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An interview from 2000 with China’s Vice President Xi Jinping. Translated into Western language for the first time | Nordic Institute of Asian Studies

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An interview from 2000 with China’s Vice President Xi Jinping. Translated into Western language for the first time

At the 18th Congress of the Communist Party of China to be held in November 2012, China’s Vice President Xi Jinping is expected to be elected as the new Secretary General of the party.
In August 2000, Xi Jinping gave a rare interview to the Chinese magazine Zhonghua Ernü. NIAS, Nordic Institute of Asian Studies hereby issues a translation of the interview in Danish and English. To our knowledge this the first time the interview has been translated into a Western language. The Danish version is a translation of the original interview in Chinese while the English version is translated from the Danish version. The translated interview was published in the Danish newspaper Politiken on Sunday 28 October 2012.
In the interview Xi Jinping tells about his background, his upbringing and his perception of good governance. In a personal and at times riveting way Xi Jinping explains how he during the Cultural Revolution only 15 years old was sent to the countryside for 7 years – 1,000 km away from Beijing – in order to learn from the peasants while his father was under political criticism. Moreover, Xi Jinping talks about the promotion of officials and corruption.
The interview is translated by the sinologists Carsten Boyer Thøgersen and Susanne Posborg. Carsten Boyer Thøgersen is a former Danish diplomat and Consul-General in Shanghai, posted for 20 years in China and now an associate of NIAS. Susanne Posborg, University of Aarhus, is the most often used Danish translator of Chinese novels and literature.
Researchers and news media are welcome to quote from the English translation if NIAS is stated as the source.

Remark, October 2018

In 2012, the same year as Xi Jinping was appointed General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, NIAS posted this translation on our web-site.
Today, six years later, Xi Jinping has become one of the most important Chinese leaders since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
The translation from 2012 comprised 95% of the 2000 interview with Xi Jinping. The updated translation is the full text of the interview. Moreover, the number of footnotes have been expanded considerably.
Geir Helgesen
Nordic Institute of Asian Studies
University of Copenhagen

On the Xi Jinping interview in 2000.                       

By Carsten Boyer Thøgersen and Susanne Posborg
Officially, the interview has never been promoted by the Chinese authorities. Neither in 2000 nor today. The interview is accessible on Chinese web-sites and was in February 2012 once more published in another Chinese commercial magazine, owned by a Xi’an based Chinese shareholding media company. 
If interviewed today, Xi Jinping would probably have phrased himself differently. But the interview was already published 12 years ago, has been available since then and known to an increasingly larger Chinese public. What can the Chinese authorities do? They do nothing and do not comment on the interview.
Xi Jinping was 47 years old and governor of Fujian province when he gave the interview in 2000. At the time he was relatively unknown and not even a full member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. It is not often but neither unusual that a governor of a Chinese province gives a long personal interview to a Chinese magazine. Looking back Xi Jinping gave the interview two years before the party leadership –known for its long-term planning – was to decide on younger candidates to be promoted at the party congress in 2002 and later – at the following party congress in 2007 – to select the possible successor of Hu Jintao in 2012. In 2007 Xi Jinping became a member of standing committee of the Politbureau, indicating he was to become Hu Jintao’s successor in 2012.
Giving the interview back in 2000, the purpose of Xi Jinping was hardly to make himself known as a potential young candidate for promotion. The party itself is fully aware of possible candidates for the party’s top positions and does not welcome reminders. Most likely Xi Jinping wanted to make sure that his background was fully understood, told properly and to stress three things: 1) During the Cultural Revolution he stayed for seven years in the countryside under difficult conditions and only by his own efforts became a member of the party and enrolled at university. That is to say not by political connections and in spite of the fact that his father at the time was under political criticism. 2) In 1982, he chose to give up a comfortable career in Beijing and instead started from the bottom as deputy secretary in a small provincial district. 3) To appear as a person in close contact to ordinary people.
The extraordinary thing about the interview is to hear what China’s new leader said in 2000 in an open and direct conversation. There is nothing unusual in what Xi Jinping said in 2000. Neither read in 2012. But we hear Xi Jinping tell about personal experiences in words he hardly would use today. We hear about his views on good governance, promotion of officials and corruption. The interview gives the reader a more authentic and unfiltered picture of the person to become China’s next leader.

Xi Jinping: My road into politics.

Interview from the summer of 2000 in the Chinese journal Zhonghua Ernü.
Xi Jinping at the time was 47 years old and governor in the Fujian province.
Yang Xiaohuai was the editor of Zhonghua Ernü.
Copyright © 2000 by中华儿女,北京市朝阳区东三环南路98号韩建丹阳大厦15层,邮编:100021
Xi Jinping: Welcome here.[1] I have previously said no thank you to personal interviews innumerable times. We all have different tasks. If you do not mention everybody, then you are only emphasizing yourself. You can also put it differently: When we are all doing our duty within our respective area of responsibility, then it is the community that creates the results. Therefore, it makes no sense mentioning the individual. That is the reason why I have refused giving personal interviews. There are also people who write autobiographies. I do not do that either.
Yang Xiaohuai: I thought so. That kind of thing can easily lead to misunderstandings.
Xi: Particularly if you look at the popular media. You write about a person’s background. Who are her parents? Who is she married to? She is such and such a person. What’s the use of that? That kind of information is not news. It is something everybody knows already. You make a little soup of it. It is unimportant.
Yang: Obviously that kind of publicity is unimportant and superfluous. But as a high-level official[2] you are in the focus of the formation of public opinion. The press and the media can help people better understand your work. That kind of public mention I think is important.
