Tribute to the XJP Founder: Dennis Etler (1947-2021)

Dennis Etler

By Luciana Bohne, with Rebecca Chan and 3 others

With what words to mourn Dennis Etler, who died so suddenly and unexpectedly on 3 June 2021? As his moderators on the page, Xi Jinping–China’s Exceptional President, we are at a loss to express our sadness at the passing of the founder. We, therefore, seek solace in remembering and honoring his thought, life, and work. 

The sheer scope of Dennis’ interest in China, past and present, and his exceptional command of what he knew, continues to humble us–as do his knowledge of historic detail and his extraordinary powers of synthesis in his essays and articles.Dennis was an academic. He held a doctorate in anthropology from the University of California, Berkley, and conducted archaeological and anthropological research in China throughout the 1980s and 1990s. He taught at the college and university level for over 35 years.But, he was the sort of teacher committed not only to his profession but also to the social good. This drew him to China, where he saw great strides in human progress.

In his retirement, he founded the discussion page Xi Jinping–China’s Exceptional President.. He worked tirelessly until it grew to number 35,000 members–and he valued and took pride in the membership’s active contributions. On the page, he showed what true leadership entails: modesty, integrity, respect, and caring. As many of you know, he was solicitous to questions, queries, and suggestions. He had the personal style of the compassionate comrade. For that is what Dennis was before anything else–a comrade. 

He carried a colossal amount of work on his back, and yet he always found time for the personal.He founded the page originally to provide a forum for discussing the Marxist-Leninist philosophy of Xi Jinping, at a time when the socialist character of China’s government was an object of derision among many Western leftists. In fact, Xi Jinping was steering the Communist Party of China back to ideological origins and founding principles. As under Xi’s leadership, the party rid itself of corrupt and ideologically dodgy officials and grew more compact and unified, China grew stronger, more self-determined, more decisive. Xi’s visionary Belt and Road initiative, launched in 2013, finally alerted the Western powers that China was not likely to be destabilized by internal forces, guided from abroad. 

At this point, the Western powers began their false propaganda war on China. Dennis’ original focus for the Xi discussion page necessarily shifted from ideology to combating disinformation, as the most immediately imperative defensive front. This necessary shift, conditioned by facts on the ground, is an example of Dennis’ own Marxist practice and, too, the reflection of his learning from China’s theoretical “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Original intentions are fine, but changing reality necessitate adaptations. 

Dennis, in recent months, was invited to become a correspondent for CGTN. The articles he wrote for CGTN revealed to readers the dark side of American history, a necessary counter-narrative to Washington’s relentless assaults of painting China as abuser of human rights. In addition, Dennis conducted interviews for Iran’s PressTV, looked forward to projects that would extend the reach of the Xi page to embrace and affect more and more people in their quest for consciousness of the turn that history was taking humankind. For Dennis, If China was the center of change, humanity was the horizon.Dennis was an internationalist. That is why the Xi page is so rich, so appreciative of the global diversity of its members.

It remains for us to conclude that we, the moderators, are determined to continue his legacy; to keep the page going, to serve the members what they need and want to know. Above all to be sharers in common work. 

To Dennis: you are not gone, dear comrade. People like you never die. They live in the consciousness of people whose minds they have changed and caused to be alive with thirst for truth and justice. To Dennis’ family: our deepest sympathy and condolences.To the members: the long march continues. Dennis is with us and leads us still.

The Moderators: Rebecca ChanKassem TofailliSwan OneswanMichael TrinhLuciana Bohne