By: Carrie Gracie China editor
As a teenager living under Chairman Mao’s rule, China’s President Xi Jinping spent years living
in a countryside cave. It is possibly the most positive chapter of his life – but it is a story being gently eroded by the paranoia of the country’s propaganda department.
I was looking forward to seeing the cave where China’s president grew up but as our van skimmed along behind the sleek black sedan, I was nervous too. The man from the propaganda department already had an anxious sheen about him. I foresaw trouble.
President Xi is building a personality cult. The last thing the strongman with the perfect creation myth needs is the BBC puncturing it. So pity that local propaganda chief in the car ahead.
In general the president’s spin doctors do a very slick job of presenting him as a man of the people. He tours leaky back alley homes, ducking through washing lines and wearing no face mask – the message that this is a leader prepared to breathe the same polluted air as you. He talks to his public in earthy prose, telling students that life is like a shirt with buttons where you have to get the first few right or the rest will all go wrong. He queues up in an ordinary dumpling shop for lunch and pays for his own meal. Message – he is neither greedy nor showy.
Image copyright Getty Images
It’s all clever political signalling of course. Behind the smile, Xi Jinping is a ruthless operator. You don’t rise to the top of the Chinese communist party without being a consummate political player and Mr Xi has spent a lifetime playing.
But the Sedan in front was now stopping at a police barrier. We’d arrived at the heart of the president’s creation myth. Nearly five decades ago, the 15-year-old Xi fled from the chaos of the capital to this bleak and breathtaking landscape of yellow canyons, caves and mountains. The contrast with life in Beijing must have been even more extreme in those days. [FULL STORY]