Xi: Of course you can write about leading officials. To a certain extent. But you must preserve the sense of proportions. There is a tendency to write that a leading official is so and so perfect and so and so excellent, but in reality nobody is perfect and consummate. Take a person and describe him as excellent. Nobody will believe it. An individual’s ability to get results on his own is limited. Without the community and without cooperation you will achieve nothing. Therefore, I believe that it is better to focus on the community and cooperation.
Yang: I fully agree with you. The writing about high-level official shall also include the relation between the person and the community as well as the relation between the person and leading groups. The work of our Communist Party concerns the whole community and never stops. Our generation stands on the shoulders of previous generations. Our achievements belong to the community and leading groups. To take the honour yourself and not appreciate your predecessors and previous generations would be wrong.
Xi: This is the thinking of communists. Members of the Communist Party emphasize unity.
Yang: You recently took the post as governor of the Fujian province. What new political initiatives did you consider, and what parts of the politics at the time did you wish to continue?
Xi: When I became governor in August last year, the members of the provincial government emphasized two points: Firstly, that I was to continue working on the foundations laid by the previous governor. It was my task seeing to it that the plans laid down at the beginning of the year were carried through. In addition, I could come with my own plans. When you have just taken over a new job you will also want to set your own agenda in the first year. But it must be on the foundations of your predecessor. It is like a relay race. You have to receive the baton properly and then yourself run it in goal.
Secondly, of course a provincial governor has an important position. But he is just one person. A provincial government consists of a governor, several deputy governors and many colleagues in the various departments. If you are to achieve results, everybody must pull in the same direction. Furthermore, it is important that you make sure you have the cooperation and back-up of the whole province. That is why we emphasized the community. It is a strength when people are united. This also in accordance with our communist work style.
Yang: When you were sent to Ningde county[3] as a leader, I have heard that you did not tear along ostentatiously, as many other leaders do when they come to a new place. You did not come sweeping with new brooms to make room for your own special projects. You did not use big words but proceeded slowly and patiently.
Xi: When I was sent to Ningde, I had been vice mayor in Xiamen[4] for three years. For a brief period I was also acting leader of the city. I had worked to develop Xiamen’s economic reform policy and to build the city’s large industrial zone. The provincial leadership was happy about my efforts and my experiences getting things going, so they decided to appoint me leader of Ningde county. At the time Jia Qinglin[5] was deputy secretary of the party committee of the Fujian province. He called me for a meeting and said: “We want you to go to Ningde county to get things going and improve the profile of the county. The level is low and development has been far too slow. We have had many meetings, but Ningde is still the poorest county of the province. The county is backward and self-confidence is low. You must do something extraordinary, so that the situation in the county will be changed.” Both the party leader of the province Chen Guangyi[6]  and governor Wang Zhaoguo[7] supported me with much advice.
The first thing I did in Ningde was familiarizing myself thoroughly with things. I was filled with admiration for its people. They had for several years worked hard and laboriously and had made a great effort. People in the eastern part of Fujian province were known for their great effort during the war. After the liberation of China, the region had become a front line at the East China Sea and their best harbour had been taken over by the navy. In Ningde they had built the first medium-sized hydroelectric power station of the province. From here electricity was led on to the whole province and to the urban centres. You could see that people in Ningde had diligently given their contribution to the economic development of the province. It wasn’t that people did not work, but the natural conditions of the county had its limitations. Of course there were also things that could be done better. Many things were still in the old grove, and original thinking was lacking.
But just as I had come to Ningde inflation rose, the economy became overheated, and the central government implemented a strict economic policy. The economic situation allowed no extraordinary economic initiatives. Everybody wanted a change and hoped that I could contribute to it. But I had no smart solution and did not come with a miracle. Therefore, the only thing I could say was that the economic crisis was an occasion and a motivation for everybody to join hands. My greatest worry was that we should plunge into unsafe projects. The time was not for that. It would have been easy to make a rousing and enthusiastic speech, arouse their enthusiasm and utilize everybody’s motivation to pitch into work. But that might easily have resulted in grave disappointment. So that wasn’t what I did.
My procedure was to light a small fire to warm up the water, keep the fire burning and now and again pour some more cold water in, so that the kettle did not boil over. People told me that they wanted to get three great projects going: Building a harbour at Sandu´ao[8], establishing a railway-line to Ningde and putting greater emphasis on developing the cities in the county. I answered that that kind of project needed developing slowly, as our economic foundation was still weak, and that we should not aim too high. At first we had to analyse the facts and create a robust economic foundation. Even if it takes a long time even a drop can hollow out a stone.
The last thing I have heard is that my plans for the development of the county did not miss the mark. After 12 years of thorough preparations the State Council has now approved prioritizing developing the cities. A railway line has been projected, while building a harbour is still being made researches into. Praxis has shown that with Ningde’s conditions no miracle will happen overnight.
There were several challenges, and it was a steady pull. But as in the race between the tortoise and the hare you may finally reach the goal and win. Carrying out the plans took a long time, and I myself did not count on leaving Ningde at once.
I set four goals for myself: To encourage thinking along new lines, building a solid group of leaders, taking initiatives to fight poverty and exploiting Ningde’s special economic possibilities as a mountainous area near the coast.
I left Ningde after two years because the provincial government wanted me back here in Fuzhou. Even if my time in Ningde was brief, I came to love the place very much. Now many years later, Ningde is still one of the places that I am greatly attached to.
Yang: These years several people talk about many officials coming with ‘new brooms’ to a new job, get a couple of new projects going to leave again after a short period. You yourself have talked about how important it is having patience. I have visited a good many places but have only met very few officials thinking like you. Many people believe that officials first and foremost aim at a success to get promoted and to create results to further their own career. Do you have any comments on that?
