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Gilded son of Communist party leader who chose to take humble route to top

Friday, 16 November 2012 - 3:21pm IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph
As the son of Xi Zhongxun, one of the Communist party's first generation of leaders, Xi, 59, always had gilded prospects. But he chose to work his way up from the bottom, leaving an army job his father had arranged for him.

Chairman Mao once described Xi Jinping's father as a man "tempered by fire" - yesterday (Thursday) Xi quickly showed himself to be his father's son.

"To forge iron, you need a strong hammer," he said. He was referring to the fight against corruption but his choice of words gave a glimpse of his work ethic.

As the son of Xi Zhongxun, one of the Communist party's first generation of leaders, Xi, 59, always had gilded prospects. But he chose to work his way up from the bottom, leaving an army job his father had arranged for him.

"He could have stayed in Beijing and given his background he could have chosen any job," said Gao Zhikai, who was the personal translator to Deng Xiaoping, the former Chinese leader. "But he went to the countryside, to the very lowest level, and became a county level official in Zhengding in Hebei. Only by working at that level, and standing at the bottom, could he gain personal understanding into what life was like."

Even as a teenager, sent to a poor village in the countryside during the Cultural revolution, Xi was astonishingly self-composed, at least according to his official biography. "I did the same work as the people in the village, lived in the same way as they and worked hard," he told a Chinese magazine in 2000.

When he studied at Tsinghua university, his classmate, Qiao Mu, recalled that most said he would "be an emerging leader for next decade". Tsinghua has now turned his dormitory into a museum. After Zhengding, he was sent to Fujian in the south. The province was rampantly corrupt and one of China's most notorious criminals had bought off most of the local Communist party cadres and police. But Xi was left untouched by the scandal and subsequent investigation.

"Even if an official does not achieve great things in his career, at least he should be able to say he has not put money up his sleeve," he said. His first marriage, to the daughter of China's ambassador to Britain, was short. He married again, to a singer named Peng Liyuan, but missed the birth of his daughter, Xi Mingze, because he was dealing with the aftermath of a typhoon. She is now thought to study at Harvard. Xi has a second connection to Britain. His niece, Hiu Ng, is married to Daniel Foa, a 36-year-old entrepreneur whose parents live in Cheltenham.

Xi returned to Beijing in 2007 as he was made a member of the standing committee of the Politburo and lined up to be Hu Jintao's successor. Since then, his biography has been scrubbed, his speeches scrutinised and friends have been cautioned not to speak about him.

A believer in the Communist party but very much his own man, it is unclear how different Xi will be from his predecessors. Still, many have pinned their hopes on him. Zhu Mingming, an entrepreneur from Wenzhou, who met Xi in 2008, said: "He is changing the style of politics in China for the better."

 




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