Chinese President Xi Jinping is the kind of president who does not mind eating his dinner on the train and who shuns luxurious accommodation, according to the latest state media reports designed to portray him as a thrifty and frugal leader.
The report by state news agency Xinhua published on Monday depicted him as a man who would spent his birthday working and personally intervened to ensure that meals in honour were not too extravagant, with just the traditional “four dishes and soup” being served.
The report was also intended to reinforce the message to officials that staying down to earth was “no trivial matter” but was key to fulfilling the party’s “original mission” in what one analyst described as a Mao Zedong-style effort to show he was on the side of the people.
Xinhua said the party chief had reminded other senior leaders that they must stay close to the people and keep a thrifty working style, telling them: “No matter how much the people's lives have improved, hard-working and thrifty thinking can never be lost.”
The state media report gave a long list of examples of his “pragmatic and thrifty” style, including his efforts to ensure that celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic he attended around the country “avoided extravagance and waste”.
“During the four-day inspection tour in Gansu, General Secretary Xi Jinping travelled from west to east along the Hexi Corridor, travelling more than 1,000 kilometres [600 miles], travelling day and night, eating five meals on the train,” Xinhua said.
It also described a trip to a remote area in Chongqing municipality that included a trek up a steep hill paths to meet poverty-stricken villagers.
It also reported that he had contacted officials before making official visits to ensure they did not put on a special show for him but kept everything running “as usual”.
He was also described as making sure that visiting delegates were put up in “clean and comfortable” rather than “luxurious” accommodation.
Such depictions tally closely with the Mao Zedong-style image that the leader has looked to cultivate, according to Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
“He wanted to emphasise that he is a friend to ordinary people, he wants to have more legitimacy [because of] this. He tries to emphasise that I am quite close to you, my lifestyle is not very different from you. It’s Mao Zedong-style,” Wu said.
The image projected dovetails with his personal history – Xi held positions in rural areas earlier in his political career– and Wu said these experiences were one of the motivations for his campaign to alleviate poverty.
According to Xinhua, Xi made 11 inspection tours of grass-roots areas last year, spending a total of 31 days there, in an effort ensure that his drive to eliminate “absolute poverty” by the end of this year succeeded.
Another one of his major long-term campaigns has been to target corruption, and his efforts to remind party officials of their responsibilities and “crack down on hedonism” tie in with this.
The report also claimed that another benefit of adopting a more pragmatic working style was that grass roots cadres could be “freed from useless affairs, and have more time to spend with the common people”.
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