Chinese President Xi raised by elite, steeled by turmoil

BEIJING Thu Mar 14, 2013 12:42am EDT

China's Vice-Premier Li Keqiang (2nd L) walks past China's newly-elected President Xi Jinping after voting during the fourth plenary meeting of National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 14, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Lee

China's Vice-Premier Li Keqiang (2nd L) walks past China's newly-elected President Xi Jinping after voting during the fourth plenary meeting of National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, March 14, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Lee

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Four years ago in Mexico, China's new president provided a rare glimpse of a leader who was born into a revolutionary aristocracy and came of age in the tumult of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution.

On Thursday, Xi Jinping sported the dark suit and cautious public mask that is the uniform of the party leadership as he took his place as the head of state after delegates to China's rubber stamp parliament voted him in almost unanimously at the cavernous Great Hall of the People.

But in Mexico, Xi dropped his guard in a steely defense of his country against criticism from abroad.

"In the midst of international financial turmoil, China was still able to solve the problem of feeding its 1.3 billion people, and that was already our greatest contribution to humankind," he said in comments that drew applause from Chinese Internet users.

"Some foreigners with full bellies and nothing better to do engage in finger-pointing at us," he went on. "First, China does not export revolution; second, it does not export famine and poverty; and third, it does not mess around with you. So what else is there to say?"

Xi assumed the role of Communist Party and military chief from Hu Jintao in November at a key party congress, and has now completed his rise to the top, replacing incumbent Hu Jintao.


Xi has crafted a low-key, sometimes bluff political style. He has complained of officials' speeches and writings being clogged with party jargon and demanded more plain speaking.

Since November, he has waged a campaign against corruption and excess, responding to widespread public anger that party members are both above the law and wasteful.

"The style in which you work is no small matter, and if we don't redress unhealthy tendencies and allow them to develop, it will be like putting up a wall between our party and the people, and we will lose our roots, our lifeblood and our strength," Xi told a meeting of the party's top anti-graft body in January.

Xi, 59, is the son of reformist former vice premier and parliament vice-chairman Xi Zhongxun, making him a "princeling" - one of the privileged sons and daughters of China's incumbent, retired or late leaders.

He grew up among the party elite and then watched his father purged from power before the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, when Xi himself spent years in the poverty-stricken countryside before scrambling to university.

Considered a cautious reformer, having spent time in top positions in the coastal Fujian and Zhejiang provinces, both at the forefront of China's economic reforms, Xi had long been marked out as the likely successor to Hu.

Married to a famous singer and briefly in charge of Shanghai, China's richest and most glamorous city, Xi unsettled Chinese people and the foreign business community alike when he vanished from public without explanation for about two weeks in September, prompting feverish rumors of serious illness and a troubled succession.

Sources said Xi hurt his back while swimming and that he had been obeying doctors' orders to get bed rest and undergo physiotherapy.


Xi went to work in the poor northwest Chinese countryside as a "sent-down youth" during the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, and became a rural commune official.

He studied chemical engineering at Tsinghua University in Beijing, an elite school where Hu also studied. Xi later gained a degree in Marxist theory from Tsinghua and a doctorate in law.

Xi shot to fame in the early 1980s as party boss of a rural county in Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing. He had rare access to then national party chief Hu Yaobang in the leadership compound, Zhongnanhai, west of the Forbidden City.

A native of the remote, inland province of Shaanxi, home of the terracotta warriors, Xi was promoted to governor of the southeastern province of Fujian in August 1999 after a string of provincial officials were caught up in a graft dragnet.

In March 2007, the tall and portly Xi secured the top job in China's commercial capital, Shanghai, when his predecessor, Chen Liangyu, was caught up in another huge corruption case. Seven months later, Xi was promoted to the party's Standing Committee - the ruling inner-circle.

Xi is married to Peng Liyuan, a renowned singer who was once arguably more popular in China than her husband, until the party began ordering her to keep a low profile as her husband moved up the ranks.

(Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Ian Geoghegan)

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Comments (1)
DeanMJackson wrote:
Ever wonder just what was the Cultural Revolution anyway? Read the following from the only Soviet era defector to correctly predict the future behaviors of the USSR/East Bloc, predictions based on the methodology he helped assist research for while in the Kremlin (1958-1960). A methodology that included Mao’s participation in formulating:

“Soviet denunciation of the Cultural Revolution as anti-Marxist and
antisocialist helped to conceal its true meaning as part of the process
of Chinese communist reconstruction. At the same time the Chinese
leaders were able to exploit their alleged differences with the Soviets
to rally the party and the masses behind them, during their most
vulnerable period, by hoisting the flag of Chinese nationalism. In this
they were repeating Stalin’s exploitation of “capitalist encirclement of the Soviet Union” in the 1920s and 1930s to rally the Russian people to the Soviet regime. The difference in the Chinese case was that, deliberately deceiving their own population and the outside world, the Chinese included the Soviet Union among the “imperialist powers” attempting to encircle China. In so doing, they served their own interests in strengthening and stabilizing their
regimes; at the same time, they served the strategic interests of longrange bloc policy.

Turmoil there undoubtedly was during the Cultural Revolution, but
in the light of the new methodology, the facts are capable of a new
interpretation. The Cultural Revolution was a part—and a very
significant part—of the wider process of the communist reconstruction of Chinese society. It followed, as the next logical step, the
reconstruction of Chinese agriculture. The newly established material
basis of Chinese society required an appropriate Marxist political and
ideological superstructure. For this reason, Mao called it “the great
proletarian cultural revolution.”

