Drawing the News: Xi’s 100 Kilos of Grain [Updated]

Over the weekend, state broadcaster CCTV aired a segment titled “Beginner’s Mind: the Liangjiahe Chapters,” the latest installment in a spirited presidential image-crafting campaign that has followed Xi closely through his five-year tenure. The seven-minute video compiles photos of a youthful Xi with audio clips of the president describing his seven years as a “sent-down youth”  (下放青年) in the northern Shaanxi village of Liangjiahe during the Cultural Revolution. The segment opens with a mashup of early Xi media interviews describing the impact of his time toiling in the rural landscape and living in a yaodong cave-dwelling:

Those seven years living with the community in Shanbei left me with a very mysterious, almost a divine feeling.  Since then we’ve had all types of challenges—tests, or when beginning new jobs—but our minds always return to the Shanbei plateau, to those elders overseeing the ox-tilling or the Shaanxi folk tunes. In the rainy wind I’d be in the yaodong (cave-dwelling) with the cut grass, at night I’d go to see the animals and follow them to tend the sheep. No matter the job I’d do it. I’d carry 200 jin of wheat on a ten li mountain road without even switching shoulders. […]  [Chinese]

200 jin is a massive load (about 243 pounds), and ten li a fair distance (just over 3 miles). Easily bearing one over the other would be almost as impressive as Mao Zedong’s Olympic-beating Yangtze swim in 1966. After watching the segment, CDT resident cartoonist (巴丢草) offered illustrated homage to President Xi’s fabled strength, and a theory on how he might have accomplished such a feat:

Manufacturing a God, : the Beginner’s Mind Chapters (习近平造神 初心篇) by Badiucao 

Fellow cartoonist (辣椒) was also inspired to illustrate a frame from the Liangjiahe Chapters. In his rendering, Xi carries an inflatable bull, almost weightless but conspicuously labeled “200 jin,” in a reference to the Chinese expression “blowing the cow,” (chuī niú 吹牛) meaning to brag or boast:

Talking Big Without Switching Shoulders (吹牛不换肩), by Rebel Pepper

On Twitter, Lu Yong alluded to the president’s nickname “Steamed Bun Xi“—an artifact of an early episode in Xi’s state media-fueled image campaign—to stage a photographic interpretation of Xi’s 200 jin line:

“To celebrate a great man from heaven, I used 200 jin of flour, and steamed a massive stuffed bun, without even switching shoulders.” [Chinese]

Updated at 13:41 PDT on March 21, 2017: CDT Chinese editors have compiled more Chinese Twitter reactions to the CCTV segment and state media print coverage of it. Twitter user @luanma_ commented, “OK, you’re strong, I won’t argue. But not changing shoulders? That’s just stupid.” Citing his own peasant credentials, @xuefliang noted, “The volume is too much, a burlap sack can ordinarily only hold about 180 jin. And no way on a single shoulder, this peasant has never seen such a thing.”

For more on Xi’s carefully cultivated strongman image—and its faltering believability as the president continues to fall short on the reforms once expected to characterize his rule—see “Xi Jinping: The Illusion of Greatness” from Ian Johnson at the New York Review of Books. Also see China Media Project’s David Bandurski attempt to deduce from recent state media coverage the so far unclear policy “banner term” that will represent his leadership in the Party history books.