Dr. Thomas Lairson Professor of Political Science XI Jinping This is a collection of materials relating to the leader of the Chinese Communist Party and President of China, XI Jinping. Nyt

From Bookish Youth to Polished Statesman

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From Bookish Youth to Polished Statesman

Xi and the Cultural Revolution

Normal classes have stopped, and life for many youths is consumed by rallies and, increasingly, fighting between rival Red Guard groups. Mr. Xi and his siblings fear for the life of their father, who had been seized by Red Guards. “Some said he had committed suicide or disappeared. Rumors abounded, but there was no news. Our family was enveloped in gloom,” Mr. Xi’s brother, Xi Yuanping, later recalled.

But as order broke down, Mr. Xi, like many youths, spent little time in class. Mr. Xi and a friend “would hang out all day,” Ms. Qian said. After fleeing their home, he, his mother and his siblings took refuge at the Central Party School, an academy for officials. “We grew up in a highly abnormal environment,” Li Xiaobing, a classmate at the August 1 School, recalled on a school alumni website.

The purges, zealotry and mass strife that Mao unleashed during the Cultural Revolution left a lasting mark on every Chinese leader who has succeeded him. But Mr. Xi stands out because he is the first party chief from the generation of the Red Guards — the youths who served as Mao’s shock troops — and because he fell so far before beginning his trek to power, from a family in the party elite to an unmoored life as a teenage political pariah.

Some of Mr. Xi’s critics argue that his experiences during the Cultural Revolution inform his authoritarian ways. But the imprint of that time was more complex than that, said Patricia M. Thornton, a professor at Oxford who is researching the Cultural Revolution and its legacy.

Mr. Xi’s generation venerated Mao, she said, but his family suffered in the violence that Mao unleashed, and Mr. Xi’s outlook is rooted in an elitist rejection of that turmoil.

International By JONAH M. KESSEL 3:46 Who Is Xi Jinping?

Continue reading the main story Video

Who Is Xi Jinping?

President Xi Jinping of China arrived in the United States on Tuesday for a state visit at a crucial crossroads in the Sino-American relationship.

By JONAH M. KESSEL on Publish Date September 21, 2015. Photo by Wu Hong/European Pressphoto Agency. Watch in Times Video »

“Xi got to see both sides of that time, which is one reason I think he’s such an interesting character,” she said, “but that’s also why he’s so difficult to read.”

Unlike some youths from elite backgrounds, Mr. Xi did not turn against the party or Mao, but learned to revere strict order and abhor challenges to hierarchy, said Yongyi Song, a historian and librarian in Los Angeles who has long studied the Cultural Revolution.

“He suffered much under Mao,” Mr. Song said, “but I think that actually increased his belief that those who are ‘born red,’ those children of the party elite, earned the right to inherit Mao’s place at the center.”

At the August 1 School, Mr. Xi and other students were expected to be exemplary servants of the socialist revolution. “We took the children to clean out latrines, and they did a really fine job,” a former teacher, Tang Yuhua, said in an interview for the school alumni association. “The children of officials did what they were told.”

Reporter’s Notebook: Xi Jinping’s U.S. Visit

Jane Perlez, The New York Times’s chief diplomatic correspondent, will be following China's president, Xi Jinping, and documenting key moments of his first state visit to the United States.

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