Xi factor – the climb to power

In a three-part series – Xi Factor, Kunal Chonkar and Namrata Hasija provide a closer look of Chinese President Xi Jinping – a man who views the world from the standpoint of China, and China from a global perspective. Lesser known stories from his youth, to his rise in the party apparatus, sharp military acumen, consolidating total power, and  turning progressively tough and dictatorial.

President Xi Jinping’s path from the village to the centre of power, reflects China’s struggle to overcome poverty and humiliation to become a global force

New Delhi: American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson had said that ‘A man is known by the books he reads, by the company he keeps, by the praise he gives.’

If this holds to be true then according to British student Cameron Patterson – Chinese President Xi Jinping is keeping the spirit of his Chinese revolutionary icon Jiao Yulu alive with his every stride.

Patterson who had won the first prize in the Chinese bridge-Chinese language competition said that Xi who has penned down a poem on Yulu, uses the deceased Chinese politician’s attitude as a mirror for his own reflection.

Xi has also been exhorting Beijing’s bureaucrats to ‘use Yulu’s spirit to look very closely at themselves, and strive to become good Jiao Yulu-style party members and representatives of China in the world.’

Born in 1953, and regarded as a communist princeling, Xi is the son of a former reformist vice premier Xi Zhongxun. He soon became an outcast when his father was purged in 1962 for supporting a novel regarded as critical of Chairman Mao.

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At a time when academics and intellectuals were publicly castigated and shunned — a 16-year-old Xi was sent to an impoverished village in China’s north-western Shaanxi province as part of the ‘Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside Movement’ to be re-educated by farmers and laborers during the tumultuous communist period.

The village which has now become a political pilgrimage destination for millions of Chinese if filled with stories of how Xi once waded barefoot into freezing water here to help locals clear ice dams and dig bio-gas digesters.

Communist adherents are left teary-eyed as they hear how Xi slept in a cave, following the centuries-old living traditions in this part of China. They religious recite the slogans representing life lessons Xi learned, such as “struggle hard and be self-reliant” — the same imperatives the Communist Party-led China now propagates to more than 1.4 billion Chinese nationals.

In Xi’s own words quoted from his interview to Oriental Horizon in June 1995, his seven years in the Liangjiahe village ‘gave something mysterious and sacred…a complete transformation’, which changed his whole life.

Xi spent his years (1969 to 1975) in the countryside – looking after livestock, cutting grass, indulging in all labors before starting university back in Beijing and then beginning his climb up the party ladder.

What is shared by the military tour guides to party members visiting the Liangjiahe village for political sermons remains to be closely guarded secret. Every tour bus moves watchfully under the eyes of police and intelligence. Such is the secrecy, sacredness and sensitivity surrounding Xi’s image, his stories, policies and his persona that today’s Beijing has adopted in its stride.

Xi’s commitment to reformist causes remained unfaltering since his early days, even as he watched his half-sister tormented by the Red Guards to the point of her suicide.

Under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, the elder Xi pioneered the open-door reforms in the southern province of Guangdong and played an important part in establishing Shenzhen as a Special Economic Zone. In the late 1980s, he was rocksteady with the other politburo members in their decision to not cast their vote for the purge of the liberal Party leader Hu Yaobang.

Xi’s early political strides show his skills as an unpretentious, pragmatic, pro-social leader – a people’s man. This was first witnessed during his stint in the countryside and later in the three provincial units of China – Fujian, Zhejiang, and Shanghai – which were the windows and doors to the outside world. In his last climb to the power throne, he was chosen in preference to a rival leader, Bo Xilai, who had promoted Cultural Revolution–style policies in the megacity of Chongqing.

Thus, for all these reasons and more, once Xi acceded to the top office in 2012 as the ‘Paramount Leader’, which involved first becoming chairman of the Communist Party, then the Central Military Commission (CMC), and finally a President – who changed the constitution to remain in power for life-long.

While he was widely expected to pursue political liberalization, and market reform, Xi reinstated many of the most dangerous features of Mao’s rule – personal dictatorship, enforced ideological conformity, lethal arbitrary persecution.

As the official story goes, Xi’s path from the village to the centre of power reflected China’s struggle to overcome poverty and humiliation to become a global force.

Xi’s Family

The Chinese Communist Party has always held solid family traditions to be the instruments making powerful contribution to people’s lives and to the revival of the Chinese nation. In Xi’s own words ‘If one family is benevolent, then the entire country can be benevolent.’

Xi’s father Xi Zhongxun worked to imbue his children with the revolutionary spirit, according to articles in state media that portray him as a principled and moral leader. A young Xi inherited his sharp acumen and survival instincts from his father who passed away in 2004. He has a sister in Canada, a brother and sister in Hong Kong and a daughter that graduated from Harvard.

His sister Xi Qiaoqiao and her husband Deng Jiagui own a major real estate company named Beijing Central People’s Trust Real Estate Development Corporation Limited. Chinese state articles claim that Qiaoqiao attended another school under her mother’s family name, Qi, so classmates wouldn’t know her background. Qiaoqiao and her sister Anan also sometimes use their father’s family name, Xi. Qiaoqiao has also pursued a career with the military and as a director with the People’s Armed Police.

Not long after college, Xi married Ke Xiaoming (Ke Lingling), the elegant, well-connected and well-traveled daughter of China’s Ambassador to Britain. The young couple moved into a luxurious apartment in a gated compound across from the state guesthouse. However, they parted ways in less than three years. Chinese reports indicate that the couple fought almost every day, with even allegations of abuse. After the divorce, Ke moved to England.

Close friends of Xi played cupid and introduced him to his now second-wife Peng Liyuan. It is reported that Xi was reportedly charmed by her Peng singing techniques. Friends of Xi report that Xi knew the folk singer would be his wife within 40 minutes of meeting her. They were married in 1987, and their daughter Xi Mingze was born in 1992. In addition to her global folk-singing career, Peng holds the rank of major general in the People’s Liberation Army. Chinese media reports state that she has also taken on more diplomatic duties – instrumenting the Chinese ‘soft’ power for larger gains. It is reported that Peng played a major role in seeding the Chinese traditional values and Confucian principles across the globe, through various educational and cultural institutions.

Xi’s daughter, Xi Mingze, has always avoided the spotlight. A Harvard graduated (2014), Mingze has studied psychology and English and lived under an assumed name, her identity known only to a limited number of faculty and close friends. At 22, she returned to China and only makes very limited public appearances. Mingze has largely kept a low profile – and as a member of the youngest generation of the so-called “red nobility” descended from the Community Revolution’s leaders, with uncertainty looming large on her entry into the public life. It is reported that she continues to work at a Chinese university as a faculty.

From major stakes in state owned rare-earth metal companies, to part ownerships in renowned telecommunication and security companies, ownerships of sprawling beachside properties in the Pacific islands, skyscrapers in Hongkong, North Korea and many other pro-China nations to large-scale investments in clean energy firms – the Xi family have a massive holdings and monetary footprints across the globe.

To be continued…

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