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Commentary & Opinion

David Nightingale: Xi Jinping (1953 – )

Xi Jinping, prior to a meeting in Beijing China, Sept. 19, 2012
DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
Public Domain

Many of us know little of 65-year-old Xi Jinping, recently elected ‘President-for-life’ of China. His other titles are “General Secretary of the Communist Party of China”, and “President of the People’s Republic of China”.

This ‘president-for-life’ election might strike some as having an undertone of ‘ominousness’, smacking of too much power invested in one man. Apart from the interesting fact that he sent his daughter to Harvard, who is he?

Xi Jinping was born in 1953, the son of a party leader who was for a while a ‘vice chairman of the People’s Congress’.

Thus Xi Jinping has risen, initially, from a certain amount of privilege. However, when Xi was about 12, Chairman Mao began the ‘Cultural Revolution’, which was to purge corrupt leadership as well as capitalism. The purge began in August 1966, continuing for about a decade. Many leaders with suspected capitalist leanings were executed, and hard labor was instituted for corruption – which was very widespread. Workers were told to attack and in some cases kill intellectuals, and students were encouraged to criticize, humiliate and physically attack their teachers, who were often thrown to the floor and kicked. When Xi was 15, his father fell out of favor with Chairman Mao, was imprisoned, and the teenager was sent to work in a village.

He soon ran away to Beijing, where he was then arrested as a deserter and sent to dig ditches. It is said that he and other boys had to live in a cave.

At the age of 22, Xi was able to begin studying as a ‘Worker-Peasant-Soldier-Student’ at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, while working on a farm. He took courses in Chemical Engineering, Marxism and Leninism. From the age of 26 to 29, he served as a secretary in the Central Military Commission.

At 32, (that was 1985) he was part of a delegation sent to study U.S. farming methods in Iowa where he stayed for two weeks with a local family.

Upon his return, he became an ‘on-the-job’ graduate student at (again) Tsinghua University in Beijing, obtaining what some academics have compared to an LLD degree in law, politics and revolutionary history.

A few years prior to being on that delegation to study farming in Iowa, he had married briefly, but that marriage had failed. At 34, he married the up-and-coming popular folk singer Peng Liyuan and they had a child under the one-child policy . That child is now their 26-year-old daughter Xi Mingze, a graduate of Harvard in Psychology and English. (The one-child policy was not changed to ‘two-child’ until near the end of 2015.)

His daughter was, according to a few close friends, very private and hard-working. She lived frugally, registered under a different name and did not socialize. Only a few professors and the FBI knew her identity, and always in the background were bodyguards. She graduated in 2014. [Ref.2.]

By this time Xi Jinping was Secretary General of the Communist Party of China. At the age of 60, (2012) he visited with the Iowa family he had stayed with thirty years earlier.

Finally, this has been only a cursory look at who Xi Jinping is. Now, with Putin wanting Ukraine and more, and Xi wanting Taiwan and more, we have three super-power leaders elected on platforms of making their countries great again. Let’s hope it all works out.

Some References:

1. Jiayang Fan, “Dreams from Xi Jinping’s Father”; New Yorker, Feb 23 2012.

2. E. Osnos, New Yorker, April 6 2015.

3. James M. Lindsay, Blog Post, Council on Foreign Relations, March 15 2013.

Dr. David Nightingale is Professor Emeritus of Physics at the State University of New York at NewPaltz and is the co-author of the text, A Short Course in General Relativity.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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