- Associated Press - Thursday, October 25, 2012

LIANGJIAHE, China — The next leader of China spent much of his youth living in a dug-out cave.

Xi Jinping’s seven years in this remote northern community meant toiling alongside rural villagers by day and sleeping on bricks by night, in stark contrast to his pampered early years in Beijing.

He was born into the communist elite, but after his father fell out of favor with Mao Zedong — and before his later rehabilitation — the younger Xi was sent to a rural hinterland to learn peasant virtues at age 15. The Liangjiahe years are among the scant details known about Mr. Xi’s life and personality, partly because he himself chronicled them as a formative experience.

They are part of the vague picture of a man who has drawn little attention during much of his political career but now is poised to become ruling-party chief next month and president next year of an increasingly assertive China.

What is clear is that Mr. Xi has excelled at quietly rising through the ranks by making the most of two facets: He has an elite, educated background with links to communist China’s founding fathers that are a crucial advantage in the country’s politics, and at the same time he has cultivated a common-man mystique that helps him appeal to a broad constituency.

He even gave up a promising Beijing post in his late 20s to go back out to the countryside.

He did not at first come willingly, however, to Liangjiahe, a tiny community of cave dwellings dug into arid hills and fronted by dried mud walls with wooden lattice entryways. He tried to escape and was detained.

Villagers remember a tall bookworm who eventually earned their respect.

“He was always very sincere and worked hard alongside us. He was also a big reader of really thick books,” said Shi Chunyang, then a friend of Mr. Xi’s and now a local official.

A man for his times

It is in the nature of China’s politics that relatively little is known about Mr. Xi’s policy leanings. He is not associated with any bold reforms.

Aspiring officials get promoted by encouraging economic growth, tamping down social unrest and toeing the line set by Beijing, not by charismatic displays of initiative.

Mr. Xi’s resume in provincial posts suggest he is open to private industry and some administrative reforms as long as they don’t jeopardize the Communist Party’s monopoly on power.

He likes Hollywood flicks about World War II, and has a daughter at Harvard University under an assumed name, though he has signaled he may be a staunch Chinese nationalist.

Tall, heavyset and married to a popular folk singer in the military, Mr. Xi is at ease in groups, in contrast to China’s typically stiff and aloof leaders, such as current President Hu Jintao.

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