China heir apparent Xi raised by elite, steeled by turmoil

Wed Nov 7, 2012 1:14pm EST
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By Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) - Three years ago in Mexico, China's president-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, provided a rare glimpse of a future leader who was born into a revolutionary aristocracy and came of age in the tumult of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution.

Xi usually sports the dark suit and cautious public mask that is the uniform of China's Communist Party leadership. But in Mexico, he dropped his guard in a steely defense of his country against criticism from abroad.

"In the midst of international financial turmoil, China was still able to solve the problem of feeding its 1.3 billion people, and that was already our greatest contribution to humankind," he said in comments that soon drew applause from Chinese Internet users.

"Some foreigners with full bellies and nothing better to do engage in finger-pointing at us," he went on. "First, China does not export revolution; second, it does not export famine and poverty; and third, it does not mess around with you. So what else is there to say?"

Xi's mask will be back in place on Thursday when he takes his place at the front of the stage in Beijing's cavernous Great Hall of the People at the opening of a key congress at which he will assume the mantle of party boss from President Hu Jintao.

Xi, 59, is the son of reformist former vice premier and parliament vice-chairman Xi Zhongxun, making him a "princeling", one of the privileged sons and daughters of China's incumbent, retired or late leaders.

He grew up among the party elite and then watched his father purged from power before the Cultural Revolution, when Xi himself spent years in the poverty-stricken countryside before scrambling to university and then power.

Considered a cautious reformer, having spent time in top positions in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces, both at the forefront of China's economic reforms, Xi has long been marked out as the likely successor to Hu.   Continued...

A semi-finished portrait of incoming Chinese leader Xi Jinping by Chinese painter Luo Jianhui displayed in his studio in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou November 1, 2012. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu