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June 16, 2019

‘The Road to Leadership: Xi Jinping’


June 16, 2019

Group Captain (r) Sultan M Hali’s ‘The Road to Leadership: Xi Jinping-From Educated Farm Boy to Paramount Leader of China’, is a tribute to President Xi Jinping in a painstakingly researched chronicle of the struggles of a young farm boy who rode the currents of adversity and humble existence to become a formidable statesman at the world stage.

The book depicts the dedication and hard work of an author who understands China and has diligently delved deep into the background of President Xi Jinping and presented it to the world.

Hali’s passion for China and respect for its leadership dates back to 1974 when he first started visiting the country as an aircrew. His trips to China continued till 1987; but he returned after a gap of 23 years in 2010 as a journalist. That is when I first met him at Beijing. He was part of a select media group, invited by the Chinese Communist Party for the commemoration of sixty years of Sino-Pak bilateral ties.

This book on President Xi Jinping is very timely because the world wants to understand the paramount leader of China, who has become an international statesman, committed to take China to the new heights as a developed country and eradicate poverty from China.

Hali’s book provides glimpses of Xi Jinping’s formative years, events that helped shape his character, personality and rise in the cadre of the Communist Party of China. The author has dilated on how Xi Jinping, in his early years learnt the dignity of labour, lived in a cave dwelling with villagers, slept on a ‘kang’, a traditional Chinese bed made of bricks lined with straw and covered with a coarse blanket. In the Shaanxi countryside, he had to do all sorts of harsh labor, such as carrying manure, hauling a coal cart, farming and building water tanks.

Hali informs us that from the very beginning the young Xi Jinping had endeared himself to his peers and elders. In the chapter ‘Early Life and Education’, the author writes “Tilling the soil taught him the honest virtues of labour and whetted his skills for hard work. By gaining their trust, he was elected village party chief. He led the farmers to reinforce the riverbank in a bid to prevent erosion, organised a small cooperative of blacksmiths in the village, and built a methane tank, the first in landlocked Shaanxi. He was once awarded a motorised tricycle after being named a ‘model educated youth.’ However, he exchanged the tricycle for a walking tractor, flour milling machine and farm tools to benefit the villagers.”

It is remarkable that Xi Jinping, who was initially self-taught, went on to receive a Doctorate in Law (LLD). Xi is so far the only Chinese president with a PhD. What an ascent for a farm boy!

The writer talks of the exponential development of President Xi Jinping’s career and informs that it was neither pure luck nor a fluke but careful planning, hard work and sacrifices by the paramount leader to reach the pinnacle of power.

In the chapter, ‘Career development’, Hali notes: “In 1982, Xi took an important decision, which was to hold him in good stead for his political career. He realised that going to the provinces was the ‘only path to central power.’ Staying at Party headquarters in Beijing would narrow his network and invite resentment from lesser-born peers. Xi asked to be sent back to the countryside, and was assigned to a horse-cart county in Hebei Province.”

The author has observed that Xi Jinping’s business acumen was employed for the economic well-being of society from a very early stage. Hali quotes an incident from the budding leader’s initial assignment: “When working in Zhengding, Hebei province, in the 1980s, he saw potential business opportunities when he learned that the crew of ‘The Dream of Red Mansions,’ a popular novel-turned-TV drama, was looking for a filming location.

He then proposed building in Zhengding a large residential compound featured within the novel. The compound, which was used by the TV crew, later became a sightseeing attraction. Tourist income from the compound exceeded 10 million Yuan the year it was completed, paying back more than the investment. The compound has been used as the set for more than 170 movies and TV dramas, with up to 1.3 million tourists every year.”

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of President Xi Jinping has received prominent attention as well as his Chinese Dream. The advent of BRICS Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Invest Bank (AIIB) has been adequately dwelled upon.

The remarkable aspect of the Supreme Leader’s qualities of head and heart in reaching out to China’s neighbours and less developed countries of the world has also been vividly presented by the author.

The special capability of Xi Jinping as an author has been brought out by Hali, who discusses his early columns to the newspapers while serving as a mid-level government worker and his various books. While commenting on his book The Governance of China, Hali highlights that “Xi’s book records the thinking and practice of Chinese central leadership and responds to the concerns of the international community, providing an insight to China’s rise and the future direction it will take and how it will influence the world.” The international community, Hali says, has shown strong interest in the ‘secret’ of China’s growth and development thus the book comprising 18 categories, containing 79 speeches, informal talks, addresses, answers to questions from the press, approvals and congratulatory letters by and from Xi Jinping, made between November 15, 2012 and June 13, 2014 presents notes to help international readers understand China’s social institutions, history and culture.

President Xi Jinping’s contributions to Scientific Advances, saving the environment and, most importantly, his crackdown on corruption have been analyzed by the author in detail.

The world looks at Xi Jinping as a powerful leader but Hali has managed to shed light on Xi Jinping as a family man as well as a leader who does not demur from reaching out to the masses without protocol. His visit to the residents of Shaanxi, where he spent seven years at the formative stage as a farm boy, bearing gifts for all and sundry, his attention to veterans and the urge to raise modern China out of the scourge of poverty have all been described in the book.

Hali has also highlighted the role of the first lady in his book. The First Lady, Peng Liyuan, is a renowned and well-liked soprano and opera singer. She joined the People’s Liberation Army when she was 18. She was the first in China to obtain a master’s degree in national vocal music. She is a representative figure of national vocal music and one of the founders of the school of national vocal music.

Her most famous works include On the Plains of Hope, People from Our Village, and We Are Yellow River and Taishan Mountain. She was the winner of many top awards at national vocal music contests. She played the leading roles in the Chinese national operas The White-haired Girl and Mulan, among others. She also won the highest theatrical award in China, or the Plum Blossom Prize, and the highest performance art award, the Wenhua Prize.

Interestingly, the author does not refrain from bringing out the “Lighter side of Xi Jinping” through editorial caricatures and cartoons.

Group Captain (r) Hali is a true friend of China and his book on President Xi Jinping will enable the readers to grasp the qualities of head and heart of China’s great leader, the efforts and endeavours that groomed his personality whose feet are planted firmly in the ground.

Reviewed by Syed Anis Ahmad