BEIJING (Reuters) - China has learnt from history and will not allow a Mao Zedong-style cult of personality to form around President Xi Jinping, one of the ruling Communist Party's top official academics said on Monday.
Xi cemented his political authority at a key twice-a-decade party congress last month, enshrining an eponymous political ideology in the party's constitution and breaking with recent precedent by unveiling a new leadership line-up without a clear successor.
The extent to which he now dominates Chinese politics has prompted comparisons with Mao and fueled speculation he could seek to stay on in some capacity beyond the end of his customary second five years in power, in 2022.
Xie Chuntao, the director of the Central Party School's academic department, said the "respect and love" ordinary Chinese felt for Xi was "natural" and "heartfelt" and bore no similarities to a cult of personality.
"The Chinese Communist Party has had a cult of personality before," Xie told a news briefing. "This lesson has long been had, and I believe this will not recur."
The Central Party School is the training ground for top cadres and is influential in interpreting and disseminating party directives.
Xi's official portrait on the People's Daily's front page, following the unveiling of the party's new top leadership last month, dwarfed a group photograph of the members of the Politburo Standing Committee.
Since Deng Xiaoping introduced the concept of collective leadership three decades ago to ward off the rise of another Mao-like cult of personality, the official portraits of all newly-selected Politburo Standing Committee members have been presented together on the front page in a grid.
Xie acknowledged the photo treatment was out of the ordinary, but said Xi deserved the prominence. He argued collective leadership still very much existed, albeit with a "larger individual role" for Xi.
"It is an objective fact that he is a strong leader," Xie said. "If there isn't someone with the trust of the people and strong ability ... then i think it's hard to do anything well."
(Reporting by Philip Wen; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)