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Rejected for Communist Party membership nine times owing to his father’s political problems, Mr. Xi finally gained entry in 1974 and then attended the elite Tsinghua University.

He would later return to Liangjiahe only once, in 1992, when he gave an alarm clock to each household, Mr. Shi said.

Mr. Xi went on to earn a chemistry degree, by which time Mao had died and his father been restored to office.

Mr. Xi next secured a plum position as secretary to Defense Minister Geng Biao, one of his father’s old comrades.

But Mr. Xi took the unusual step three years later of jumping to a lowly post in rural Hebei province, because he wanted to “struggle, work hard, and really take on something big,” Mr. Xi told Elite Youth magazine’s now-deceased editor Yang Xiaohuai.

Mr. Xi landed in the rural town of Zhengding, where people traveled by horse cart.

While there, he made the most of state broadcaster China Central Television’s plans to film an adaptation of the classical Chinese novel “Dream of Red Mansions.”

Hoping to create a tourist attraction, Mr. Xi built a full-scale reproduction of the sprawling estate at the heart of the tale.

“You could tell Xi was thinking ahead. By doing this, he created lots of jobs and lots of revenue for Zhengding back when there was very little here,” said Liang Qiang, a senior caretaker at the film set, which still draws tourists.