Why are there no biographies of Xi Jinping?

Saturday, April 3rd, 2021

Many people fell for the delusion that China was nominally Communist but sliding inexorably toward greater freedom:

Indeed, there is a growing consensus that this is a country intent on pushing its dictatorial creed in a tussle for global supremacy against Western liberal democracy. It is a nation which has inflicted genocide on Muslim minorities, throttled freedom in Hong Kong, threatened Taiwan, sabre-rattled on borders in the Himalayas, developed a sinister surveillance society and even infiltrated our universities to scoop up their latest research.

All of which makes the lack of curiosity surrounding the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong seem rather strange. As Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a professor of Chinese history, recently asked: “Why are there no biographies of Xi Jinping?”. Their absence is all the more striking when you consider that China’s ruler is not simply far more important than the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has spawned a small library of books; he is also a fascinating figure with a compelling life story.

Lurking behind that calm facade lies a childhood tale that helps cast some light on Xi’s controlling policies and his aggressive nationalism. Bear in mind that it is Xi who turned his nation back towards harsh totalitarianism, ordered his acolytes to ratchet up repression in Xinjiang and broke any pretence of keeping to the handover deal with Britain to protect Hong Kong’s freedoms. He has ditched term limits to retain power, crushed party foes, stifled domestic dissent and enshrined his name in the party constitution, elevating his position and ideology to the status of Chairman Mao. It is hard to disagree with the view of former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd that he is “the most formidable politician of our age”.


Xi, born in 1953, is the son of Xi Zhongxun, a Communist revolutionary hero who was close to Mao and became a vice premier. Although China was riddled with poverty, this prominent family lived in a compound for party chiefs with their own cooks, nannies and drivers. One official biography claims that his parents sought to ensure their children were not spoilt, so he wore clothes handed down from his siblings — including floral shoes from his sisters that were dyed black. His father, meanwhile, was so strict that friends said his treatment of his son bordered on inhuman, and Xi also attended the “CCP aristocracy school” in Beijing infamous for military-style discipline. Any hint of softness, said one classmate, was seen as weakness.

Disaster struck when he was nine. His father fell out with Mao amid party in-fighting, so was sent to work in a factory in central China and his family lost its prized home — although his mother Qi Xin retained her party job in Beijing. Worse came in the 1966 Cultural Revolution, with its brutal purging of senior officials as enemies of the state. His father was beaten, paraded on a truck through jeering crowds and jailed. The family home was ransacked by militants, his mother forced into hard labour on a farm. Xi, a bookish boy, was made to denounce his father and bullied by teachers as the child of a “black gang”, the term for disgraced officials. His older sister eventually killed herself after being “persecuted to death”.

The following year Xi’s school was shut down and turned into an exhibition to showcase the pampered privileges of the reactionary elite. At the age of 14, he was caught by a gang of revolutionary Red Guards, who threatened to execute him before making him read quotations from Mao. Another time, he fled from a meeting attacked by students armed with clubs, who caught and badly beat one of his friends. “I always had a stubborn streak and wouldn’t put up with being bullied,” he claimed later. “I riled the radicals and they blamed me for everything that went wrong.”


Xi himself only evaded jail after Mao, seeking to regain control of spiralling chaos, ordered 30 million young city dwellers into the countryside for “re-education” by peasants. Analysts speculate this difficult period in his teenage years led to Xi’s ability to hide his feelings beneath an impassive surface, along with the development of his fervent desire for stability.


He found it a shock to eat rough peasant food, sleep on flea-ridden blankets and perform hard rural labour. Dozens of others sent to this region died from disease or the tough conditions. Instead Xi developed extraordinary self-discipline: “The knife is sharpened on a stone, people are strengthened in adversity,” he said later.

His loathing of chaos was fuelled later by the collapse of the other major twentieth-century Communist empire. “Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate?” he once asked. “In the end nobody was a real man, nobody came out to resist.”


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    Wokeness, SJW, cancellations, speech suppression, lockdowns…If there is any convergence going on, the West is converging on China’s communist dictatorship.

  2. Gavin Longmuir says:

    We should be careful about putting too much weight on the “great man” school of history. President Xi is setting a particular direction, but he has lots of loyal followers in China’s bureaucracy faithfully putting his plans into action. Contrast that with President Trump, whose plans were thwarted at nearly every turn by a disloyal Deep State bureaucracy. Leaders need folllowers!

    There is also the issue of whether President Xi just happens to be the lucky inheritor of past successes — successes which his own plans may end up undermining. A very interesting perspective on this can be seen in a recent article by Naughton:


    “Between 1978 and about 2005, China’s government steadily retreated from its initially all-encompassing control of the economy, growth accelerated, and comprehensive upgrading took place.

    New policies began to be initiated in 2006, starting slow and then accelerating. From 2009 through 2020, the government has strongly re-engaged in direct economic intervention, all while the economy has been steadily slowing …”

  3. VXXC says:

    Xi is a politician who understands politics is power, not money or prosperity, and will brook no challenge to the state or anyone bigger than the Party, or Xi — as Jack Ma discovered.

    CCP aristocrat: makes sense. Loves order, hates Chaos. He’s seen chaos; of course he dislikes chaos. Loves order; this makes him Chinese fer shure.

    Doesn’t want democracy; at present and in the end neither did we Americans, so…? What’s your point here?

  4. Gavin Longmuir says:

    VXXC: “Doesn’t want democracy; at present and in the end neither did we Americans, so….”

    Good point. As far as anyone can tell, up & comers in the Chinese Communist Party are chosen by a tiny subset of the Chinese people in the Party. They don’t chose tomorrow’s high-flyers by cage matches or any other such system. We could call what the CCP does as “democracy with an extremely restricted suffrage”.

    Compare & contrast that with “democracy” in the US, where the soon-to-be president is a woman who could not even win a primary election among the very small group of active Democrat Party members. She was chosen in some smoke-filled room in a process which was entirely non-transparent. That she was then “elected” by fraud is merely icing on the cake.

    Democracy in the West, as in China, does not mean what the dictionary says. Instead, we both have fascism. The only difference is that the Chinese version of fascism currently works to improve the lives of the majority of Chinese citizens. That is very painful to admit, but we have to start with reality.

  5. VXXC says:

    “The only difference is that the Chinese version of fascism currently works to improve the lives of the majority of Chinese citizens.”

    That’s because the Chinese government doesn’t hate the Han. The American government does hate the Americans, wants to ‘erase’ them in fact.

  6. Jim says:

    America and China are run, ultimately, by the same people. America puts up some resistance because there is a relatively powerful and anomalously competent dissenting contingent in certain top-secret corners. Nevertheless, they have few and weak direct levers over the greater part of the till of the civilization. China is being boosted as the Soviet Union was boosted, with the intent to dissolve America as the Soviet Union was dissolved: cascading bankruptcy. Then China will be gradually let down as the post-humanist AI/mRNA technologies erupt into the world-society.

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