|Xi Zhongxun with Gyalo Thondup|
Xi Jinping is slated to be China's next leader. He did a Houdini act (though only for 12 days), while the entire world media speculated about his fate. Xi Jinping is the son of Xi Zhongxun, a well-known reformist
Our story starts with the arrival of Kang Sheng, a shady character, on the Chinese political stage in 1962.
In the Fall of 1962, during the Tenth Plenum of the 8th Party’s Congress, Mao violently attacked Vice-Premier Xi Zhongxun, accusing him of supporting the rehabilitation of Gao Gang, a Communist Party leader who has been purged in 1949.
Machiavellian Kang Sheng led the charge; he announced that Xi had been ‘investigated’ for his ‘anti-party activities’.
Dr. Li Zhuixi, Mao’s personal physician later wrote: “Kang Sheng's investigations implicated more than three hundred cadres from the party, government, and military.” This included Xi Zhongxun.
Dr. Li continued: “I knew Xi Zhongxun well, and the charges against him and his supporters were fabricated. But Kang Sheng's job was to depose and destroy his fellow party members, and his continuing ‘investigations’ of ranking party leaders in the early 1960s laid the groundwork for the attacks of the Cultural Revolution to come.”
Subsequently, Vice-Premier Xi Zhongxun disappeared from public view for 16 years.
Recently, when Xi Jinping, China’s next leader did a Houdini act (though only for 12 day, while the entire world media speculated about his fate) Zhongxun’s case came back to my mind. Xi Jinping is the son of Xi Zhongxun.
The main crime of Xi Sr. was to have been associated with Marshal Peng Dehuai, the solitary critic of Mao during the Great Leap Forward (45 million of Chinese died according to the latest figures of the largest-ever man-made disaster).
To attempt guessing the future of a Chinese leader, it is always tempting to look into his past or his lineage. Interestingly, the Chinese press never mentions Xi Jinping's childhood. When his father was ignominiously purged, he was just 9 year old. Such a trauma for a kid!
At the end of the 18th Party Congress in Beijing next month, Xi will be officially anointed General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and President of the PRC; a few months later, he will become Chairman of the Central Military Commission controlling an all-powerful People’s Liberation Army.
Though Xi Jr. is mentioned in cables released by Wikileaks, his relation with his father Xi Zhongxun seems to have been neglected.
Born in 1913 in Shaanxi, Xi, the Elder joined the Communist Youth League in May 1926 and the Communist Party of China in 1928. He rose to Deputy Prime Minister from 1959 to 1962 and was later Governor of Guangdong from 1979 to 1981.
The life of Older Xi may provide some hints about the direction China could take after the Party’s Congress next month. Xi Zhongxun had two lives (one before the Kang Sheng episode and the other after 1978, with a blank gap of 16 years in-between). You will understand why the official China media has been avoiding the issue.
During the first part of his life (mainly between 1949 and 1962), Xi Zhongxun was associated with one of the most remarkable leaders of modern China: Marshal Peng Dehuai. Once the Dalai Lama confided to me, “he was my favorite Chinese”. Peng was the only person who dared to take on Mao Zedong.
In the late 1940’s, while Peng was the Commander of the First Field Army whose responsibility was to look after Northwest China, Xi Zhongxun was Political Commissar. Along with the Second Northwest Field Army (led by General Lui Bosheng and Commissar Deng Xiaoping), Peng’s Army ‘liberated’ Tibet. From that time, Xi Zhongxun was associated with the main Tibetan leaders, particularly the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama.
As a representative of Mao, it was Xi who officially bid farewell to the Panchen Lama when the latter left for his maiden visit to Tibet in 1951 (born in Qinghai province, he had never visited Tibet before). He told the young Lama: “When you get back to Tibet, do not hurry to push various things. Please take account of the whole picture in Tibet. The priority is unity among Tibetans. Only when Tibetans unite can our work in Tibet really make progress." Apparently, Xi did not want to force a foreign ideology on the Tibetans: "everything in Tibet should follow the principle of cautious and steady progress. If conditions are not ripe for something, do not do it; if the upper-hierarchy patriotic public and leadership figures do not agree with it, do not do it.”
During the following years, Xi continued to work closely with Tibet and Peng, he was eventually nominated Vice-Premier of China. It is in 1954/55 that he was gifted an Omega watch by the Dalai Lama who visited Beijing for several months.
However, Xi’s fate took another turn during the Lushan Conference of July 1959, when Peng Dehuai, a native of Hunan came back from a tour of his province and decided to speak out against the Great Leap Forward, Mao’s grandiose scheme to overtake the West in 15 years. Peng told Mao in no uncertain terms that China was on the brink of the greatest calamity; as a result, he was purged and replaced as Defence Minister by the wily Lin Biao. Mao never forgave Peng for having spoken against the Great Leap Forward.
It is when Kang Sheng entered the stage.
In September 1962, during the 10th Plenum of the Party's of the 8th Party’s Central Committee, Mao, who had remained in the background after the Lushan Conference, decided to come back on the front stage. In one way, the Plenum marked the beginning of a movement which culminated in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution four years later. During the Plenum, Mao reemphasized class struggle ‘to prevent the emergence of revisionism’; he denounced 'the members of the bourgeoisie right in the party ranks'.
Mao reasserted that the Great Leap Forward was the right thing for China.
During the same Plenum, it was decided to ‘teach a lesson’ to India. The attack on India a month later, was for Mao and his new protégé Lin Biao a way to reassert their supremacy over Peng Dehuai, Lui Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping.
It was also the beginning of the end for the Panchen Lama who in July had sent his 70,000 character petition to Zhou Enlai detailing the suffering of the Tibetan people between 1959 and 1962. Mao called the petition 'a poisoned arrow shot at the Party by reactionary feudal overlords'. But the biggest casualty of the Plenum was Xi Jinping’s father. He was ‘fixed’ by Kang Sheng, Mao’s wily Inquisitor, under a bogus pretext; he had been too close of Peng Dehuai and in touch with the Panchen Lama. He was demoted and sent for 16 years into the ‘wilderness’.
After his rehabilitation in 1978, Xi Zhongxun became a trusted lieutenant of Deng Xiaoping and the Governor of Guangdong. Here, he was responsible for proposing and implementing China's first Special Economic Zone in Shenzhen. This experiment symbolized the new direction of Communist China. Xi is said to have told Deng Xiaoping "We need to reform China and implement this economic zone even if it means that we have to pave a bloody road ahead and I am to be responsible for it."
His biographers say that Old Xi is “remembered for his friendship to his colleagues, his tolerance to diverse cultures and religions, his idealism of an open market socialist country and his integrity in his beliefs”.
One understands that Xi Junior 'ate bitterness' during his youth. It must have marked him for years.
Will Xi Jinping emulate his father and bring new ‘reforms’ to China? It is a billion Yuan question.