The Creation Myth of Xi Jinping

At , 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 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 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 .

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