The profiles seemed to be a well-intentioned nod to lift the veil of secrecy long surrounding party leaders. The articles’ obsequiousness, however, was a reminder how far Mr. Xi and other newly anointed leaders have to go if they’re serious about following through on pledges to reconnect the party to the people.
“From the Loess Plateau to the southeast coast, from localities to central leadership, Xi has had a well-rounded political career and has developed a deep understanding of the conditions of his country and people,” gushed the Xinhua profile of Mr. Xi. The article’s English version, published Sunday, sprawled some 3,000 words.
The profiles’ thrusts are all roughly the same: China’s newest generation of leaders rose through individual hard work and sacrifice, but never lost their affinity for China’s laobaixing, or common folks.
To underscore the point, Xinhua published more than a dozen photos of Mr. Xi in his younger – and slightly trimmer – days that have been widely reposted on Chinese news websites. One photo shows Mr. Xi smiling with villagers in the northern province of Hebei, where he served as a young cadre. Another photo shows Mr. Xi bicycling with daughter Xi Mingze seated on the back, clutching at her father’s waist.
The New Yorker’s Evan Osnos writes that the contents of Xi’s profile “steered clear of surprises,” but were worth noting in a country where “the people they rule know less about them than the average subscriber to the Times living in Armonk:”
This is all part of Xi’s concerted effort to project his human side—or what we might call his Theory of Deliberate Nonchalance. So far, Xi’s propaganda system is heavily promoting the fact that he shies away from the traditional Presidential entourage, got rid of flowers on the dais and the flowery talk from behind it, and so on. (Skeptics abound, including David Bandurski, who notes that Xi’s calls for people not to parrot each other is causing underlings to leap on the “anti-bandwagon bandwagon.”) For my money, the most interesting part of the new profile is the photo album, a carefully curated dip into the archives that follows Xi from the Cultural Revolution to the present day.
Better yet is the photo above, from the cover of China’s Vista Magazine earlier this month. After picking it up from the newsstand because it had a cover story about Xi’s first political tour, my wife, Sarabeth, noticed something potentially more surprising than anything inside: gray hairs. Is Xi testing the unofficial rule that Chinese men at the top of the government must dye their hair to look vital? Now that would be news.