You’ve ever noticed how many American news personalities and pundits always talk about personality when they are comparing Xi Jinping with his predecessor Hu Jintao? Hu is described as lacking in this while Xi is often described as having more of it. See this latest Charlie Rose interview with Richard McGregor on the latest meeting between Xi and Obama and notice McGregor’s comments about Xi and Hu. His comments are really common in the media when addressing Xi (also see here and here for some more examples). Xi’s physical appearance also seems to get a lot of attention. Whether Xi has more “personality” than Hu is true or not is not my concern. What is my concern is the focus on such a nebulous thing as personality. Why is it so important to Americans? Many of our presidents had been elected out of personality. The last two, Bush and Obama, being good examples. Many politicians try to drum up or manufacture their personal attributes and try to create images that appeal to Americans. Americans are deeply concerned with character and judge others by it. Unfortunately people do this all over the world including China (such as the cult of Mao) but it seems especially a matter of emphasis in the USA and the west.
The president’s current political views, moral character, experience, past political stances and intellectual ability are simply irrelevant but his personality, whether he’s a likable, personable individual with certain likable quarks are what matters. Bush’s campaign tried to manufacture a cowboy image and Obama’s campaign tried to create a compassionate, progressive, outsider image. But neither of these individuals ever demonstrated actual behavior after election that corresponded to their created public image.
This is the cult of personality. Americans may not know anything about Tibet and China but they like the Dalai Lama because they believe that he has a good heart and a good sense of humor etc. What his actual views and actions have been is irrelevant. Same story here.
Historically, you see the rise of fascist dictators such as Hitler due to the ability to convince, through displays of charisma, to the public of things that ultimately proved disastrous. That is the danger of the cult. The west has had a history of love affairs with personality. It’s weird to see it so often on display. The obsession might be easier to understand once we think of our tabloid culture.