Xi: Promotion is only something external. If a promotion is well founded, it is only one of several signs that the individual has achieved results in his work. A promotion can be seen as an expression of recognition from management and colleagues. But you must remember that promotion in itself is not the full and true assessment of an official as a person. Promotion alone does not tell the whole story about an official. Our system of assessment is still not perfect and makes evaluating an official very difficult. Both objective and subjective factors come in, and in the final analysis that means that the assessment is imperfect.
When I have left a post, I have always thought back on my colleagues, I have summed up my impressions and found that I also sometimes have posted my colleagues wrongly. Some were posted wrongly because I thought they were better than they actually were, others because I thought they were poorer than they actually were. That was because I did not compare their efforts and immediate progress with their personal motivation. Therefore, one may easily happen to promote the wrong colleagues if one does not view their efforts in a larger perspective. As an organization and as management we do not have a final set of criteria when it comes to assessing a colleague and deciding if the person in question is to be promoted.
Yang: Of course I do not know your entire background, but you have had a career as an official for over 20 years. Is it not true that – unlike some officials who have promotion as their ultimate goal – you have a fundamental wish to do something good for society?
Xi: That is true. It is a highly relevant question. It is about a decisive choice in life, which I myself – already before I went into politics – thought a lot about. First and foremost, over such questions as: Which way do you want to go? What do you want to do with your life? What goals do you want to achieve? Personally I set several goals. One of them was doing something important for society. When that is the goal of your life, you must at the same time be aware that you can’t have your cake and eat it. If you go into politics, it mustn’t be for money. Sun Yatsen[9] said the same thing, namely that one has to make up one’s mind to accomplish something and not go for a high position as an official. If you wish to make money, there are many legal ways of becoming rich. Becoming rich in a legal way is worth all honour and respect. Later the taxation authorities will also respect you because you are contributing to the economic development of the country. But you should not go into politics if you wish to become wealthy. In that case you will inevitably become a corrupt and filthy official. A corrupt official with a bad reputation who will always be afraid of being arrested, and who must envisage having a bad posthumous reputation. If you go into politics to make a career, you must give up any wish of personal advantages. You cannot even think about it. An official may not through a long career have achieved very great things, but at least he has not put something up his sleeve. He is upright.
Secondly, in a political career you can never go for personal advantages or promotion. It is just like that. It can’t be done. These are the rules. You do not promote a person just because he has good qualifications and experience. Of course qualifications are important, as are a great sense of responsibility and a great knowledge. But it must be seen in a larger context. When you are to choose a person who is to get an important position, and who can make a difference, you must also see it in connection with the time, place, other colleagues and the situation in general. So there is no definite formula which you can use to figure out who is to get promoted. For instance, if you want to become a general, you must be able to win a battle. A soldier who has lost a battle will not become a general. Maybe he already died during the fighting. Even if you have the ability to win battles, you don´t have battles every day, in particular not in times of peace. Only if there are battles, there are opportunities. One can say that only if a chance should arise and you make use of it right away, you will succeed. These two things very seldom happen at the same time. If throughout your career you have unsuccessfully tried to achieve success, it may be a great personal disappointment that you fail to get promoted. Therefore, it is better to see your work life in a broader context. As the old Master Guan[10] said: Do not try to do the impossible, do not strive for the unobtainable, do not rest on the transient, do not do what cannot be repeated.
Thirdly, you should not be afraid of difficulties and challenges when you have prepared yourself thoroughly. Politics is both unsafe and risky, and wilfulness is no passable road. Many who have experienced failures are hit by self-reproaches thinking: “I have helped so many people, I have done so much, and all I get is ingratitude. There are so many people who do not understand me. Why must it be like that?” Some of my colleagues who started at the same time as I have given up their jobs for that reason. If you have a position somewhere, the thing is to stick to it and continue one’s work. Then, in the final analysis, it will give results. The germ of success is to fasten on and continue one’s work. Once you have gone into politics, it is like crossing a river. No matter how many obstacles you meet, there is only one way, and that is further on. I myself have also come across many difficulties and obstacles. That is simply inevitable.
Yang: I have been told that you originally worked in The Central Military Commission in Beijing. For many people this would be an ideal job. But nevertheless, after a brief employment, you chose to leave your job to work at grass-roots level. Why?
Xi: I was sent to Zhengding[11] county in Hebei province from the office of The Central Military commission.[12] When I had arrived to Zhengding the local party secretary Xie Feng[13] called me for a talk. He was a very straightforward person. After Liberation, he was just 20 years, he became an official in Zhangjiakou district.[14] Later he became the governor of Hebei province. I asked him what he wanted me to do. He replied:
“Since you have chosen to work at grass-roots level yourself, I don’t think I have to suggest you anything. You don’t seem to be an impulsive person either. But I just want to tell you one thing. I know that you previously unwillingly were sent to the countryside without knowing anybody. That this was a hard time for you and that you were called a “reactionary student” and that people said that you belonged to the group of the “Four Bad Elements”.[15] I know that you had to go to the countryside and that you managed alright after all. This time is different. Now you have chosen to work at the countryside yourself. A lot of people will not understand that.”
