After Mr Xi came to power, many of them embraced him as their great hope, and his recent emphasis on “common prosperity” — a Mao-era phrase that suggests reducing inequality — has raised their hopes.
“They believe they have their hands on the high moral tenets of socialist ideology,” said Deng Yuwen, a former editor of a party newspaper, The Study Times, who now lives in the United States. “If they publish something with too much negative impact, they may spread it, but the authorities won’t outright ban them.”
Li’s overnight fame has sparked theories that a leader in the party has given the go-ahead to promote his scorching attack. But that idea is at odds with how officials around Mr Xi have recently gone out of their way to reassure private entrepreneurs that the government values them.
It was much more likely that a relatively young propaganda official promoted the essay as a high profile attack on censored celebrities and businesses without anticipating the dramatic response, said Mr Deng, the former editor. He cited echoes of 2018, when a Chinese blogger argued that the private sector should be phased out, adding to the jitters over the government’s intentions. Chinese officials, including Mr Xi, intervened to reassure entrepreneurs.
“Li Guangman is not that well known among us. I don’t think he has any special background,” Zhang Hongliang, who runs a fervent Maoist website in Beijing, said by phone. “He caught a hot topic at the right time.”
Commenting on the essay, Zhang Weiying, a professor of economics at Peking University, expressed a passionate defense of markets and the private sector as the best guarantees of prosperity and social justice. Gu Wanming, a retired journalist who worked for Xinhua, China’s main news agency, warned that Mr. Li used the kind of stormy rhetoric “heard only 60 years ago during the Cultural Revolution.”
Even Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of The Global Times, best known for his belligerent attacks on the party’s critics, suggested in an online commentary that Mr. Li went too far. “It uses exaggerated language and deviates from key policies,” wrote Mr. Hu.