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Xi Jinping began career as cadre in rural HebeiWhy did the well-connected son of a revolutionary leader swap a job in the capital for life as a party cadre in on obscure rural community?Shi Jiangtao23 October 2012Xi Jinping kick-started his political career with a bold move. At the age of 29, Xi turned his back on a life of privilege as a party elder’s son in Beijing to accept a posting 250 kilometres away in an obscure, dusty town in Zhengding county, Hebei province.His father, Xi Zhongxun, an ex-guerilla leader close to Mao Zedong, was at the height of his powers, serving as secretary of the party’s Central Committee secretariat.Under his wing, the younger Xi seemed to have a guaranteed, easy road to success. He had earned a degree in chemical engineering from Tsinghua University and was working as secretary to General Geng Biao, the defence minister at the time.But he struck out on his own, moving to Zhengding in 1982 to work as the county’s deputy party chief. Within a few months, he had risen to the rank of party chief, and three years later was transferred to Xiamen, in Fujian province. Xi would recall his time in rural politics fondly, saying it had laid a solid foundation for his future career.“[Zhengding] is the place that I often miss … it was there where I began to learn how to become a leading cadre,” he said when he revisited the town in 2005. An excerpt of his speech was published in a magazine linked to the county government and was made available online.“I felt so humbled and nervous, as it was for me like a tiger trying to swallow the sky. I may have accumulated a certain amount of valuable knowledge before, but I had little practical experience. I had to learn everything from the very beginning. It was an unusual three years.”His words offer few, if any, clue as to why he gave up the relative comfort of his privileged life to go to the middle of nowhere.Zhengding has a history as a regional political and religious centre spanning over 1,000 years. It is home to many fine archaeological sites, including Buddhist temples and towers built in the Sui and Tang dynasties. But it has largely been bypassed by China’s economic boom. It has emerged into the media spotlight in recent years as the place where the man in line to be the nation’s next leader got his political start.“Everyone is so proud that Xi used to work here, although it was nearly two decades ago,” said Chen Fei, a restaurant owner. “But it’s a pity that his stay happened before he rose to power; obviously we have not benefited much from it.”Jia Yonghui, whose father, the late novelist Jia Dashan, was a friend of Xi, said the future leader did rather well in Zhengding considering his princeling pedigree and lack of experience. Xi had a good reputation in the county, he recalled.“Xi was famous for his willingness to make friends with experts and specialists, such as my father,” Jia said. “He often said it was not that bad for leading officials to admit there were things they did not know as long as they have real experts to count on.”The elder Jia was promoted under Xi to head the county’s cultural bureau in 1982 and they continued their friendship even after Xi’s departure for Fujian.“When my father was critically ill, Xi, then deputy party chief of Fujian, visited him in a Beijing hospital in early 1997. A few weeks later, Xi made a detour to Zhengding on his way back to Fujian and paid his final visit to my father shortly before he died that year,” Jia said.Details about Xi’s years in Zhengding remain sketchy - seemingly deliberately so. Most contemporaries and former government officials were reluctant to talk about him, especially his time in Zhengding. They either declined to be interviewed or said they had been warned against making any comments about Xi.
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