For a man who has accrued unlimited power and today sits as one of the most powerful leaders on the global table, transparency has been a weakness. Chinese  Xi Jinping’s rise in the Chinese political framework has been debatable and mysterious, adding to the hysteria around the communist party and its leader Xi himself.

Graphics by Kanishk Srivastava

China’s president was hardly known to anyone a decade ago, his folk singer wife, Peng Liyuan, was far more renowned than the trailblazing political statesman. Over last 50 years Xi- the son of powerful communist revolutionary- has strategically used his cave-dwelling farmer narrative during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 70s to carve out his image as a strong politician as he continued to rise in the Communist Party of China.

No one had predicted the amount of power Xi would draw when he became the President of the country in November 2012. Xi launched huge anti-corruption sweeps against the powerful politicians in the country. He has so much power that he has dissolved the 10-year presidential term limits. Since November 2018 Xi Jinping would remain the President of China till life, and leader of the Communist Party.

Xi Jinping has had his Ups and downs in life- spending childhood in the elite neighbourhood of Beijing, to living like a cave-man farmer and then becoming the most powerful leader of communist China, just behind the communist movement leader Mao Zedong.

‘They ate bitterness’: A generation who doesn’t give up easily

Born in 1953 to Former Vice-Premier Xi Zhongxun, who fought shoulder to shoulder with Mao Zedong during the Communist Movement, Xi enjoyed first few years of his childhood in the most elite neighbourhoods of Beijing.

While father Xi was arrested or otherwise confined during the Cultural Revolution- a movement in the 1960s and 70s where academicians and the educated were publically humiliated and shunned- son Xi left Beijing for an impoverished village in China’s northwestern Shaanxi province.

The 16-year-old “princeling” was then among millions of urban youth sent to rural areas as part of the “Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside Movement” to be re-educated by farmers and labourers during the communist period.

After the Cultural Movement wound down in the 1970s, Xi started his impressive political journey by enrolling for Communist Party. He got into the party on his 11th attempt, his previous 10 attempts were unsuccessful due to the bad image Cultural Movement brought on his father.

And as China went through a period of transformation with the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 followed by the rise of Deng Xiaoping, Xi Jinping was also going through his own personal transformation.

In 1975, the 22-year-old was admitted to the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing to study chemical engineering and later worked at the Central Military Commission as former defence minister Geng Biao’s secretary after graduating in 1979.

Over the next two decades,  Xi advanced his political career through various county, municipal and provincial leadership positions across the country.

In 1987, Xi married folk singer Peng Liyuan — his second marriage after his first one, of which little is known, ended in divorce a few years earlier.
A graphic showing where Zhongnanhai is located in relation to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen.

Xi builds himself a network among Beijing’s elite

In 2007, Xi was holding a powerful position in the form of communist party leader in Zhejiang province, from 2002 to 2007, where he supported local private enterprises and oversaw strong economic growth.

He was appreciated for his strategic thinking and advancing the goals of the communist party, his achievements in Zhejiang gave him access to Beijing’s elite, exactly when the former Communist party boss of Shanghai, Chen Liangyu was sacked in the midst of China’s biggest corruption scandal of 2006, Xi replaced him as the head of Communist Party in the financial heartthrob Shanghai.

It was a huge leap from the days when he was voted last in the rankings of alternate members of the 15th Central Committee of the Communist Party in 1997.

All this time Xi kept a low profile, in late 2007 he was promoted to the most elite level of the Communist Party.

After the promotion of Xi, he and Le Keqiang, the current Chinese Premier, were considered to be the likely successors of then Chinese President Hu Jintao.

All these doubts about who would become the next president of China were put to rest after Xi was named the Vice President, making him next in line to sit in the seat of the Chinese President.

To the Chinese experts, it is still unclear why Xi was promoted before many of his superiors, many believe that it could be because of the great image of his father.

After taking up the top posts of General Secretary of the Communist Party and the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, he became the President of People’s Republic of China in March 2013.

The structure of China's Communist Party in the form of a pyramid.

 ‘Transparency is vulnerability, a weakness’ in Xi’s Politics

Many believe that Xi has come a long way in Chinese political framework but his journey has largely been a secret. The secretive political framework of China has left everyone guessing about Xi’s astonishing rise.

Many believe that it was back-room, behind the scenes negations with Hu Jintao that helped Xi become the President as Jintao’s first choice for President remained Keqiang.

Xi Jinping has been able to abolish the number of terms for a President and now can rule for life.

He has also used massive anti-corruption swings against “tigers and flies”- Top Party officials- to keep them in check, these anti-corruption waves has got him tremendous public support.

In contrast to Deng Xiaoping’s motto of “hide your strength and bide your time”, Xi has shown more assertive politics both at home and abroad, building artificial islands in the disputed territories of South China Sea is one of them.

If there is any crisis in China, may it be an armed crisis, economic crisis or health crisis (epidemic or pandemic), then it would point finger at the concentration of power in the hands of Xi Jinping.

China has also been a constant support to the notorious country of North Korea and has been providing the North Korean regime with money, oil and a market place for North Korean goods.

Xi has also pushed for China’s One Road One Belt initiative, a trillion-dollar project that connects China’s yet another financial stronghold Guangzhou to mainland Europe covering all of Central Asia, parts of the Middle East and Europe.

Xi has been vary of the protests both in mainland China and Hong Kong and is aware of the economic slowdown.

China is locked in a bitter trade war with the United States but China just like Xi has travelled a long way. At the start of the decade, China was hardly considered for any big coalition, by the end of decade China is creating such coalitions. At the start of decade Chinese relied on the Russians and Americans for their Air Force equipment, today China is making its own warplanes.

China has largely grown redder than ever (Phrase used to tell about the Communist Government) under Xi and it remains on a steady path for growth.

As an outside observer, I have been a great fan of how Xi Jinping has been at the centre of China’s growth. He is the winner of this power struggle, does not appear to be a Chinese Gorbachev. Indeed he thinks little of democratic reform.


Patience is power; with time and patience, the mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown

10 thoughts on “ Redder than Red: The Rise of Xi Jinping ”

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