There were many who did not understand me at the time. Before I went to the county of Zhending in the province of Hebei, I worked as a secretary for defence minister Geng Biao,[16] who was also a member of the Politburo. He said that if I wanted to work at a grass-roots level, I might follow the army on its exercises. I did not have to work for a local government.[17] At the time it was actually – from Beijing – only Liu Yuan[18] and me who chose to work at the countryside. Liu Yuan left Beijing after graduation at Beijing Normal University.[19] After working some years in the Central Government in Beijing, I left, too. We made the same decision. Before leaving Beijing we were around saying goodbye to friends and acquaintances. Many of them had been sent to the countryside during the “Cultural Revolution” – to all kind of places[20] – and were now at length back into town again. Some of them thought that they had had a very hard time. There were also those who thought that now their time had come. Now it was their time to live a good life. It disappointed me to hear that. In old days you would study hard for many years before you applied for the civil servants examination.[21] If you passed the examination you could be posted as an official thousands of kilometres away. Take for instance the old writer Feng Menglong,[22] who wrote The Three Books. He was almost 50 years old when he was sent to Shouning county[23] in Fujian province. Who would have gone to Shouning county? It was really far away. Then think of today. There is no one who would wish to move outside a radius of 50 kilometres from Beijing, for then they would lose their official register address[24] in Beijing. But I said that we should go out with the same commitment and enthusiasm as generations of officials before us had done. During the “Cultural Revolution” we were sent out into the countryside. We had no choice; it was something we were forced to. It is a part of our history from which we have learned a lot. Today we have good times and have put that kind of ‘leftist’ policy behind us. But we still need to go to the countryside, be diligent and do a good job. The old poet and calligrapher Zheng Banqiao[25] wrote in his first poem “when your roots are deeply anchored in the mountains, no storms from any corner of the world can blow you down or make you surrender.” I would like to change some of the words based on my own experiences from my stay in the countryside saying: “when you are close to the grass-roots and close to the people, no storms from any corner of the world can blow you down or make you surrender.”
My seven years in the countryside have meant a lot to me. I have gained a deep knowledge of people, and that has been a decisive precondition for my later work. If I again am to work at grass-roots level, I will not hesitate for a moment and do it with great confidence. Even if much always will be unpredictable, every day will be rich in experiences and challenges. I would certainly again like to work at grass-roots level if I am asked to and my health is all right. In the final analysis anyone can assess my work and my successors will be able to evaluate my achievements. I need not think of that.
Yang: I have understood that through more than 20 years – whether it was at a village level, in counties, in regions or in cities like Fuzhou – you have always had a very good cooperation. How did you manage to achieve that cooperation?
Xi: In this province an old leading official has written about his experiences. Studies in Cooperation is the title of the book. Although actual circumstances always will differ, cooperation is important to become successful. Cooperation is simply a precondition for success, he said. We can also learn from history. The three “Liu’s”, Liu Bang, Liu Xiu and Liu Bei[26] were all great personalities. There is also Song Jiang[27] who is known from literature. There is not much to write about their own competences, though. But they all had a talent to organise and join forces with very skilful people. Their ability to attract outstanding people and make them work for a common cause, that was their real talent.
Cooperation was something I learned at home as a child. My father[28] often talked about it, telling us children already when we were quite small that we should be good at cooperating. “Do not do to others what you do not want others to do to you.” “Behave decently to others and then you yourself are a decent human being.” These were the phrases he would use to emphasise that you should not just think about your own view of things but also about what others believed. When you live with other people and only follow your own opinion, things will go badly. What my father said has meant a lot to me. No matter whether it was at school or when Í worked in the countryside, I have had a strong feeling that if everybody cooperates, then you will achieve good results. If cooperation is bad, it is bad for everybody.
But I have also made mistakes that I have learned from. When I was sent to the countryside, I was very young. It was something I was forced to. At the time I did not think very far and did not at all think of the importance of cooperating. While others in the village every day went up the mountain slopes and worked, I did as I chose, and people got a very bad impression of me. Some months later I was sent back to Beijing and placed in a “study group”. When six months later I was let out, I thought a lot about whether I should return to the village. At last I called upon my uncle, who before 1949 had worked in a base area in the Taihang Mountains.[29]  At the time he, my aunt and my mother were active in revolutionary work. All of them are people who have meant a lot to me. My uncle told me about his work then, and about how decisive it is to cooperate with the people among whom you are. He told me how he and other students at the Northeast University[30] had taken part in the December 9th Movement[31] and how they reached the Taihang Mountains. They took every opportunity to work together with the local people. We should do the same, he said. My aunt added,
“At that time we young people didn’t mind to work in the countryside. But today, young people are afraid to do that. That’s wrong. Today, it is not easy for young people to stay in the cities. Do you have anything to do at all? People think you are just drifting around!”
She was right. Around National Day the authorities in Beijing had rounded up all young people who had returned from the countryside. But they did not send us back to the countryside. They kept us at police stations for four or five months. However, we were not supposed to sit there doing nothing, so we were sent to do hard labour. The waterways in Beijing’s Haidian district for example, we did that work.
The talk with my uncle and aunt settled the case. I went back to the village, got down to work and cooperated. In a matter of a year I did the same work as people in the village, lived in the same way as they and worked hard. People saw that I had changed. They accepted me and began passing by the cave in which I lived,[32] which soon became a rendezvous. It must have been around 1970. Every night people of all ages would turn up. I would tell them what I knew of China’s history and the history of the world. They would like to hear someone from the city tell them about something they did not know about. At last the leader of the village came and listened. He said that young people knew much more than he himself. Slowly the village gained confidence in me. Even if I was not more than 16 or 17 years old, several of the old people began asking for my advice. Today, writers write about how miserable lives the young students led in the countryside then. It wasn’t like that for me. In the beginning it was hard, but I got used to life in the village, and as people got confidence in me, I had a good life.
Yang: I have been told that while you were in the village you became a member of the party’s youth league[33], then a member of the party, and finally promoted to the position as secretary of the production brigade’s[34] party branch. With your family background this was unusual at that time. Could you tell me more about how you experienced this period?
