“Gee,” I say dryly. “That’s a real ringing endorsement for the democratic progress.”
“Well, right,” says Erin. “That’s exactly my point. Xi takes power in 2013, right? And what’s the first thing he does? Anti-corruption purges across the entire country. Hundreds of political opponents jailed in a single weekend. Chinese SWAT teams going province to province, kicking down doors of quinquagenarians and sexagenarians and hauling their ancient, old asses off to jail on trumped up kangaroo court charges.”
“And no one complained?” I ask.
“Of course people complained,” scoffs Erin. “There were riots in the streets. Tiananmen Square 2: The Sequel, every single weekend. Hundreds jailed or just suddenly disappeared. Elites who were in power under Hu Jintao went apoplectic. But Xi controlled the military, and thus the country. What was one to do? You just didn’t see any of this in the west because media was of course censored.”
“So you’re saying that Xi essentially just wiped the board clean and started over with a blank slate?”
“I’m saying Xi’s ascension in China was like Fat Man hitting Nagasaki,” says Erin shaking her head. “It was complete, total, and irreversible. After Xi made landfall in Beijing, no one who defied him survived. Not even bacteria. All legacy baggage, dissenting voices, and opposition vanquished in one fell swoop in a matter of weeks with Terminator-esque efficiency. It was nothing but smooth sailing. For years leading up to 2013, Xi had worked behind the scenes, pulling levers and pushing buttons, to install all the right people in the right places. So when the time came, it was the easiest and most peaceful coup in Chinese history. Mao would’ve been proud.”
“Sounds like you really admire Xi Jinping,” I say. “You speak of him in such glowing terms.”
Erin frowns. “I guess as much as one can admire an authoritarian ruler who stomps all over human rights, disappears his political opponents, and runs forced detention and reeducation camps?”
“So you like the results,” I say, “but not the methods. Sounds kinda hypocritical, if you ask me.”
“I think it’s a thankless job,” says Erin. “And being president and chair of a top-heavy communist regime is certainly no picnic. I’m sure every night, Xi sleeps with the fear of being assassinated by one of his own cabinet ministers, the Americans, or some other party hostile to his vision of what China can and should be. It’s not an enviable life.”
The bus begins to slow and I look outside Erin’s window. We’re turning off of the main, 16-lane highway and onto some dirt road that looks like a scene out of Mad Max: Fury Road. It looks like they’re building a new highway interchange and there are earthmovers and bulldozers everywhere. Construction workers in yellow vests and hard hats are busy operating heavy machinery and digging.