Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Vague profile of Xi Jinping

This morning's New York Times has a profile of Xi's experiences during the Cultural Revolution. I don't think it tells us as much as it claims to.

Cultural Revolution Shaped Xi Jinping, From Schoolboy to Survivor
When the pandemonium of the Cultural Revolution erupted, he was a slight, softly spoken 13-year-old who loved classical Chinese poetry…

His father, a senior Communist Party official who had been purged a few years earlier, was seized and repeatedly beaten. Student militants ransacked his family’s home, forcing them to flee, and one of his sisters died in the mayhem. Paraded before a crowd as an enemy of the revolution and denounced by his own mother, the future president of China was on the edge of being thrown into a prison for delinquent children of the party elite…

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 youth 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…

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…

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