes in a car accident in 1976. Ironically, at the time he had made himself ‘principal seer’ for a group of Spanish schoolgirls who claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary near El Palmar de Troya in 1978, though they disowned him. That same year, he began styling himself a bishop of the Catholic church — a claim easy to dismiss but for one inconvenient detail. Two years earlier, before his accident, he had been ordained bishop by the Roman Catholic Archbishop Ngo Dinh Thuc, older brother of the assassinated President Diem of South Vietnam."
And finally, it's a debate as old as time: should you look for a good guy, or succumb to the advances of a bad boy? Elisa Segrave has endured her fair share of the latter, and she joins the podcast to debate their merits, along with Sophia Money-Coutts. As Elisa writes:
"A ‘bad boy’ is often more sexually appealing. A man who manages to sleep with many women demonstrates, on a basic biological level, that other women rate him highly. Who wants a nerdy boyfriend no one else wants? It’s all very well to look for a man who is kind and reliable, but if you don’t find him attractive, what’s the point? A gay male friend, worried about ‘the new puritanism’, says: ‘A woman has to be turned on. It can’t be just walking in the garden. Eroticism isn’t something to be frightened of.’"