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Xi carries Marx's torch, China says on 200th birthday of thinker

Message at home differs from push for free trade on the international stage

Karl Marx, born in May 1818, was 'the greatest thinker of modern times,' Chinese President Xi Jinping said Friday.   © Reuters

BEIJING -- China's ruling Communist Party this weekend celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of German thinker Karl Marx, and claimed President Xi Jinping had inherited his socialist mantle.

The party has made an unusual push to promote and educate the public about Marxism, apparently to increase Xi's credibility and authority as the president unbound by term limits prepares for a long stint at China's helm.

Xi's espousal of Marx at home comes as he advocates for free trade and globalism on the international stage.

Marx -- born May 5, 1818, in Trier, a city in what is now western Germany -- is known throughout China and the rest of the world for his criticisms of capitalism and for essentially fathering socialism.

On Friday, Xi called Marx a "teacher of revolution for the proletariat and workers all over the world" and "the greatest thinker of modern times" at a commemorative gathering of roughly 3,000 party officials in Beijing's Great Hall of the People. China would not exist as it does today without Marxism, Xi added.

Xi's philosophy on Chinese socialism is Marxism for the 21st century, Wang Huning, a Politburo Standing Committee member who heads up the party's ideological efforts, said on Sunday.

The People's Daily, the party's official paper and its mouthpiece, ran a front-page report the following day analyzing Xi's statements on the significance of Marxism as a guiding light for China.

"Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era" was made part of the party's charter at its October congress, and was likewise added to the Chinese constitution as a guiding principle in March legislative sessions.

The president has yet to leave the kind of clear legacy of the other Chinese leaders whose philosophies are enshrined in the constitution, revolutionary leader Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. For Xi, the move appears driven by a desire to cement his unifying power with an eye toward serving a long term in office.

However, few party members can describe Xi's philosophy in detail. Positioning it as a tailoring of Marxist ideals for modern China would provide some clarity.

Whether claiming the Marxist mantle will in fact help bolster Xi's authority is not entirely clear. Many have noted that China's strides toward capitalism in recent decades mean Marx's days in the country have ended. Online critics point out the irony of Communist Party leaders celebrating Marx despite having essentially embraced capitalism.

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