Xi Jinping is, undoubtedly, China’s most formidable leader in decades. Since becoming president in 2013, he’s consolidated power to a level his last two predecessors could only have imagined. Last year he declared himself the “core” of the ruling Communist Party, and he heads a dozen party agencies controlling everything from economic reforms to state security.
Xi is set to start his second five-year term with the party congress meeting this fall. In the past few months, China’s propaganda machines have been busy churning out videos crafting his personal image. The latest installments, receiving some of the heaviest promotion in years, arrived this week in a series of slick segments looking back at Xi’s three-decade career.
On March 19 state broadcaster CCTV aired the first of them, in a three-part series entitled Beginner’s Mind. It features Xi’s days living and working in rural areas throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Official newswire Xinhua has since followed suit and released two segments about Xi’s accomplishments in his first tenure. There might be more clips in the coming days.
The videos typically have a length of six to seven minutes, with footage of past news reports and Xi’s interviews before he became president. Since their release, they’ve been widely shared on state media outlets, news portals, and social networks such as Weibo and WeChat.
The first episode (all videos in Chinese) of Beginner’s Mind features a teenage Xi doing farm work in the remote village of Liangjiahe, in northern China, during the Cultural Revolution. In 1969, a 15-year-old Xi was sent there as part of Mao Zedong’s program forcing city youth to undergo reeducation in the countryside. He spent seven years in the area.
The video opens with a 1995 interview clip of Xi talking about his experiences cutting grass and tending sheep with local farmers. “I’d carry 200 jin of wheat on a 10 li mountain road without even switching shoulders,” he says. Two hundred jin is 100 kg (about 220 pounds) and 10 li equals 5 km (about 3 miles)—Xi’s fabled strength has drawn some sarcasm on the internet, as rounded up China Digital Times.
CCTV interviewed two farmers, now in their sixties, about their days working with the future president. Xi once shoveled ice barefoot when building a dam, one said. The other recalled Xi giving him a sewing kit made by his mother as a farewell gift. The video then cuts to an interview in which Xi says he developed a full understanding of the Chinese people and society during those seven years.
The video ends with a Xi soundbite from his first speech as party boss, in 2012: “People’s yearning for a good and beautiful life is the goal for us to strive for.”
Using the same storytelling techniques, the later segments follow Xi’s career path as a local party official in the 1980s. One explains how Xi attracted top talent from across the nation to a poor county near Beijing. Another focuses on him overseeing the demolition of illegal houses owned by government employees in a small city in southern Fujiang province.
How will Xi himself frame his legacy at the gathering this fall? One recent news segment on CCTV might offer clues, notes David Bandurski, a researcher at the University of Hong Kong’s China Media Project. The state broadcaster used the phrase “Xi Jinping’s governing concepts” for the first time. That coinage is a solid candidate, Bandurski reckons, for Xi’s “banner term” at the upcoming proceedings.