Xi: It was around 1973. The entrance examinations to the party were taken place, but those who had a family background like mine – as you just mentioned – were not accepted. At last I was permitted to go to the Zhaojiahe[35] production brigade in the Fengjiaping[36] people’s commune to study. It was very exciting. At the time I had become a member of the youth league but not yet a member of the party. I had already written ten applications for membership of the party, but because of my family history my application was not approved. The people’s commune then sent my application on to the county’s party committee to hear their opinion. The secretary of the party committee said that there were a lot of fights among the families in the production brigade and it was no wonder that it was difficult for them to reach a decision. On the other hand, he also thought that the village could need me to lead the work. What concerned my father the party secretary noted that there was no report on my father, so he ended deciding that my father’s situation should be of no importance for my admission into the party. He approved my application and then sent me back as party secretary of the production brigade of the village. The person that I succeeded was then appointed as secretary of the revolutionary committee[37] of the production brigade. Later when I left the production brigade he took up again the post as party secretary of the production brigade.
Before that I had also had great difficulties becoming a member of the party’s youth league. I only succeeded after having applied eight times. When I had written the first application, I invited the secretary of the production brigade’s party branch home and offered him omelette and steamed wheat balls. After we had eaten I asked:
“Have you sent my application on?”
“How sent on? From above everybody say that you should be re-educated.”
“What do you mean by saying that I should be re-educated?”
“From above they say that you have not distanced yourself clearly from your family.”
“So what is the decision? It is about a human being. There must be a decision. What is the decision about my father? What documents have you had from the central authorities?”
“No, the application has not been sent on, but now it will be.”
When he came back from the people’s commune he told me that the party secretary of the people’s commune had scolded him saying that he had not understood a thing, and had asked if he really wanted to send the application on from such a person? I asked:
“Such a person? What does that mean? Have I written something reactionary or shouted reactionary slogans? I am just a young man who wishes to move forward. Tell me what is wrong with that?”
I was not knocked out and wrote my second application in the next days, gave it to the secretary of the party branch asking him to send it on. I continued like that until I had written eight applications. I did not lose heart and had no feelings of inferiority. I just thought that there were more good than bad people in the party and the youth league. I really wanted to join the youth league and told the party secretary that I needed his support.
When I had written eight applications I was finally approved as a member. But it only happened after I had had the support of the secretary of the people’s commune’s youth league. He came to the village and talked to me for five days. We came close and became really good friends. When shortly afterwards he took over the job as the leader of the out-of-school education of the people’s commune, he was also the one who took the “black material’’ about me and simply burned it. It happened in the way that he took me up into the mountains to a small ravine. We sat down, and he said:
“I have all the “black material” about you right here.”
“What are you going to do with it?”
“I’ll burn it.”
“You must be out of your mind.”
“May be, but I can see that it was sent from your school in Beijing.”
I had attended the Bayi Middle School[38], but the material was not sent from there but instead from the Central Party School, where my mother worked. We had moved there when our apartment had been confiscated during the “Cultural Revolution”. While at the Party School I was criticised by the red guards who accused me of all kind of bad things and called me a gang leader. But I was stubborn, I did not want to be kicked around and did not give in to the red guards. Then I was caught by a red guard group lead by Cao Yi’ou[39], the wife of Kang Sheng.[40] I was not yet 15 years old. The red guards asked:
“How serious do you yourself think your crimes are?”
“You can estimate it yourselves. Is it enough to execute me?”
“We can execute you a hundred times.”
To my mind there was no difference between being executed a hundred times or once, so why be afraid of a hundred times? The red guards wanted to scare me saying that they would bring me to a police station, that now I was to feel the democratic dictatorship of the people, and that I only had five minutes left. They said that I was to read quotations from Chairman Mao[41] every single day until late at night. I replied that it was alright provided there was a bed, the rest was of no importance. They did take me to a police station, but only to the front door before they brought me back. Finally, they decided to send me to a youth prison which had classes for children of “black gangs”. When we arrived, it turned out that there were no free beds until a month later. At the same time – it was in December 1968 – Chairman Mao issued a new instruction: Young students should be sent into the countryside to learn from the peasants.[42] I immediately went to the school and asked to be sent into the countryside so that I could follow Chairman Mao’s instruction. They considered that at the school eventually deciding that I was to go to Yan’an. It was like being sent into exile.
After many difficulties one way or another – problems because of the “Cultural Revolution” and problems with the decision to send students to the countryside – it turned out that the village actually needed me and would not do without me. So I felt at ease in the village. If at the time I had been in the cities, as a worker or anything else, I would have been criticized every single day, as the “Cultural Revolution” was a lot more violent in the cities.
In the village in northern Shaanxi we also participated in meetings criticizing Liu Shaoqi’s and Deng Xiaoping’s[43] representatives in north-western China “Peng, Gao and Xi”, Liu Lantao, Zhao Shouyi and others. “Peng, Gao and Xi” were Peng Dehuai, Gao Gang and Xi Zhongxun.[44] During these daily meetings of criticism the praxis was that those who could read were asked to read aloud from the newspapers. I was asked to do that as well. That was all. The villagers were very understanding. It was my father’s old base area. Before 1949 he had – 19 years old – been president of the “Shaanxi-Gansu Soviet.”[45] Therefore many people would care for me and help me. I myself was also very motivated. That was what it was like.
Yang: You have told about your seven years’ experiences in the countryside. Can you tell me about the most important experience you have had?
Xi: I grew up in the seven years I was in Shaanxi. I learned two important things. First I had the opportunity to understand what real life looks like, what is right and wrong, and who ordinary people are. These were experiences for life, even to this day.
