Xi Jinping is the current General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CCP) and President of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). As one of only three individuals to have their name enshrined in the PRC’s constitution, Xi s arguably the most influential leader of China in decades.
Mr. Jinping was born in 1953 to affluent and respected parents. Xi Zhongxun, his father, was one of the Chinese Communist Party's founding members, a vice-premier, and close friend of Mao Zedong. Despite having held high positions and maintaining close relationships with powerful officials, Zhongxun fell out of favor with Mao and was sent to work in a factory in Henan.
In 1966, Xi Jinping’s education was cut short when universities across the nation were closed during the Cultural Revolution. Soon, the Xi family began to be targeted as an enemy of the people. In 1967, a student militia raided the Xi family home, causing thousands of dollars in damage and breaking family heirlooms. Less than a month later, Mr. Jinping’s sister, Xi Heping, committed suicide after being pressured and bullied by opponents and the party. Soon after, Xi would see his mother forced by officials to publicly denounce his father as a traitor to the state.
In 1969, Xi Jinping was sent to China’s desolate province of Shaanxi to work as a manual laborer. While there, he was assigned to work as a town’s party secretary. Within three months, Xi grew disillusioned with the position and snuck back into Beijing. Although he was able to enjoy his freedom for a short period of time, he was arrested during a state crackdown on hard-labor deserters. As punishment for his dereliction of duty, he was sent to a work camp to dig irrigation ditches.
RISE TO POWER
In 1971, the future leader of China was presented with an opportunity to escape a dire situation. After befriending a local strongman, Xi joined the local chapter of the Community Youth League of China (CYL). Similar to the American Boy Scouts, the CYL's mission was preparing the PRC’s next generation of leaders and was managed by the Chinese Communist Party. In 1972, more fortune befell the young man when he was reunited with his father at the behest of Premier Zhou Enlai. With normalcy somewhat restored, Xi entered Tsinghua University in Beijing to study chemical engineering.
In 1974, Xi official became a member of the Communist Party of China. He received his first posting in 1974 as a branch secretary, but was forced to put his advancement on hold while attending university. After his graduation in 1979, Xi became a secretary for Vice Premier Geng Viao, the secretary-general of the all powerful Central Military Commission (CMC). This transformative experience not only taught Xi about the People’s Liberation Army and its issues, but about the intricacies of operating within the CCP.
Following the normalization of relations between the United States and the People’s Republic in 1979, Xi traveled to the United States as part of a Chinese delegation purportedly studying agriculture strategies. While on the trip, Xi had the opportunity to stay in the home of an American family in Muscatine, Iowa. Although discussion between the two sides were difficult (Xi and the family had to speak through a translator), the experience reportedly left a lasting impression of the United States on Xi.
Always seeking to advance his reputation and prestige within the party, Xi shrewdly resigned from CMC in 1982. Instead of remaining in Beijing, he requested a deputy secretary position in China’s province of Hebei. Although the province has many mega-cities, Hebei is also known for its jagged terrain and unforgiving weather. By vying for a more difficult position outside of Beijing instead of a comfortable party job, Xi garnered much praise and admiration from high party officials. Mr. Jinping would remain in this post until 1985, when he become the vice mayor of Xiamen, Fujian.
While on assignment in Xiamen, Xi met Peng Liyuan, a well-known and respected Chinese folksinger. After being introduced by friends, their relationship slowly developed into a romantic one. In 1987, after obtaining the required parental consent, they married.
Following the marriage, Xi’s good fortunes continued. By 1995, he had worked his way to the post of deputy provincial party secretary, and by 1999, the governorship of Fujian. From his tenure in Fujian, we begin to see Xi’s policy objectives. Top on his agenda was expanding trade with Taiwan, which lay just across the straight. Another topic commonly dealt with by the young governor was environmental conservation, and the growing pollution situation as a result of economic advancement. He held the governorship of Fujian until 2002, when he became the governor and party secretary of Zhejiang. The same year, he became a full member of the 16th Central Committee and thus a minor national figure. While in Zhejiang, Xi took on rampant corruption that crippled the local administration ability to govern. He also sought to improve infrastructure for the local population and promote industrial development.
