China's new leader knew early hardships

(CBS News) SHAANXI PROVINCE, China - China's Communist Party introduced its new leadership Thursday. Xi Jinping was named him head of the party, which will make him president and head of the military. Xi's family has become extremely wealthy. But it wasn't always that way.

Xi Jinping, 59, will lead the most populous country on earth.

But his political life began in a smaller place -- Liangjiahe, a village of 800 in Shaanxi Province. Even today, the land is hard and making a living is harder.

Before being exiled to a remote village as at age 15 during China's Cultural Revolution, future leader Xi Jinping lived the life of a pampered child of the Communist elite.
CBS News

In 1969, during the violent upheaval of the Cultural Revolution, elites were attacked. Xi's father, a vice premier, was denounced and imprisoned. Xi was exiled to a remote village at the age of 15.

For seven years, Xi worked in the fields during the day, and at night came home to a cave dwelling -- one room carved into the hillside. They're all over these mountains. Here, the locals say, "he learned to eat bitterness." It's a Chinese saying that means he learned to endure hardship.

We say "a cave like this" because villagers refused to let us see Xi's cave. The police copied our passports; men followed us; and the current occupant closed the gate on us. No one ever told us why.

In the nearby city of Yan'an, we met a friendlier man doing morning exercises, 59-year-old retired construction worker, Xu Ningru. He met China's new president back in 1969, a chaotic time he told us.

China's Xi Jinping faces daunting road ahead

Asked if Xi did hard, physical work, Mr. Xu said, "Of course. He did farm work, he herded cows."

It was a world away from Xi's early life in Beijing, the pampered child of the Communist elite. Xi, at ease with peasants and the powerful, left exile and excelled at party politics. He ran China's biggest city, Shanghai; and its biggest event, the 2008 Olympics.

Today he is half of China's glamour couple -- his wife is one of the country's most popular singers. He takes the helm as China's economy is slowing down and trade tensions with the U.S. are going up.

Asked if the time Xi spent in exile will make him a better leader, Xu said: "The new president suffered extreme hardship. He must have learned from that."

Xi Jinping has said whenever he encounters trouble he thinks back to his days here, then nothing seems too difficult.

  • Bill Whitaker

Comments