Right as I had arrived at the village, many beggars would often appear. As soon as they turned up, the dogs would be set on them. At the time we students had the opinion that all beggars were “bad elements” and tramps.  We did not know the saying “in January there is still enough food, in February you will starve, and March and April you are half alive half dead”.[46] For six months all families would only live on bark and herbs. Women and children were sent out to beg, so that the food could go to those who were working in the fields with the spring ploughing. You had to live in a village to understand it. When you think of the difference there was at that time between what the central government in Beijing knew and what actually happened in the countryside, you must shake your head.
Second, I had my self-confidence built up. As they say: the knife is sharpened on a stone, people are strengthened in adversity. Seven years of hard life in the countryside developed me a lot. When later in life I have encountered challenges, I have thought about the village, and that then I could do something in spite of hardships. When later I have come across problems, I have never experienced them as big as then. Every man is to find his own strength. When you meet hardships you mustn’t panic, no matter how big the challenge is.
Yang: How did you manage to get admitted into university while you were in the village?
Xi: At the time I was one of the leaders in the village, but all the time I thought that I would study further. Although I read far too few books, I had not given up my greatest wish – to go to university. At the time the Tsinghua University[47] had given two places to the Yan’an prefecture.[48] One of them went to Yanchuan county[49] where I lived. There were three of us who applied. I said that If you choose me, I will go, if not, never mind. Yanchuan county reported my application to Yan’an prefecture[50] and the leadership of the education committee of Yanchuan county supported my application. But the people from Tsinghua University who had come to Yan’an, and who were responsible for the procedure of admission, dared not make a final decision and asked for instruction from the management of the university. At the same time – it was from July 1975 and three months on – a political campaign had started against what was called ”The right deviationist wind to reverse the verdicts”.[51] While Chi Qun and Xie Jingyi were absent from the university because of the campaign, Liu Bing[52] was in charge. Liu said there was no problem for me to enrol. At the time my father worked in a factory in Luoyang.[53] The factory submitted a document stating that the political question of Xi Zhongxun was a contradiction within the people and should have no influence on his children’s careers. The document meant that I was admitted into the university.
When I left the village, some of the other students were envious of me. They were all of them top students, but they did not have a case that needed re-opening, and all of them were admitted later. Later it turned out that many of these young students were very capable. In 1993, when I was party secretary in Fuzhou municipality Yan’an prefecture invited me for a visit. One leader of the prefecture told me that almost 30,000 students from the cities had come to Yan’an prefecture from 1968 and seven years on. This group of students had become a valuable human resource for China. Eight students had become leaders at the level of national ministries or provinces. Almost 300 had become leaders of large government agencies and more than 3,000 had become heads of department. Among leaders at provincial level I know Wang Qishan,[54] who is first vice governor of Guangdong province. Moreover, several of the students have come writers. One is Tao Zheng[55] who went to Yanchuan as a student. Later he wrote the novels The Soul Returns and Emotional Happiness. Another student from Yanchuan is Lu Yao[56] who wrote the novel Life. There is also Shi Tiesheng.[57] He wrote the novel My Distant Qingpingwan about the village in Yanchuan county where he was as a student. Also many of the students became entrepreneurs and leading business people. Few years ago more than one thousand of the students came back to Yanchuan and had a big celebration. Many took their children and families along in order that they could know about the local conditions. They made a movie. I was sent one video.
The experiences from our time in the countryside have left a deep impression.[58] They have given us an understanding of the concept of The yellow earth.[59] When later we have had problems and thought of The yellow earth, we have felt that there were no problems, which could not be solved.
Yang: That is to say that the most important thing in life is the conviction that you have a clear purpose with your life. That you know what to do and what not to, so that you never go the wrong way?
Xi: That is very true. You have to make your own decisions yourself. You can only make the right choice if you are true towards your own ideals and your convictions. If you are not, your surroundings may easily lead you in a wrong direction.
Yang: As far as I know, you are still in close contact with the group of former students who are closely attached to The yellow earth. With them you do what you can for the local people, and the group has done a lot to promote local development.
Xi: In my village there was no electricity. After I had left it, I helped seeing to it that a transformer station was built, so that they had electricity. Some years ago I also helped the village repairing the school and a bridge. I did not have the money to help them myself, but I helped them formulate and introduce the projects and discuss the projects with local leaders, so that they could understand how important the projects were. Later on they decided to carry them through. Even if poverty was massive in the village, they cared well for me for many years. Therefore, it is natural that I should do something for the peasants in Yan’an.
Yang: I noticed that as Fujian’s provincial governor, in your speech to the people’s congress in January this year – according to the media – you emphasized that the government must make sure that every single official must remember that the power of the People’s Government comes from the people, that they must represent and be of benefit to the people, and in particular that they should not forget that before the word “government” there is another word “the people’s”. The applause of the assembly was great. The media also emphasised the fact that you were re-elected with a large majority.
Xi: To us communists it is so that ordinary people[60] are like our father and mother. They are the ones to feed and clothe us. We must understand the full significance of the expression Serve the people.[61] The total policies and directions of the Party and Government must be in full agreement with the people’s interests and be of the highest standard. We must always remind ourselves that we are the people’s servants, that we have the people’s need for clothes, food and decent living conditions at heart, and that we have the people’s support, backup and approval in everything we do. As you love your father and mother, you should love the people, be of use and create a good life for everybody. We should not be above the people, but should make sure that the people lead decent lives. Even in the old feudal society they said that “an official must create progress for the people.” So it cannot be too much to demand that we communists must be aware of the welfare of the people, can it?
Yang: It has been an interesting conversation. Thank you very much for the interview.
Translated from Danish into English by Torben Vestergaard©, professor in English Literature and Language, University of Aalborg, Denmark
Translated from Chinese to Danish by Carsten Boyer Thøgersen and Susanne Posborg©.
