Tracing the Myth of a Chinese Leader to Its Roots

The New York Times visits Liangjiahe, Shaanxi, where Xi Jinping, President Hu Jintao’s presumed successor spent several years doing manual labor during the Cultural Revolution and which has become a crucial part of his official life story:

Liangjiahe is the foundation of a by-the-bootstraps creation myth that Mr. Xi has long cultivated. In an essay for a 2003 book Mr. Xi said his seven years here led to a life transformation. Using standard Marxist-Leninist-Maoist language, he wrote about learning to serve the people.

We “mustn’t stand high above the masses nor consider the masses as our fish and meat,” he said. He went on: “The hard life of the grass roots can cultivate one’s will. With that kind of experience, whatever difficulties I would encounter in the future, I am fully charged with courage to take on any challenge, to believe in the impossible and to conquer obstacles without panic.”

The village is in a narrow valley about 70 miles from Yan’an, the city in the northern province of Shaanxi that served as the Communist Party’s revolutionary base for 12 years during the Chinese civil war. Mr. Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, a native of Shaanxi, helped build the base and became a venerated party leader. He was purged during the Cultural Revolution, and his son was sent here from Beijing at age 15 to toil in a work brigade.

The village comprises 100 households, twice as big as in Mr. Xi’s day. The people’s homes are caves built into the dry hillsides. The elders farm fields of corn, pumpkins and potatoes; younger people have left for cities seeking work. A fine yellow silt covers the landscape, the signature feature of the Loess Plateau. Mr. Xi once wrote that he was “a son of the yellow earth.” Donkey carts plod down the road. Women shuffle home with bundles of wood lashed to their backs.

Read more about Xi Jinping and about the Cultural Revolution via CDT.

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