“No matter where you come from, your dreams are valid.” These are the words by a teary-eyed, Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong’o during her acceptance speech following her win at The Oscars in 2014. They are words that ring true to people all over the world, and words that exemplify the life of a man who would eventually rise to become the President of the world’s second-largest economy.
Xi Jinping may be the President of China, but few know of his humble beginnings that included living in a cave for seven years amid harsh conditions and hard labour. Born to a veteran communist father Xi Zhongxun and mother Qi Xin in 1953, Xi was practically Chinese royalty at birth, only for that lifestyle to come to an abrupt end when his father fell from grace and he was a ‘prince’ no more.
In 1966, Xi’s secondary education was cut short thanks to the Cultural Revolution that plagued the nation and three years later, he would be among 1,427 educated youth who were taken from the city (Beijing) to rural areas to work as farmers under the nation’s leader Mao Zedong’s ‘Down to the countryside’ movement.
It was his arrival in the small, remote village of Liang Jia He in Yinchuan County in Shaanxi province that would begin shaping China’s future Head of State and the Communist Party of China’s top leader. Upon their arrival in the village in 1969, the educated youth were welcomed by residents with open arms, but they most certainly were not prepared for how hard life would be in this remote settlement in northwestern China.
Having been born and raised in the trappings that came with city life, the rural village was tough. From long, winding hours spent on manual labour in the farms to harsh weather conditions to the plain culture shock of it all. But villagers say Xi was unperturbed by all these challenges and worked hard, sometimes farming in winter while the rest of the youth waited the snow out indoors.
Xi was also said to have always had his nose in a book, especially at night where he shared this cave-home known as Yao dong and bed with his best friend, Lei Ping Sheng. The Yao dong structures were dug out of the rocks in the mountains due to lack of bricks.
It is also in this small village that his political career began. In 1971, Xi joined the Communist Youth League, then the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC)in 1974, eventually becoming the area’s party secretary and boss. In 1975, the villagers are said to have been distraught when Xi had to leave to go and study chemical engineering at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University.
He would then use the next few years furthering his education and acquiring some military experience until 1982 when the ruling party sent him to serve in Hebei Province in Central China. From that appointment in Hebei, there was nowhere to go but up for the former farm labourer. He was later made CPC boss in four other provinces; Hebei, Fujian, Zhejiang and Shanghai.
In 2002, Xi would enter the realm of national politics, after being elected as a full member of the 16th Central Committee, a top decision-making organ of the CPC and later, as a member of the nine-man Politburo Standing Committee which is the topmost organ of the Party. It definitely did not come as a surprise when he became China’s Vice-President in 2008 and later succeeded Hu Jintao as the nation’s President in 2014.
Today, residents of Liang Jia He village are immensely proud of the man they call their son and speak dotingly and highly of him. They say that powerful he may be, but to them he remains the young man who worked tirelessly in their farms, taught them all he knew, regaled them with tales from the city and the projects that he initiated as the village’s Party Secretary.
For Xi, it is evident that the love is mutual. In an essay about his experiences in the village, he attributes the man that he is today to the shaping of his character at an early age in the area. “Lang Jia He village and Shaanxi province will always be in my heart,” he said.
Whenever the area has been hit by disasters such as earthquakes, Xi has sent help and has personally returned and visited in the village three times, including last year. So, no matter who you are, what you are going through or where you are from, indeed your dreams are valid! Keep that flaming passion burning inside you, dare to pursue your dreams, work hard, be kind to people and those dreams may one day come true!