The New Yorker profiled Chinese President Xi Jinping in its recent issue, and the chronicle of his rise to power contains an interesting tidbit about his father.
Xi has talked about how his father, Xi Zhongxun, influenced him, and one story about Zhongxun in particular sheds some light on the lessons Xi was brought up on.
When Xi was born in 1953, his father was China’s propaganda minister. Evan Osnos writes in The New Yorker that Zhongxun had been “fomenting revolution since the age of fourteen, when he and his classmates tried to poison a teacher whom they considered a counterrevolutionary.”
From The New Yorker:
He was sent to jail, where he joined the Communist Party, and eventually he became a high-ranking commander, which plunged him into the Party’s internal feuds. In 1935, a rival faction accused Xi of disloyalty and ordered him to be buried alive, but Mao defused the crisis. At a Party meeting in February, 1952, Mao stated that the ‘suppression of counterrevolutionaries’ required, on average, the execution of one person for every one thousand to two thousand citizens. Xi Zhongxun endorsed ‘severe suppression and punishment,’ but in his area ‘killing was relatively lower,’ according to his official biography.
Xi’s father also talked about how he joined the revolution, telling Xi that he would “certainly make revolution in the future,” according to a 2004 interview with Xi in a state-run newspaper.
And as Xi was growing up, his father’s rank mattered at school.
From The New Yorker, which cites historian Mi Hedu’s 1993 book “The Red Guard Generation”:
Students at the August 1st School ‘compared one another on the basis of whose father had a higher rank, whose father rode in a better car. Some would say, “Obey whoever’s father has the highest position.” When the Cultural Revolution began, in 1966, Beijing students who were zilaihong (‘born red’) promoted a slogan: ‘If the father is a hero, the son is also a hero; if the father is a reactionary, the son is a bastard.’ Red Guards sought to cleanse the capital of opposition, to make it ‘as pure and clean as crystal,’ they said.
The New Yorker has declared Xi “China’s most authoritarian leader since Mao.” Part of that also comes from what he learned from his father. In the 1960s the Chinese Communist Party started brutally “re-educating” and purging people. Zhongxun was eventually caught up in it and taken away from his family. Xi says that gave him his perspective on politics.
From the New Yorker [emphasis ours]:
In a 2000 interview with the journalist Chen Peng, of the Beijing-based Chinese Times, Xi said, “People who have little experience with power, those who have been far away from it, tend to regard these things as mysterious and novel. But I look past the superficial things: the power and the flowers and the glory and the applause. I see the detention houses, the fickleness of human relationships. I understand politics on a deeper level.”
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