Editors’ note: It is the policy of the News not to publish anonymous columns, but in this case, an exception has been made. The author is a University student with family in China who has been granted anonymity based on their concern for retaliation against them and their family if identified. The News has independently verified the identity of the author.

To my fellow Chinese students at Yale:

As we celebrated Thanksgiving last week, mass protests erupted at home. In an unexpected development, Chinese protesters, for the first time since 1989, voiced calls for our leader to step down.

Xi Jinping, who wants to stay on for life, must be ousted. China’s mounting problems — her Covid impasse, economic recession, and deepening international isolation — originate in his failed policies. Those policies must be changed. But make no mistake: it is not enough to oust Mr. Xi. We must unequivocally reject the model of termless leadership for which he stands. 

Why do I detest so much the idea of a life-long leader? Because it is a profound betrayal of modern China’s basic political identity. Mr. Xi is proposing to stay on for life as the leader of a country that was rebuilt on the ruins of toppled monarchy and that calls itself a “republic.”  A republic need not be a democracy, but it must be a regime in which the state can be seen as, in some sense, an instrument of the society’s self-government rather than the private monopoly of any individual. It is a mockery of the idea of a republic to let anyone monopolize government for life.

Already, Mr. Xi has filled the leadership lineup with his protégés and deprived the public — including the party elite — of any freedom for dissent. Giving him life tenure will certainly complete the degeneration of this political system into a pure instrument of his personal will, and governing, his exclusive right. It is the opposite of everything a republic stands for. It is the biggest political sellout China has seen since the Yuan Shikai Restoration of 1915—equaled in egregiousness only by Mao’s counterfeit democracy.

For you to fail to be repelled by Mr. Xi’s runaway ambition is for you to acquiesce in an unambiguous act of political betrayal.

It is also for you to be guilty of inexcusable historical amnesia: the term limit Mr. Xi has scrapped was implemented in post-Mao China as a lesson of Mao’s disastrous leadership. No lesson could have been simpler or more painful. What caused Mao’s calamitous policies? It was the fact that the Chairman, as leader for life, was unable to correct his own policy errors. Why did the race to succeed him escalate into violent power struggles? Because the Chairman, aiming to stay on indefinitely, feared creating a threat to his personal power by promoting a successor.  Mao’s life tenure hindered the correction of grievous policy errors and turned his succession into a gratuitously violent process.

Mr. Xi, now free of term limit, is, predictably, repeating Mao’s mistakes: he puts off selecting his successor and carries on with a package of failed domestic and foreign policies, including, in particular, his opposition to Western vaccines—the cause of our Covid quagmire. Undeceive yourself: Mao’s disastrous leadership was not an accident; it reflects the general dangers of entrusting leaders with life tenure. Without accountability, no man is wise, nor good enough to be trusted with life-long leadership.  

To consent to life tenure for Mr. Xi is to sell out your country’s political identity. It is also to betray her history: it is to betray the memory of all the people who died and suffered directly from Mao’s life-long reign.  

My fellow Chinese students, will you take a stand?