Advice and comments from Dr. Su Qin 宿琴, associate professor at Foreign Language School, Renmin University人民大学, Beijing.
Translated from:
陕西华商传媒集团有限责任公司ISSN: 1009-8747, CN: CN61-1381/C.
Some expressions and concepts primarily only understood in a Chinese cultural context have been modified. Footnotes have been added by the translators.
The first version of the translation was published October 2012 including 95% of the text and with a few footnotes. The present version is a translation of the full text. Number of footnotes and comments have been expanded considerably.
[1] The interview takes place in Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian province.
[2] The expression high-level official (高级领导干部) is often used in China although the last two characters ”ganbu” – normally translated as ”cadre” – today is used less often and replaced by ”person”. Because of China’s political system (one ruling party, no opposition parties) all leading top politicians will have positions such as ministers, governors and mayors. Appointments are time limited. A political career will usually start at a low regional level or at a low position in the administration of the central government. The work can be compared to the work of a European government official. Only very few officials/politicians are during their career promoted to the group of about 3,000 national top politicians who are appointed to leading positions in different provinces and at the central level in Beijing. Most officials/politicians will work in the same province through their whole career or at the level of a city or even at lower levels.
[3] Ningde (宁德) is one of the nine counties of the Fujian province. Ningde has a population of 2.8 million and an area of 13,500 km².
[4] Xiamen (厦门) is the biggest commercial city of the province of Fujian with a population of 3.5 million and an area of 1,700 km².
[5] Jia Qinglin (贾庆林) born in 1940. Party secretary in Fujian province 1993-1997. Party secretary in Beijing 1997-2002. Member of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party’s Politburo 2002-2012.
[6] Chen Guangyi (陈光毅) born in 1933. Party secretary in Fujian province 1986-1993. Member of the Party’s Central Committee 1985-2002.
[7] Wang Zhaoguo (王兆国) born in 1941. Governor of Fujian province 1987-1990. Member of the Politburo 2002-2012.
[8] Sandu’ao (三都澳) strait is between the island of Sandu and the Mainland.
[9] Sun Yatsen (in hanyu pinyin Sun Yixian孙逸仙. In China most often called Sun Zhongshan 孙中山). 1866-1925. In 1912, the first President of the Republic of China. Leader of the party Kuomintang/KMT/Guomindang (国民党).
[10] Guanzi (管子. Also known as Guan Zhong管仲) 719-645 BC. High ranking civil servant and reformer in the State of Qi (齐) 1046-221 BC. Today Shandong province.
[11] Zhengding county (正定县).
[12] The Central Military Commission’s Office (中央军委办公厅).
[13] Xie Feng (解峰) 1922-2004. Governor of Hebei province 1986-1988.
[14] Zhangjiakou (张家口) is the largest city in the north-western part of Hebei province. Europeans will also know the city’s historical and original Mongolian name, Kalgan.
[15] “The Four Bad Elements” (四类分子). Political expression used in China 1940-1970.
[16] Geng Biao (耿飚) 1909-2000, joined the communist party in 1925. After 1949 Geng had leading posts in the army, the government and the diplomacy.
[17] Xi Jinping did not follow the advice and got employment with a local government.
[18] Liu Yuan (刘源). Born in 1951. The son of the President of China, Liu Shaoqi (1959-1968). Had a civil as well as a military career. Liu Yuan and Xi Jinping were school mates in primary school.
[19] Beijing Normal University (北京师范大学).
[20] ”..从红土地、黑土地、黄土地、绿草原上终于回来了…” Translated directly: ”.. they had returned from the red soil, the black soil, the yellow soil and the green grass steppes.” The “red soil” is Southwest China (including the provinces of Yunnan and Guizhou). The ”black soil” is Northeast China (the provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning). The ”yellow soil” is Northwest China (including the provinces of Shaanxi and Shanxi). The ”green grass steppes” include Inner Indre Mongolia and Xinjiang.
[21] The Chinese imperial examinations (科举) were a civil service examination system in imperial China to select candidates for the state bureaucracy. Although there were imperial exams as early as the Han dynasty, the system became widely utilized as the major path to office only in the mid-Tang dynasty, and remained so until its abolition in 1905. By the Ming dynasty, the highest degree, the jinshi (进士), became essential for the highest office. Text in the interview: 古时候“十年寒窗,一举成名”,中个进士,谋个外放,千里万里他都去。
[22] Feng Menglong (冯梦龙) 1574–1646. The novel The Three Books – San Yan (三言) – describes the social affairs during the Ming dynasty.
[23] Shouning county (寿宁县)
[24] In Chinese hukou (户口).
[25] Zheng Banqiao (郑板桥, also known as Zheng Xie, 郑燮) 1693-1765 was a well-known poet and calligrapher in the Qing dynasty.
[26] Liu Bang (刘邦), 256-195 BC was the first emperor of the Han dynasty. Liu Xiu (刘秀) 5 BC– 57 AD was an emperor during the Han dynasty. Liu Bei (刘备) 161-223, founded the Shu Han (蜀汉) dynasty in the period called the The Three Kingdoms (三国时代).
[27] Song Jiang 宋江 was a leader of a group of 35 outlaws during the Song dynasty. Song Jiang is also the main character in the novel Water Margin – All Men are Brothers (水浒传) one of four famous classical Chinese novels.
[28] Xi Zhongxun (习仲勋) 1913-2002. Born in Shaanxi province. From 1933 one of the founders of the guerrilla base, which in 1936 became the final destination of the Long March. Vice premier in 1959. Dismissed in 1962 and criticized during the Cultural Revolution. Member of the Politburo 1982-1987.
