BEIJING (Reuters) - A workaholic keen swimmer with an extensive knowledge of foreign literature — China’s state news agency Xinhua on Friday cracked open the door to President Xi Jinping’s private life in an unusual and glowing profile.
The private lives of senior Chinese leaders have traditionally been shrouded in secrecy, and tell-all books with juicy gossip strictly off limits.
But since Xi took power five years ago the government has on occasion released personal details, as it seems both to burnish his image as an approachable man of the people who will lead China to greatness, and control the narrative about who he is.
Xi emerged from a twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress last month with his power ever further cemented and key allies appointed to top new positions.
In a lengthy story published in Chinese and English in the early hours of Friday, Xinhua hailed Xi as the “unrivalled helmsman”, a term more frequently used to refer to the founder of modern China Mao Zedong rather than any other leaders.
“Wherever he works, he makes a remarkable impact,” Xinhua said.
While some of the anecdotes have previously been reported by state media - like his 2014 stroll around old Beijing alleyways during one of the city’s periodic smog crises - others were new.
Xi personally reviews every draft of major policy documents, sentence by sentence, Xinhua said.
“Sources close to him told Xinhua that all reports submitted to him, no matter how late in the evening, were returned with instructions the following morning.”
But he also “takes time out of his busy schedule to swim over 1,000 meters a time”, it added, without saying how often he manages to fit this in.
Xi can reel off the names of foreign, especially Russian, writers, and his “extensive knowledge of literature and the arts makes him a consummate communicator in the international arena”.
“Xi treats everyone with sincerity, warmth, attentiveness, and forthrightness,” it said.
However, underscoring China’s sensitivities about more difficult parts of its recent past, the Chinese version of the profile skipped a description of the suffering inflicted on Xi’s father Xi Zhongxun during the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, when Mao declared class war.
“In 1962, Xi Zhongxun’s 16 years of suffering from political persecution began. However, he never gave in to adversity and ultimately helped clear the names of others who were persecuted,” Xinhua said in its English profile.
“When his father was wronged, Xi Jinping went through some tough times,” it added, without elaborating.
Public discussion of the Cultural Revolution is generally taboo in China.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore