Xi Jinping, 习近平, born 15 June 1953 is a Chinese politician currently serving as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), President of the People’s Republic of China, and Chairman of the Central Military Commission. Often described as China’s “paramount leader”, in 2016 the CPC officially gave him the title of “core leader”. As General Secretary, Xi holds an ex-officio seat on the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China, China’s top decision-making body.
Xi is the first General Secretary to have been born after the Second World War. The son of Chinese Communist veteran Xi Zhongxun, he was exiled to rural Yanchuan County as a teenager following his father’s purge during the Cultural Revolution, and lived in a cave in the village of Liangjiahe, where he organized communal laborers. After studying at the prestigious Tsinghua University as a “Worker-Peasant-Soldier Student”, Xi rose through the ranks politically in China’s coastal provinces. Xi was governor of Fujian province from 1999 to 2002, and governor, then party secretary of neighboring Zhejiang province from 2002 to 2007. Following the dismissal of Chen Liangyu, Xi was transferred to Shanghai as party secretary for a brief period in 2007. Xi joined the Politburo Standing Committee and central secretariat in October 2007, spending the next five years as Hu Jintao’s presumed successor. Xi was vice president from 2008 to 2013 and Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission from 2010 to 2012.
Since assuming power, Xi has introduced far-ranging measures to enforce party discipline and to ensure internal unity. His signature anti-corruption campaign has led to the downfall of prominent incumbent and retired Communist Party officials, including members of the Politburo Standing Committee. Described as a Chinese nationalist, Xi has tightened restrictions over civil society and ideological discourse, advocating internet censorship in China as the concept of “internet sovereignty”. Xi has called for further market economic reforms, for governing according to the law and for strengthening legal institutions, with an emphasis on individual and national aspirations under the slogan “Chinese Dream”. Xi has also championed a more assertive foreign policy, particularly with regard to China–Japan relations, China’s claims in the South China Sea, and its role as a leading advocate of free trade and globalization. He has also sought to expand China’s Eurasian influence through the One Belt One Road Initiative. The 2015 meeting between Xi and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou marked the first time the political leaders of both sides of the Taiwan Strait met since the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1950.
Considered the central figure of the fifth generation of leadership of the People’s Republic, Xi has significantly centralized institutional power by taking on a wide range of leadership positions, including chairing the newly formed National Security Commission, as well as new steering committees on economic and social reforms, military restructuring and modernisation, and the Internet. Said to be one of the most powerful leaders in modern Chinese history, Xi’s political thoughts have been written into the party and state constitutions, and under his leadership the latter was amended to abolish term limits for the presidency. In 2018, Forbes ranked Xi as the most powerful and influential person in the world, dethroning Vladimir Putin who held the record for 5 consecutive years.
Xi Jinping was born in Beijing on 15 June 1953. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 by Mao Zedong, Xi’s father held a series of posts, including propaganda chief, vice-premier, and vice-chairman of the National People’s Congress. Xi’s father is from Fuping County, Shaanxi, and Xi could further trace his patrilineal descent from Xiying in Dengzhou, Henan. He is the second son of Xi Zhongxun and his wife Qi Xin.
In 1963, when Xi was age 10, his father was purged from the Party and sent to work in a factory in Luoyang, Henan. In May 1966, Xi’s secondary education was cut short by the Cultural Revolution, when all secondary classes were halted for students to criticise and fight their teachers. The Xi family home was ransacked by student militants and one of Xi’s sisters, Xi Heping, was killed. Later, his mother was forced to publicly denounce him as Xi was paraded before a crowd as an enemy of the revolution. Xi was aged 15 when his father was imprisoned in 1968 during the Cultural Revolution; Xi would not see his father again until 1972. Without the protection of his father, Xi was sent to work in Liangjiahe Village, Wen’anyi Town, Yanchuan County, Yan’an, Shaanxi, in 1969 in Mao Zedong’s Down to the Countryside Movement. After a few months, unable to stand rural life, he ran away to Beijing. He was arrested during a crackdown on deserters from the countryside and sent to a work camp to dig ditches. He later became the Party branch secretary of the production team, leaving that post in 1975. When asked about this experience later by Chinese state television, Xi recalled, “It was emotional. It was a mood. And when the ideals of the Cultural Revolution could not be realised, it proved an illusion.”
