How Xi Jinping’s presidency was shaped by traumas of Mao and Gorbachev

Centrist approach to reform of China’s society and party comes from study of where two communist leaders went wrong

To mark China’s Spring Festival last month, Xi Jinping made a visit to the small northern village of Liangjiahe, where he was banished in 1969 as a raw 15-year-old during the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution, where he worked for seven years and where the future president of China joined the Communist party.

His father had been persecuted and jailed in one of Mao Zedong’s purges, and Xi suffered humiliation, hunger and homelessness, sleeping in a cave, carrying manure and building roads, according to official accounts. “Perplexed” when he was sent to the countryside, Xi emerged as if remoulded by the painful years he spent there. He learned enough in the village to be able to cast himself as a man of the people. The lessons also made him profoundly distrust those same people.