Timeline of Xi Jinping’s rise as China’s leader-for-life

Below are major events in President Xi Jinping’s rise as China’s potential leader-for-life as the ceremonial legislature prepares to amend the constitution to remove presidential term limits.

1953 — Xi Jinping is born the second son of Xi Zhongxun, a Communist Party associate of People’s Republic founder Mao Zedong who would go on to serve as a vice premier and be persecuted during Mao’s political campaigns. Xi Zhongxun’s political resurrection following Mao’s 1976 death helped pave the way for his son’s entry into provincial leadership positions.

1975 — Xi enters prestigious Tsinghua University, leaving his job as Communist Party branch secretary for the rural work unit to which he had been assigned as an “educated youth” during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution. Xi credits the experience of working with hardscrabble farmers with toughening him up for challenges ahead.

1979 — Xi takes a position in the military as secretary to the secretary general of the Central Military Commission, the powerful body controlling the armed forces that he would one day lead. Xi stands out from most other top leaders for having served in uniform, and has cultivated a formidable power base in the military that burnishes his credentials as a commander of the nation’s future and patriot-in-chief.

1982 — Xi is made deputy party secretary of Baoding, a dusty, nondescript rural county several hours southwest of Beijing. It is the first of a series of increasingly provincial postings, mainly in the economically dynamic east, that would climax with his appointment in 2007 as the most powerful official in the financial hub of Shanghai.

1987 — Xi marries Peng Liyuan, a singer with the People’s Liberation Arts troupe who was a familiar face to television audiences for her soulful renderings of patriotic folk songs. The presence by his side of Peng, who was the more famous of the two at the time of their marriage, helped lift Xi’s profile at a time when he was one of thousands of mid-level cadres toiling away in the provinces. She would be a major asset once he took the presidency, adding a glamor quotient that helped attract positive publicity to his overseas travels.

1990s — Starting from the 1980s and into the 2000s, Xi held a series of party, government and military positions, largely in the eastern coastal province of Fujian facing Taiwan, which was in the forefront of the mainland’s economic reforms attracting foreign investment to the manufacturing industry. Xi eventually rises to become governor of Fujian, before leaving to head the neighboring province of Zhejiang and eventually, Shanghai.

2007 — Xi is elevated to the party’s all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, identifying him as the chosen successor to party leader Hu Jintao. The move comes as a surprise to some, setting a pattern of swift, unexpected maneuvers by Xi culminating with late last month’s stunning announcement about term limits.

2012 — Xi is named party secretary general and chairman of the party commission overseeing the military. Over the next several months, Xi also accumulates the titles of president and head of the government commissions overseeing the military, to which he adds a raft of other titles as the head of various party small groups dealing with issues from the economy to national security.

2016 — The party bestows on Xi the wholly ceremonial yet highly significant title of “core” of the fifth generation of Chinese leaders. That elevates Xi in status above Hu, whose China Youth League faction Xi is rapidly dismantling, leaving the increasingly marginalized Premier Li Keqiang as Hu’s sole remaining ally in the Politburo Standing Committee.

2017 — At a twice-a-decade party congress, Xi sees his personal political philosophy — “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a New Era” — entered into the party constitution alongside those of his predecessors. Observers note that unlike his previous two predecessors, Xi is identified with his philosophy by name, placing him level with Mao and the revered reformist Deng Xiaoping.

2018 — The ceremonial legislature, the National People’s Congress, prepares to amend China’s constitution to remove the previous limit of two consecutive five-year terms from the presidency and vice presidency. The amendment also calls for inserting Xi’s personal political philosophy into the preamble of the national constitution. With the changes expected to pass near unanimously, nothing appears to now stand between Xi and remaining China’s top leader indefinitely.

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