In 2007, the CCP turned to Mr. Jinping for a helping hand. Shanghai’s party secretary had been dipping his hand into the local population’s pension fund, and proved quite sloppy in covering his tracks. Xi was quickly transferred to the city and given the party secretary position for seven months. In this highly public and envied position, he effectively rooted out corruption and strictly followed the party line.
In late 2007, Xi was rewarded for his loyalty to the party with a position on the highly respected Politburo Standing Committee, the most powerful decision making body in the CCP. This position not only fermented Mr. Jinping’s position within the party, but also within China. He was now on a very short list of likely successors to be General Secretary, and also had the ability to influence high-level policy discussions. Within a year, Jinping's status was further elevated when he became the Vice President of China. While in the position, Xi took a special interest in developing trade relationships with foreign states and on improving pollution levels within the People’s Republic.
In 2010, Xi went full circle and was named the Vice Chairmen of the Central Military Commission (CMC). Less than two years later, in November 2012, Xi Jinping would become the most powerful man in China. At the Communist Party's 18th Congress, Xi became the General Secretary and Chairman of the CMC, thus wielding all political and military power inside the PRC. In March of 2013, Xi became the leader of the state after being elected President of China by the National People’s Congress.
Upon taking the seat of power, Xi Jinping sought to transform China's policy at home and abroad.
Mr Jinping’s main objective at the start of his tenure was the professionalization of the Chinese Communist Party and state government. This was made manifest in the form of a major anti-corruption crackdown in the months following his inauguration. This campaign quickly made Xi powerful enemies, including former members of the Central Military Commission, Politburo Standing Committee, and state security agencies. However, Xi persisted. Within the first two years of the campaign alone, nearly 200,000 low-ranking officials of the CCP received warnings, fines, and demotions. An unknown amount of individuals have seen their lives upended by dismissals or forced resignations.
The anti-corruption campaign has also been used to rid the General Secretary of political rivals. Some analysts and exiles have claimed that it is simply a political purge on a scale not seen since the Cultural Revolution, with enforcers believing themselves above the law and unafraid to target innocent individuals.
Since 1979, the People's Republic of China has enjoyed unprecedented levels of economic growth. For the past 40 years, China's real gross domestic product (GDP) has grown at an annual rate of nearly 10%. Xi did not start this trend, but he certainly helped it along. By increasing the status of the renminbi (RMB), developing trade partnerships though the Belt and Road Initiative, and making it easier for banks to issue loans, Xi has developed China's middle class and industrial sector into a force to be reckoned with.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, may change that trend. Official government numbers from April of 2020 broadcast a nearly 6.8% decline in GDP for the first quarter of the year, the first ever contraction since China started reporting quarterly GDP data in 1992. Of course, a deep contraction isn't surprising given the massive quarantine and lockdown implemented to contain the deadly virus. More concerning for the Chinese Communist Party, however, is the rate at which countries are shifting their supply chains out of China.
On April 8, 2020, the Intelligence Ledger reported that the Japanese government was seeking to move its manufactures supply chains out of the People's Republic. It allocated nearly $2.2 billion of the governments economic stimulus package to help firms move production out of China to Japan, and 23.5 trillion yen is intended to help those relocating to stronger allies of Japan. Such moves are being considered by countries as diverse as the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, and France.
Sensing this growing chill, Xi has sought to flex Chinese economic muscle in order to force these states into remaining trading partners, namely Australia. He has also called for the PRC to develop a greater self-reliance on domestic goods and services.
The PRC controls territory roughly equivalent in size to that of the United States of America. Yet, with nearly 1.3 billion people, its population is over four times as large. Sixty percent of the population lives in only 24% of the country, and most of those live on China’s expansive coast. The other 74% of China is populated by what the Chinese government calls, “national minorities.” The national minorities are composed of Tibetans and Kazakhs, with Uyghurs and other muslim groups in the relatively rebellious region of Xinjiang. These minorities have strained relations with the government in Beijing, and have close ties with groups in other countries or unofficial relations with other states. China views the preservation of order in Tibet and Xinjiang as vital to its national security.