In February 2009, in his capacity as vice-president, Xi Jinping embarked on a tour of Latin America, visiting Mexico, Jamaica, Colombia, Venezuela,and Brazil to promote Chinese ties in the region and boost the country’s reputation in the wake of the global financial crisis. He also visited Valletta, Malta, before returning to China.
On 11 February, while visiting Mexico, Xi spoke in front of a group of overseas Chinese and explained China’s contributions to the financial crisis, saying that it was “the greatest contribution towards the whole of human race, made by China, to prevent its 1.3 billion people from hunger”. Xi went on to remark: “There are some bored foreigners, with full stomachs, who have nothing better to do than point fingers at us. First, China doesn’t export revolution; second, China doesn’t export hunger and poverty; third, China doesn’t come and cause you headaches. What more is there to be said?” The story was reported on some local television stations. The news led to a flood of discussions on Chinese internet forums. It was reported that the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs was caught off-guard by Xi’s remarks, as the actual video was shot by some accompanying Hong Kong reporters and broadcast on Hong Kong TV, which then turned up in various internet video websites.
Xi continued his international trips, some say to burnish his foreign affairs credentials prior to taking the helm of China’s leadership. In the European Union, Xi visited Belgium, Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania from 7 October to 21 2009. Xi visited Japan, South Korea, Cambodia, and Myanmar on his Asian trip from 14 to 22 December 2009.
Xi visited the United States, Ireland and Turkey in February 2012. The visit included meeting with then U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House and then Vice President Joe Biden; and stops in California and Iowa, where he met with the family which previously hosted him during his 1985 tour as a Hebei provincial official.
Xi vowed to crack down on corruption almost immediately after he ascended to power at the 18th Party Congress. In his ‘inaugural speech’ as general secretary, Xi mentioned that fighting corruption was one of the toughest challenges for the party. A few months into his term, Xi outlined the “eight-point guide”, listing out rules intended to curb corruption and waste during official party business; it aimed at stricter discipline on the conduct of party officials. Xi also vowed to root out “tigers and flies”, that is, high-ranking officials and ordinary party functionaries. During the first two years of Xi’s term, he initiated cases against former Central Military Commission vice-chairman Xu Caihou, former Politburo Standing Committee member and security chief Zhou Yongkang, and former Hu Jintao chief aide Ling Jihua.
Along with new disciplinary chief Wang Qishan, Xi’s administration spearheaded the formation of “centrally-dispatched inspection teams” (中央巡视组), essentially cross-jurisdictional squads of officials whose main task was to gain more in-depth understanding of the operations of provincial and local party organizations, and in the process, also enforce party discipline mandated by Beijing. Many of the work teams also had the effect of identifying and initiating investigations on high-ranking officials. Over one hundred provincial-ministerial level officials were implicated during a massive nationwide anti-corruption campaign. These include former and current regional officials (Su Rong, Bai Enpei, Wan Qingliang), leading figures of state-owned enterprises and central government organs (Song Lin, Liu Tienan), and highly ranked generals in the military (Gu Junshan). In June 2014, the Shanxi provincial political establishment was decimated, with four officials dismissed within a week from the provincial party organization’s top ranks. Within the first two years of the campaign alone, over 200,000 low-ranking officials received warnings, fines, and demotions.
As Communist ideology plays a less central role in the lives of the masses in the People’s Republic of China, top political leaders of the Communist Party of China such as Xi Jinping continue the rehabilitation of ancient Chinese philosophical figures like Han Fei into the mainstream of Chinese thought alongside Confucianism, both of which Xi sees as relevant. “He who rules by virtue is like the Pole Star,” he said at a meeting of officials last year, quoting Confucius. “It maintains its place, and the multitude of stars pay homage.” In Shandong, the Birthplace of Confucius, he told scholars that while the West was suffering a “crisis of confidence,” the Communist Party had been “the loyal inheritor and promoter of China’s outstanding traditional culture.”
