John L. Thornton China Center

Xi Jinping 习近平

One of China's Top Future Leaders to Watch

Xi Jinping 

  • Born 1953
  • PRC vice president (2008-present)
  • Vice chairman of the Central Military Commission (2010-present)
  • Politburo Standing Committee member (2007-present)
  • Executive member of the Secretariat (2007-present)
  • President of the Central Party School (2007-present)
  • Full member of the Central Committee of the CCP (2002-present)

Personal and Professional Background

Xi Jinping was born in 1953 in Fuping County, Shaanxi Province (some official biographers say that he was born and grew up in Beijing and that Fuping is his ancestral home). Xi iwas a "sent-down youth" (1969-1975) at an agricultural commune in Yanchuan County, Shaanxi.[1] He joined the CCP in 1974, received his undergraduate education in chemical engineering from the Chemical Engineering Department at Tsinghua University (1975-79), and later graduated with a doctoral degree in law (via part-time studies, 1998-2002) from the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences at Tsinghua University. Early in his career (1979-1982) he served as a personal secretary (mishu) to Geng Biao, then minister of defense. Subsequently, Xi served as deputy secretart and secretary of Zhengding County, Hebei Province (1982-85), and thereafter in Fujian Province as executive vice major of Xiamen County (1985-88), party secretary of Ningde County (1988-1990), party secretary of Fuzhou City (1990-96), deputy party secretary of Fujian Province (1996-99), governor of Fujian Province (199-2002), governor of Zhejiang Province (2002), and party secretary of Zhejiang Province (2002-2007). In March 2007, Xi was appointed party secretary of Shanghai. He was first elected to the Central Committee as an alternate member at the 15th Party Congress in 1997.

Family and Patron-Client Ties

Xi is a princeling, the son of Xi Zhongxun, a former Politburo member and vice premier who was one of the architects of China's Special Economic Zones in the early 1980s.[2] Xi Jinping is widely considered to be a protegé of both former PRC president Jiang Zemin and former PRC vice presdient Zeng Qinghong. Xi's wife (his second marriage), Peng Liyuan, is a famouse Chinese folksinger who currently serves in the People's Liberation Army at the rank of major general. Their only daughter, Xi Mingze, is currently enrolled at Harvard University as a sophomore. Xi's first marriage produced no children. His ex-wife, Ke Lingling, is the daughter of Ke Hua, former PRC ambassador to the United Kingdom, where Ke Lingling currently lives.

Political Prospects and Policy Preferences

Barring something entirely unforseen, Xi will succeed Hu Jintao as general secretary of the CCP at the 18th Party Congress in the fall of 2012, president of the PRC at the 12th National People's Congress in March 2012, and chairman of the Central Military Commission in 2014. Xi has long been know for his market-friendly approach to economic development. Yet he has also displayed strong support for "big companies," especially China's flagship state-owned enterprises, which monopolize many major industrial sectors in the country. Xi's experience in the military—serving as a personal assistant to the minister of defence early in his career—also makes him stand out among his peers. Xi's views concerning China's political reforms appear to be remarkably conservative, seemingly in ling with old-fashioned Marxist doctrines.


[1] The “sent-down youth” (插队知青) refers to young, educated urban dwellers who during the Cultural Revolution left their cities to serve as manual laborers in the countryside.

[2] For more information about Xi’s family background and his early experiences, see Liang Jian 梁剑, New Biography of Xi Jinping (习近平新传; New York: Mirror Books, 2012); and Wu Ming 吴鸣, Biography of Xi Jinping (习近平传; Hong Kong: 文化艺术出版社, 2008).

Editor's Note: The profile above was prepared by the China Center's Cheng Li and originally appeared in the China Leadership Monitor.