It seemed a good idea at the time, but China's propaganda officials are now reportedly walking back one particular attempt to paint President Xi Jinping as the "people's president" by asking state media to stop referring to him by his nickname, per the Guardian. That nickname is "Xi Dada," or "Big Daddy Xi," and while the intent of the moniker was, as another Guardian article frames it, to "craft the image of an approachable public servant," it seems to have instead created a cult of personality that some fear is reminiscent of Mao Zedong. Sources tell Bloomberg that both the Xinhua News Agency and the 21st Century Business Herald were "cautioned" last month about using "Xi Dada," even though the name doesn't appear to have been blocked from online searches or scrubbed online, and no explicit written ban seems to have been issued. The nickname got its start after a fan club started circulating it in 2012, per the People's Daily, and Xi himself gave it the thumbs-up in 2014.
There's even a series of songs that have been dedicated to Big Daddy Xi, including "Our Xi Dada" and "Xi Dada Loves Peng Mama" (referring to his wife). "I thought the Chinese system had moved beyond one-man-rule and personality cults," noted Chinese scholar David Shambaugh scoffs to the Guardian. "I do not think it is good for China. This is not the 1960s." Experts speculate it's that sort of thinking that may have caused officials to try to pull back the name, even blocking the Economist website for posting a cartoon Xi in a Mao-style getup next to the headline, "Beware the cult of Xi." Some say Xi is likely not pleased. "That's a big-time propaganda failure," the author of a book on Xi's rise tells the Guardian. "I can imagine that in their five-minute-a-month meeting with Xi Jinping, the head of publicity got told: 'Whose bright idea was that [nickname]? Send him or her to Gansu [in China's far west]!'" (Did Taiwan's president call him "Big Daddy Xi" during their historic handshake?)