[29] Taihang Shan – a mountain range in the southern part of the Shanxi province.
[30] Northeast University (东北大学). Founded 1923 in Shenyang, capital of Liaoning province.
[31] The December 9th Movement (一二•九运动) was a mass protest led by students in Beijing on December 9, 1935 to demand that the Chinese government actively resist Japanese aggression.
[32] It is normal in Northern Shaanxi that villagers’ dwellings are dug or hewed into the loess slopes.
[33] 中国共产主义青年团In English “The Communist Youth League of China”, (CYLC). At the start of the Cultural Revolution, officially from 1966 to 1978, the functioning of the Communist Youth League of China largely stopped and its Central Committee was disbanded. However, from the early 1970s CYLC’s functions were partly resumed. Only in 1978 CYLC’s functions were fully normalized.
[34] From 1958 to the beginning of the 1980s and thus during Xi Jinping’s stay in the countryside of Shaanxi province 1969 to 1975, the main village-level organisations were: People's commune 人民公社, the highest of three administrative levels. Production brigade 生产大队, the larger basic accounting and farm production unit in a people’s commune. Production team 生产队, the smaller basic accounting and farm production unit in a people’s commune.
[35] Zhaojiahe (赵家河大队).
[36] Fengjiaping (冯家坪公社).
[37] Revolutionary Committees during the Cultural Revolution (革命委员会) were established from 1967 and were made up of representatives from the people, the army and the party. The committees were closed down in 1978.
[38] Bayi Middle School (八一学校). A school for children of high ranking party members located in Beijing’s Haidian district.
[39] Cao Yi’ou (曹轶欧) 1903-1991.
[40] Kang Sheng (康生) 1898-1975. At that time China’s Minister of Security.
[41] Mao Zedong, 1893-1976, chairman of China’s Communist Party 1935-1976.
[42] Mao Zedong’s instruction to send students to the countryside (知识青年到农村去,接受贫下中农再教育) was broadcasted for the first time on December 21, 1968.
[43] Liu Shaoqi (刘少奇) 1898-1969. Deng Xiaoping (邓小平) 1904-1997. At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping held the posts as China’s President and Secretary General of China’s communist party respectively.
[44] Peng Dehuai (彭德怀) 1898-1974. Gao Gang (高岗) 1905-1954. Xi Zhongxun (习仲勋) 1913-2002. Liu Lantao (刘澜涛) 1910-1997. Zhao Shouyi (赵守一) 1917-1988.
[45] The Shaanxi-Gansu Soviet was a large area in North Western China controlled by China’s Communist Party.
[46] “ January there is still enough food, in February you will starve, and March and April you are half alive half dead”. (肥正月、瘦二月,半死不活三、四月).
[47] Tsinghua University (清华大学) in Beijing is one of China’s leading universities.
[48] China’s administrative levels are province, prefecture, city, county, township and village (省,地区,市,县,乡,村).
[49] Yanchuan amtet (延川县).
[50] Yan’an området (延安地区).
[51] The text in the interview is ”The right deviationist wind to reverse the verdicts” (右倾翻案风). The full name of the campaign was ”Repulse the right deviationist wind to reverse the verdicts” (反击右倾翻案风). This was a campaign against the attempt of the right wing to change the foundations of the Cultural Revolution.
[52] In 1975, Chi Qun (迟群, 1932-1999) was the party secretary of Tsinghua University while Xie Jingyi (谢静宜, 1935-2017) and Liu Bing (刘冰, 1921-2017) both were deputy party secretaries at the university. Chi and Xie were cultural revolutionaries. Liu Bing was associated with Deng Xiaoping. What Xi Jinping wants to tell with his short side-remark is this: While the cultural revolutionaries Chi and Xie, respectively party secretary and vice party secretary at Tsinghua University, were busy attending an important political campaign outside the university, daily management of the university was transferred – following normal administrative procedures – to the other vice party secretary Liu Bing, an alley of Deng Xiaoping. Still, administrative decisions as always would follow established procedures. Therefore, Liu Bing could not make an administrative decision on Xi Jinping’s enrolment until the university’s administrative office had received an obligatory document from the working unit of Xi Jinping’s father. When received, Liu routinely confirmed Xi Jinping’s application, already requested by Yan’an Prefecture and endorsed by Yanchuan County.
Xi Jinping probably made this side-remark with a drop of irony: while the cultural revolutionaries Chi and Xie were busy elsewhere, they missed a chance to complicate, if they had wanted to, the admission to Tsinghua University of a student whose father was criticized by the cultural revolutionaries. But as Xi Jinping right after says, the document from his father’s work unit was the very document allowing him to enrol at Tsinghua University. If the cultural revolutionaries Chi and Xie had been in charge of daily management at Tsinghua University, they could have made noises but hardly side-lined established administrative procedures.
[53] Xi Zhongxun was vice director at a tractor factory in Luoyang (洛阳), a large city in Henan province.
[54] Wang Qishan (王岐山) born in 1948. In 2018 appointed Vice President of China.
[55] Tao Zheng (陶正) born in 1948. Returned to Beijing in 1977.
[56] Lu Yao (路遥). 1949-1992.
[57] Shi Tiesheng (史铁生). 1951-2010. Leading member of Chinese Writers’ Association. Vice Chairman of Beijing Writers’ Association.
[58] The expression “Go and work in the countryside and mountainous areas” (上山下乡) describes the policy to send students to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution.
[59] The Yellow Earth (黄土地). The poor loess plateau in the Shaanxi province.
[60] Lao Bai Xing (老百姓). The old one hundred family names = the man in the street.
[61] Serve the people. (为人民服务).