The Creation Myth of Xi Jinping

At Foreign Policy, John Garnaut digs into the often vague history of China’s likely next president, Xi Jinping.

If every modern president needs a creation myth, then Xi Jinping’s begins on the dusty loess plateau of northwest China. It was here that Xi spent seven formative years, working among the peasants and living in a lice-infested cave dug into the silty clay that extends around the Yellow River. Gradually, the selfless peasants and the unforgiving “Yellow Earth” — a term for China’s land that symbolizes relentless toil and noble sacrifice — transformed this pale, skinny, and nervous-looking teenager into the man who in November will take control of the world’s second-most powerful country.

“When I arrived at the Yellow Earth, at 15, I was anxious and confused,” wrote Xi in 1998, by which time he was working his way to the top of the Communist Party hierarchy in the prosperous coastal province of Fujian. “When I left the Yellow Earth, at 22, my life goals were firm and I was filled with confidence.”

[…] The Yellow Earth story matters, says Geremie Barme, director of the Australian National University’s Centre on China in the World. “It is … the log cabin of American politics, and Xi Jinping can claim it.” It’s a narrative that affirms that he “suffered hardship” and “knows what it’s like at China’s grassroots,” says Zhang Musheng, an intellectual whose father was a high official, explaining why Xi and others of his leadership cohort are more qualified than their predecessors to represent the Chinese people.

October 20, 2012 12:20 AM
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Categories: Politics