Within the next two weeks, China’s Communist Party is expected to remove a prohibition on presidential term limits. The move may allow the country’s current president, Xi Jinping, to remain in power for decades to come.
Here is what you should know about the authoritarian leader of the world’s most populous nation.
1. Xi Jinping was elected as the President of the People’s Republic of China in 2013. He also serves as the Chairman of the Central Military Commission (which makes him the commander-in-chief of China’s military forces) and as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China.
2. In addition to his role as president and party leader, Xi currently serves as head of a number of smaller decision-making bodies, including: General Secretary of the Party’s Central Committee; Head of Central Leading Group for Financial and Economic Affairs; Head of Central Leading Group for Taiwan Affairs; Head of Central Leading Group for Foreign Affairs; Chairman of Central National Security Commission; and Head of Central Leading Group for All-Around Deepening Reform. Xi holds so many positions he’s been called “Chairman of Everything.”
3. Xi Jinping was born in Beijing in 1953, making him the first Chinese president born after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, was one of the Communist Party’s founding fathers and a vice-premier. When Xi was 10 years old, his father was purged from the party and first sent to work in a factory before being jailed during the Cultural Revolution.
4. Xi was one of the millions of Chinese youths forced by Mao Zedong to go to work in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. After a few months, Xi was unable to stand the fleas, poor food, and farm work, so he ran away to Beijing. He was arrested during a crackdown on deserters from the countryside and sent to a work camp to dig ditches. For nearly seven years, Xi Jinping lived in a cave near the camp. “A thin quilt spread on bricks was his bed, a bucket was his toilet,” says Barbara Demick and David Pierson. “Dinners were a porridge of millet and raw grain.”
5. Despite the brutal way he and his father were treated by the Communist Party, Xi became an ardent party member. He applied to join the party’s youth league and was rejected eight times. It was only after Xi invited the local party secretary for a fried egg and steamed bread in the cave and pleaded his case that he finally became a party member in 1974.
6. While Xi was attending Tsinghua University in Beijing (with the Party’s blessing) and majoring in chemical engineering (which was chosen by the Party), his father was “politically rehabilitated” and appointed as party secretary for Guangdong province. Xi’s father used his new connections to get his son a job assisting an influential leader at the powerful Central Military Commission.
7. Xi quickly rose up through the ranks of the party. From 1982 to 2007, he served in four provinces. In 1985, he traveled to the Muscatine, Iowa, to learn about crop and livestock practices in the small farming community. During his stay he was given a key to the city, an honor he’d receive again when he returned for a visit in 2012.
8. In 2017, the Communist Party voted unanimously to incorporate “Xi Jinping Thought” into the Chinese constitution, an honor previously reserved for Mao Zedong and his successor, Deng Xiaoping. As the BBC notes, by enshrining the principles under his name in the party constitution, rivals cannot now challenge China’s strongman without threatening Communist Party rule.
9. Xi was due to step down in 2023, but a new change may allow him to stay in power indefinitely. On Sunday the Chinese state news agency announced, “The Communist Party of China Central Committee proposed to remove the expression that the President and Vice-President of the People’s Republic of China ‘shall serve no more than two consecutive terms’ from the country’s Constitution.”
10. Since the announcement, the Chinese government has added to its already wide-ranging online censorship with several new restrictions. The ban includes a prohibition on George Orwell’s anti-totalitarian novels Animal Farm and 1984, the phrase “Xi Zedong” (a combination of Xi and Mao Zedong’s names), and—for reasons as yet unknown—the letter ‘N.’
Joe Carter is an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College, an editor for several organizations, and the author of the NIV Lifehacks Bible.
Photo Credit: Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives at the Palais des Nations for his visit, Geneva, Switzerland, January 18, 2016. UN Photo by Pierre Albouy, via Flickr.