BEIJING (Reuters) - President of China, head of its Communist Party, commander-in-chief of the military and now living Buddhist deity - Xi Jinping has added another title to his growing collection, at least in the eyes of some ethnic Tibetans.
Speaking on Wednesday on the sidelines of China's annual meeting of parliament, the party boss of the remote northwestern province of Qinghai, birthplace of the Dalai Lama, said Tibetans who lived there had been saying they view Xi as a deity.
Wang Guosheng said the province had been following Mao Zedong's advice about inspiring the masses to love the party and its leader, distributing "images of the leader" to people in poverty-stricken areas being moved into new homes.
He did not specify if these were images of Mao or Xi.
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"The ordinary people in the herder areas say, only General Secretary Xi is a living Bodhisattva. This is a really vivid thing to say," Wang said.
Bodhisattvas are individuals who carry out compassionate acts to achieve enlightenment. Tibetan Buddhists consider their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, to be an incarnation of Avalokitesvara, a Bodhisattva of compassion.
Xi, who will be positioned to remain in office indefinitely when China's largely rubber-stamp parliament approves the removal of presidential term limits on Sunday, is considered China's most powerful leader since Mao.
Qinghai has a large Tibetan population, many of them yak herders, whom China has controversially been moving into permanent homes rather than allowing them to continue their traditional nomadic way of life.
Wang's comments were reported late on Wednesday by the state-run Beijing News on its WeChat account.
Despite being the ancestral home of the Dalai Lama, Qinghai is generally less tense than what China refers to as the Tibet Autonomous Region, and normally has no travel restrictions for foreigners.
Tibetan rights groups and exiles regularly criticize the government for not respecting the religious rights and traditions of Tibetans, and say China has trampled upon their culture.
China denies the accusations, saying its rule has brought development to once poverty-struck areas.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)