In the past few days, Xinhua News, the official voice of the Chinese government, has published a series of profile reports of the members of China’s new Politburo, the highest decision-making body in the country. The move is seen by many as another indication that Xi and China’s new leadership may have a very different management style from their predecessors: the robotic Hu and the “grandpa” Wen who almost never appeared in public with his wife.
Xi, his father in wheelchair, his daughter and his celebrity singer wife
These reports are very similar in formality – they playback the life stories of the Politburo members to showcase that they, too, like any other ordinary Chinese people, went through hardship, made sacrifices and worked hard for their dreams. This is not the first time when the Chinese media tried to give the country’s officials a human touch. But seldom before did China’s official media openly discuss the “human side” of its leaders – photos of top officials in work settings are everywhere but ones in family settings are rare, if any at all. The personal lives of China’s top leaders, especially after they take power, have always been hidden behind a veil of secrecy. The recent reports of Xinhua , however, made many people believe that a new era has come. The difference? A handful photos of Xi Jinping, China’s new leader, in his early years, solo and with family, including his celebrity singer wife Peng Liyuan. In a Weibo post titled “The Xi Jinping that you don’t know,” People’s Daily thus summarized the life of the country’s new boss:
“1. He graduated from Tsinghua University (top technology and engineering university in China); 2. He was put into jail during the Culture Revolution; 3. He’s good at farming; 4. He worked from a village cadre all the way to Party Secretary; 5. His pen name is Zhe Qin; 6. He built Rongguo Masion in Hebei province; 7. He fell in love with Peng Liyuan at first sight; 8. He is a soccer fan and stays up late to watch soccer games; 9. His daughter’s name is Xi Mingze, which means to be a clean and innocent person.”
Following special profile reports take a similar route and present “the Li Keqiang (new Politburo member) that you don’t know,” “the Liu Yunshan (new Politburo member) that you don’t know,” and so on so forth. But those reports failed to make waves as big as the first one on Xi. After all, what can possibly beat a picture of young Xi riding a bike with his daughter sitting on the back, or a smiling Xi posing with his celebrity singer wife in front of a tourist site.
Xi: a husband and father
If the objective was to tell the Chinese people that their new leaders are “from the people and for the people,” these reports are no doubt successful. Judging from netizens’ responses, the release of Xi’s family-life photos is definitely a smart move. 五岳散人, popular liberal intellectual and social critic in China, commented: “To be honest, the latest special reports from the official media on the new Politburo must be planned by public relation experts, from idea to execution. Of course, such reports won’t be possible without the cooperation of these officials. The human touch is precious.”
Many others even went further and concluded that such special profile reports may be the start of a new era in China’s political life. Netizen 青衣刀笔吏 commented: “No more blind worship, officials are back on earth. This is an indication that China is shifting from one-man rule to elite rule.” 幽嗅迷迭香 was even more optimistic: “I see the dawn of China’s freedom and democracy.”
Of course, it’s not all rosy. 车海刚, vice chief editor of China Ecomonic Times, saw the move as a start and a start only: “For China to transform into a modern nation-state, China’s officials have to evolve, from Gods, to saints, to human beings, and then to human beings with constraints. These special profile reports have positive effects by making the images of officials transparent. But this is far from enough. We are still at the first two stages and the transition is still top-down. We need to allow free bottom-up discussions.” 中青报曹林 from China Youth Daily shared similar thoughts: “On the surface, Xinhua is singing a song of praise by presenting Xi’s personal life. But it is also to disclose the situations of his family and his child to the public. It’s a noteworthy sign of reform. China’s top decision makers are taking actions [to reform].” 王冉, CEO of China eCapital, pointed out the key next step: “A reform is not a true reform until it is built into the system.”
More pictures of younger Xi