Apart from causing widespread economic dislocation, the creation
of communes and the switch in priority back from industry to
agriculture exposed the inadequacy of the structure and character of
the existing party and its mass organizations. These were based
mainly in the cities, whereas the real Chinese masses were in the
countryside—hence the drive to send intellectuals to the villages. The
ideological level of the party was too low and the tendency toward
rigid, bureaucratic inertia was unacceptable. The decision was
therefore taken to regroup the most highly indoctrinated and militant
elements of the old party and youth organization into an alternative
structure relying largely on the army and Ministry of Public Security
to provide the necessary element of control and to prevent the
situation from getting out of hand. The appearance of “political
departments,” detachments of Red Guards, and “revolutionary
committees” was not spontaneous; it was instigated by the Central
Committee. Not until essential preparations had been made on this
basis for the introduction of an alternative power structure was the
Cultural Revolution launched. With an alternative power structure in
being, it was possible to abolish large parts of the existing party
organization below the Central Committee level while huge numbers
of party officials were being reindoctrinated. Meanwhile the
alternative organization, drawn largely from the younger generation, set about its task of increasing its ties with, and
influence over, the masses in order to fire them with revolutionary
ardor and commit them to the policies of communist reconstruction.
The Cultural Revolution was initiated by the plenum of the Central
Committee in August 1966 and was guided and directed by the
Central Committee throughout. That it was a revolution controlled
from above was shown by its temporary interruption for the spring
sowing season in 1967 and the simultaneous resumption of classes in
schools on the Central Committee’s instructions. The revolution, being
ideological, was naturally directed by the Central Committee’s
ideologists, led by Chen Po-ta and Mao himself. By April 1969
sufficient progress had been made for the Cultural Revolution proper
to be damped down by the Ninth Party Congress.

Although the turmoil died away, many of the processes begun
before and during the Cultural Revolution continued. If the essence of
the Cultural Revolution period from 1966 to 1969 was the creation of
new organs of power and the attack by the “leftists” on the “rightists,”

then the essence of the following three years was the reabsorption of
the older, reeducated party officials into the new organs of power and
the attack on leftists, initially begun with the support of the army,
which was then itself brought under firmer party control. The first
signs of detente with the West began to appear. In the next three years, from 1973 to 1976, under the alleged guidance of the “Gang of Four,” the process of reeducation continued. But now it was a more specific process of ideological and political preparation of the reconstructed party, government apparatus, and mass organizations for the new situation entailed by a shift to activist, detente diplomacy. With the death of Mao and the return of the “pragmatists” to power, full-scale, activist detente diplomacy was launched on Soviet lines with the aim of using economic, financial, and technological help from the noncommunist world to accelerate China’s economic and military
development. China was ready to play her full part in long-range bloc
policy. She sought to align herself especially with conservatives in the advanced countries and Islamic regimes in the Third World, in order
the more effectively to carry out the Sino-Soviet scissors strategy.
As in other communist countries, the process of communist
re-construction in China has been accompanied by the introduction of
new, and the revival of old, techniques. In China’s case the aims were
to revitalize the communist party, to broaden its political base, to
commit the younger generation to ideological objectives, to reeducate
the older generation of party members, to control and neutralize
internal opposition, to revitalize the state apparatus and armed
services, and to prepare China as a whole for its part in the
implementation internally and externally of long-range bloc policy.
The techniques of political activism, provocation, disinformation, and
political prophylaxis, which have been described in detail in the case
of the Soviet Union, have all been used effectively in China. The
alleged struggles for power in China between leftists and rightists,
dogmatists and pragmatists, are as unreal as the struggles between
Stalinists and anti-Stalinists in the Soviet Union.

Cooperation within the leadership to create the illusion of struggles
between themselves or between the party and the army helps to
forestall the threat of real struggles within the leadership or of
tendencies to “putschism” in the army. It gives the party ideologists
material to train party officials in fighting undesirable tendencies
while at the same time preparing them for radical shifts in policy. The
violence of the shifts in the Chinese line is a technique borrowed from
that used by Stalin at the end of the NEP period. Stalin’s shifts from
left to right and back again were used to forge the party into a
hardened instrument obedient to his will. The difference lies in the
fact that Stalin used the technique to establish his personal
dictatorship and the factionalism was real; the Chinese leadership used
it to increase the effectiveness of the party as a whole and the
factionalism in the leadership was faked. The recent reassessment and
partial downgrading of Mao in China presents parallels with deStalinization in the Soviet Union and is designed in part to forestall the emergence in the future of any tendencies toward personal
dictatorship in the CPC.

The formation of the Red Guards recalls the use of Komsomol
activists in the Soviet Union during Stalin’s collectivization of agriculture in the 1930s. The technique of using wall posters by the
regime seems to have been borrowed from their use by the genuine
opposition in 1956-57.

The Cultural Revolution and the whole process of Chinese communist reconstruction have followed Lenin’s precepts on overcoming “infantile disorder” and isolation of the party from the masses. The
reeducation of cadres and the restructuring of the party and its youth
and trade union organizations were necessary both to achieve these
aims and to prepare the Chinese system for activist detente with the
West as the long-range policy unfolded.

Despite the alleged destruction of the party in the Cultural Revolution, in fact it strengthened itself. The Chinese trade union, youth, and women’s organizations have resumed their activities.
As a result of stabilization and the reinforcement of the party and its
mass organizations, the Chinese, like other communist states after
1960, were enabled to introduce NEP-style measures, including some
of the appurtenances of democracy, such as wall posters; trials; the
release of market forces; and the relaxation of controls over religion,
intellectual life, working conditions in factories, and property
ownership. “Dissidents” began to appear, on the Soviet pattern.
Broader contacts were allowed with the West and more attention was
paid to the overseas Chinese, whose relatives in China are said to
number 12 million.” — “New Lies for Old”, by KGB defector Major Anatoliy Golitsyn (1984).

Mar 14, 2013 1:30am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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