Han Fei gained new prominence with favourable citations. One sentence of Han Fei’s that Xi quoted appeared thousands of times in official Chinese media at the local, provincial, and national levels.
Early on in his term, Xi repeatedly issued pronouncements on the supremacy of the Communist Party, largely echoing Deng Xiaoping’s line that effective economic reform can only take place within the one-party political framework. In Xi’s view, the Communist Party is the legitimate, constitutionally-sanctioned ruling party of China, and that the party derives this legitimacy through advancing the Mao-style “Mass Line Campaign”; that is the party represents the interests of the overwhelming majority of ordinary people. In this vein, Xi called for officials to practise mild self-criticism in order to appear less corrupt and more popular among the people.
Xi’s position has been described as preferring highly centralized political power as a means to direct large-scale economic restructuring. Xi believes that China should be ‘following its own path’ and that a strong authoritarian government is an integral part of the “China model”, operating on a “core socialist value system”, which has been interpreted as China’s alternative to Western values. However, Xi and his colleagues acknowledge the challenges to the legitimacy of Communist rule, particularly corruption by party officials. The answer, according to Xi’s programme, is two-fold: strengthen the party from within, by streamlining strict party discipline and initiating a large anti-corruption campaign to remove unsavoury elements from within the party, and re-instituting the Mass Line Campaign externally to make party officials better understand and serve the needs of ordinary people. Xi believes that just as the party must be at the apex of political control of the state, the party’s central authorities (i.e., the Politburo, PSC, or himself as general secretary) must exercise full and direct political control of all party activities.
Xi’s policies have been characterized as “economically liberal but politically conservative” by Cheng Li of the Brookings Institution.
Xi married Ke Lingling, the daughter of Ke Hua, an ambassador to Britain in the early 1980s. They divorced within a few years. The two were said to fight “almost every day” and, after the divorce, Ke moved to England.
Xi married the prominent Chinese folk singer Peng Liyuan in 1987. Peng Liyuan, a household name in China, was much better known to the public than Xi until his political elevation. The couple frequently lived apart due largely to their separate professional lives. Xi and Peng have a daughter named Xi Mingze, who graduated from Harvard University in the spring of 2015. While at Harvard, she used a pseudonym and studied psychology and English. Xi’s family have a home in Jade Spring Hill, a garden and residential area in north western Beijing run by the Central Military Commission.
Peng described Xi as hardworking and down-to-earth. “When he comes home, I’ve never felt as if there’s some leader in the house. In my eyes, he’s just my husband.” Peng has played a much more visible role as China’s “first lady” compared to her predecessors; for example, Peng hosted U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama on the latter’s high-profile visit to China in March 2014. Xi was described in a 2011 The Washington Post article by those who know him as “pragmatic, serious, cautious, hard-working, down to earth and low-key”. Xi was described as a good hand at problem solving and “seemingly uninterested in the trappings of high office”. He is known to love U.S. films such as Saving Private Ryan, The Departed and The Godfather. He also praised the independent film-maker Jia Zhangke.
In June 2012, Bloomberg reported that members of Xi’s extended family have substantial business interests, although there was no evidence he had intervened to assist them. The Bloomberg website was blocked in mainland China in response to the article. Since Xi embarked on an anti-corruption campaign, members of his family were reported by The New York Times to be selling their corporate and real estate investments beginning in 2012.
Relatives of highly placed Chinese officials, including seven current and former senior leaders of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China, have been named in the Panama Papers, including Deng Jiagui, the brother-in-law of Xi. Deng had two shell companies in the British Virgin Islands while Xi was a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, but they were dormant by the time Xi became General Secretary of the Communist Party in November 2012.[