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Xi Jinping

From manual labour to running China

Xi Jinping at a G20 summit in Germany, 2017. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Xi Jinping holds much of the world’s fate in his hands. But how many people know anything about the Chinese president’s family life? As Michael Sheridan explains in this Stories of Our Times podcast, Xi had an unsettled childhood. He was born into China’s red aristocracy in 1953, and initially lived in an elite leadership compound in Beijing. But when his father was sent to work in a factory during one of Mao’s purges, Xi ended up doing gruelling manual labour in the countryside.

By 1979 the family were back in favour and Xi married his first wife, Ke Xiaoming, daughter of the Chinese ambassador to Britain. It didn’t last long: he was looking for a traditional wife and she had career ambitions. Her friends spread rumours that he rarely read a book, often didn’t brush his teeth and bathed infrequently, like a peasant. They divorced, and in 1987 Xi married Peng Liyuan, a famous singer who performed in uniform for the People’s Liberation Army after the Tiananmen Square massacre.

The couple had one child, Mingze, who attended Harvard between 2010 and 2014 under a false name. She went to a series of non-compulsory lectures on the “most sensitive aspects of Chinese politics”, and on graduating told friends she was returning to China with a heavy heart. Indeed, she enjoyed her time so much she convinced her father to allow her to return – she’s back there now, studying for a postgraduate degree.

Listen to the podcast here.

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