Insights from Hong Kong

China’s Leaders Share Personal Photographs

In China on 27 December 2012 at 11:20 AM

Xi Jinping meets villagers in 1983, when he was Communist Party secretary of Zhengding county.

When he took to the stage at the Communist Party National Congress in November Xi Jinping made history. Of course this was only the second peaceful transition of power in the history of China. But more importantly Xi did the unthinkable. He apologised for running late. And he smiled.

Gone are the days of stern leaders. Now China’s leaders have begun smiling and using everyday language. In the week after his elevation to leader of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping took a stroll through a park in Shenzhen. And he didn’t have the park evacuated. Everyday citizens were able to shake his hand. A few brazen Hong Kong journalists shouted out questions that Xi answered.

This “charm offensive” continued this week with Xinhua State News Agency releasing a series of personal photographs every day this week. These show Xi Jinping as a young party manager conducting business in rural villages (above). It also includes a lengthy profile article in China Daily dated 25 December 2012 – Christmas Day.

One more photograph shows Xi Jinping walking with his family (below). This photograph showcases three famous people. Xi Jinping is at the rear pushing his father. That man is Xi Zhongxun who was a communist revolutionary and close ally of Mao Zedong – China’s first Communist leader and patriarch of the nation. Accompanying the two men is Peng Liyuan, the wife of Xi Jinping and one of China’s best-known folk singers.

Xi Jinping at right rear, pushing his father Xi Zhongxun in a wheelchair. His wife and children accompany.

In many ways Xi Jinping’s wife is better known to ordinary Chinese. Peng Liyuan appeared each New Year’s Day on CCTV’s gala broadcast (note this is for Chinese New Year, not Western New Year). This is a tradition in China and has 700 million viewers. It is the most widely watched television show in the world. That’s more people than the combined populations of America, Canada, Australia, England, South Africa and Ireland (with a spare 223 million on top).

These personal photographs are gaining widespread circulation in China and around the world. Newspapers, wire services and blogs are profiling these happy snaps with headlines like “The Xi Jinping that you don’t know“.

Altogether these images add a new dimension to China’s leadership. They showcase family men and aspiring careerists. They are meant to make the leaders more approachable and more familiar. To me, this is another sign of China’s snail-like progress towards a more open society. Who knows. One day these men might stand for election. Until then it’s just nice to see them as human.

Xi Jinping with his daughter

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