Xinjiang is home to Uyghuri separatists who have engaged in acts of protest, both peaceful and violent, to promote independence. In Tibet, most of the population is loyal to the Dalai Lama, a monk who is in exile and believes in an autonomous state. He has been charged by the PRC with promoting Tibetan independence, and thus has been labeled a traitor. Most recently, the mass protests in Hong Kong have proven extremely disconcerting to the government in Beijing. The uprisings against the central government began in June 2019, when activists called attention to the central governments increasing interference in city affairs. They continued throughout the year, evolving into a movement pushing for democratic reforms within Hong Kong itself and throughout greater China.
Xi Jinping has squashed these movements with great efficiency. In May of 2014, the world watched in silence as Beijing used threats of terrorism as a pretext to mercilessly crackdown on members of minority communities in Xinjiang. It is believed that as many as 900,000 Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other minorities have been sent to 're-education camps' since the start of the de facto anti-minority campaign.
In reality, these are not places of learning. Inmates are forced by the CCP and the government of the PRC to undergo relentless political indoctrination, endless torture, and repeated periods of food deprivation. Furthermore, and perhaps most hurtful to these minorities, is the denial of religious and cultural freedom. Deaths of the infirm, elderly, and outspoken are commonly reported, although the exact number of those killed remains unknown.
In Hong Kong, Xi has also shown a blatant disregard for international agreements. A British Colony and Dependent Territory of the United Kingdom until 1997, the city was handed back over to Beijing after London obtained guarantees that the city's freedoms, system, and laws would be protected until the year 2047. It is clear, however, that Mr. Jinping has not honored the terms of the pact. Since entering power, reports of judicial tampering have grown and Chinese intelligence operations more common.
Recently, Xi supported the passage of a national security law that would erode Hong Kong's autonomy and bring the city under its control during the annual meeting of the National People's Congress (NPC). The exact structure of the statue has been shrouded in secrecy by Chinese officials. In fact, the only public statement made by the Chinese government in regards to the legislation was by Stanley Ng, head of the NPC, who declared the law outlaws secession, attempts to subvert state power, foreign interference in city affairs, and terrorism. In the view of the CCP and Chinese government, tighter control over Hong Kong is necessary to preserve domestic order and to protect the state from hostile external forces.
While details regarding the new law are hard to come by, one can begin to piece together what it may look like from previous attempts by Beijing to curb opposition in the city. Censorship of the press, searches without warrants, and the destruction of the city's free and independent judiciary are undoubtedly included. Furthermore, Chinese law requires any company operating within China must do their most to help the security state. In 2014, China instituted the Counter-Espionage Law, which states, "when the state security organ investigates and understands the situation of espionage and collects relevant evidence, the relevant organizations and individuals shall provide it truthfully and may not refuse."
The 2017 National Intelligence Law went further, requiring, "any organization or citizen shall support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work in accordance with the law." Such forced cooperation would quickly erode the city's preeminent position as the home for western businesses in China.
Most importantly, the law empowers Beijing to legally bring the hammer down on Hong Kong's protestors who have been directly challenging the CCP's leadership.
Xi Jinping has also sought to use censorship in his quest to ensure internal order. In July of 2012, the CCP released Document No. 9. The internal memo warns of seven dangerous values: constitutional democracy, pro-market neoliberalism, independent media, individual rights, universal values, historical nihilism, and criticism of socialism. The release or publication of information that deals with these topics is banned in stores, social media, television, and radio.
Since taking power in 2012, Xi has overseen a massive modernization and reorganization of the People's Liberation Army. For more information, click here.
Although Xi Jinping was born in Beijing in 1953 to affluent parents, he did not have an easy life. His father was Xi Zhongxun, one of the Chinese Communist Party's founding members, a vice-premier, and close friend of Chairman Mao. In 1962, however, his family was among the victims impacted why the Cultural Revolution. Xi's father was imprisoned for crimes against the state, while the nine year old boy was sent to the countryside for "re-education."
This did not turn Mr. Xi against the CCP. Instead, he worked his way to the top of the organization. Today, he is President of the People's Republic of China and General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. He is one of only three individuals to have their name enshrined in the PRC's constitution, and is arguably the most influential leader of the state in decades.
So, is he simply a man who made the best of a bad situation, or an evil that must be stopped? We'll leave that for you to decide.