Xi Zhongxun 习仲勋
Late father of Xi Jinping
15 October 1913, died 24 May 2002.
Liberal former Vice Premier, described as a “dove”. Have any of his values been passed on to his son, Xi Jinping?
Pronunciation: Shee Jong-Shuhn soundbite
Born: Born 15 October 1913 to a land-owning family in Shaanxi
Career: Despite being purged from Party several times, rose eventually to Vice Premier before being sidelined for expressing concerns over handling of Tiananmen protests in 1999. He is believed to have been a mentor to Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. He was close to Hu Yaobang.
Prospects: Died 24 May 2002.
Relevance to Tibet: Had a 40-year relationship with the 10th Panchen Lama. Is known to have carried a photo of the Dalai Lama and kept a watch the Dalai Lama gave him. Did he influence the views of his son, Xi Jinping, soon to be the most powerful leader in China?
Standing in the Party and Career Highlights:
Xi Zhongxun joined the Communist Youth League in May 1926 and the Communist Party of China in 1928. He was a guerilla leader in the 1930s and played an important role in the later stages of the Long March.
In the late 1940s he was attached to the NW Military region (Lanzhou) and between 1950 and 1954 he became the region’s Political Commissar at the same time Deng Xiaoping was Political Commissar of SW Military Region (Chengdu). There was factionalism between these two military regions, which saw themselves as the protectors or even patrons of the Panchen Lama and the Dalai Lama respectively. Xi Zhongxun clearly had considerably more contact with the Panchen Lama than the Dalai Lama. In an obituary, “Deeply Cherish the Memory of the Panchen Lama, a Loyal and Faithful Friend of the Chinese Communist Party”, published in People’s Daily in February 1989, Xi wrote that he first met the Panchen Lama in April 1951 in Xian, when the Panchen Lama would have been just 13 years old. Xi’s relationship to his predecessor as Political Commissar of the NW Military region, General Peng Dehuai, has been cited as one of the reasons for his purging in 1962.
Xi senior later became Secretary General of the State Council and had overall responsibility for the 1954 visits to China of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama. Until 1962 he was responsible for the Party’s relationship with the Panchen Lama.
In 1959 Xi became the youngest Vice Premier, a position he held until he was purged in 1962.
Rehabilitated by Deng Xiaoping in 1978, Xi was Governor of Guangdong from 1979 to 1981, during which time he implemented the Shenzhen Economic Zone and was quoted as saying to Deng: “We need to reform China and implement this economic zone even if it means that we have to pave a bloody road ahead and I am to be responsible for it.” (Reportedly when trying to convince Deng of the necessity of market socialism in China.)
From 1981 onwards Xi appears to have been in charge of United Front work. During this period he was an interlocutor with exiled Tibetans, who have described how, in 1982, Xi was carrying a photo of the Dalai Lama. It was also revealed that the Dalai Lama had given Xi a watch in 1954, and that Xi had kept this watch safe throughout the Cultural Revolution.
According to China Vitae, Xi was Vice Chairman of the National People’s Congress from 1988 to 1993, but sidelined after the protests in Tiananmen Square in June 1989 (see below).
He is believed to have been a mentor to Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. He was close to Hu Yaobang. Wikipedia writes “He was remembered for his friendship to his colleagues, his tolerance to diverse cultures and religions, his idealism of an open market socialist country and his integrity in his beliefs. He was one of the few upper level leaders who voted during the 1980s for open reform and was persecuted afterwards for this bold move.”
Xi had four children with Qi Xin, his second wife: Xi Qiaoqiao, Xi An’an, Xi Jinping, and Xi Yuanping.
Photos of Xi Zhongxun on a visit to the United States in 1980 can be viewed here.
Xi Zhongxun’s Purges and impact on Xi Jinping:
Xi senior was first purged in 1962 and sent to work in a factory in Henan. Several explanations for this purging are available. In ‘The Private Life of Chairman Mao’, Dr Li Zhisui says Xi was too close to Peng Dehuai (a military colleague) who had criticized Mao’s Great Leap Forward in 1959. He was also accused of being “anti-party” and a supporter of purged leader Gao Gang. According to The Diplomatic Courier, Xi spoke out in favour of a popular novel that was regarded as a thinly-veiled criticism of the “Great Helmsman.” Claude Arpi suggests his closeness to the Panchen Lama was also a possible cause of the purge. This is borne out by references in Xi’s obituary of the Panchen Lama of the Rinpoche’s 70,000 character petition having brought Xi trouble in 1962 (see below).
During the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976) Xi was imprisoned and tortured and his children persecuted. A 1992 Washington Post article says, “One daughter died. The younger Xi recalled being locked up ‘three or four times’ when he was 15 because if his father’s crimes. Banished to Ya’nan, the revolutionary base of the party, he had to attend daily ‘struggle’ sessions, where he was often forced to read out denunciations of his father. ‘Even if you don’t understand, you are forced to understand,’ he said with a trace of bitterness. ‘It makes you mature earlier.’” (It should be noted that Xi Jinping joined the CCP in 1974 when his father was still in prison, and – according to a family friend – chose to survive by becoming “redder than red”.)
Xi Zhongxun was rehabilitated by Deng Xiaoping in 1978. Hu Yaobang, as head of the Organisation Department, oversaw the rehabilitation drive. Xi protested when Hu Yaobang was forced out in 1987 and later publicly opposed the military crackdown in Tiananmen Square in 1989, after which he was pushed into semi-retirement and rarely seen in public. The Washington Post article in 1992 described Xi Zhongxun, aged 79, as Vice Chairman of the NPC; “He is reported to be in poor health but still influential.”
- Reuters Interview with the Dalai Lama, August 2012 ‘The Dalai Lama recalls the elder Xi as “very friendly, comparatively more open-minded, very nice” and says he only gave watches back then to those Chinese officials he felt close to. “We Tibetans, we get these different varieties of watch easily from India. So we take advantage of that, and brought some watches to some people when we feel some sort of close feeling, as a gift like that,” the Dalai Lama said… The Dalai Lama gave the watch to the elder Xi in 1954 during an extended visit to Beijing. Xi was one of the officials who spent time with the young Dalai Lama in the capital where he spent five to six months studying Chinese and Marxism.’
- Wikileaks Cables and testimony from Tibetan envoys. A cable released in February 2010 quotes an unidentified dissident writer as saying that “the Dalai Lama still had great affection for Xi’s father… and continued to cherish a watch Xi gave him in the 1950s.” Information from Tibetan sources say in fact it was His Holiness who gave Xi a gold watch in 1954, which Xi managed to keep safe through the Cultural Revolution and showed to members of a Tibetan delegation he met in 1982. During that 1982 meeting, Xi Zhongxun had a photograph of the Dalai Lama, taken in 1954, in his jacket pocket.
- Obituary of the 10th Panchen Lama, People’s Daily, 20 February 1989. Xi’s article describes his relationship with the Panchen Lama from 1951 to his death, and in some detail the impact of the Panchen Lama’s 1962 70,000 character petition to Zhou Enlai; (Mao’s ‘poisoned arrow’), including the impact on Xi of their relationship. A Rough translation of the article reads… “I was very disturbed to see when the Master [Panchen Lama] said: Because my “seventy words book” brings you into trouble, I am sorry.” In the same article Xi repeatedly emphasized the Panchen Lama’s patriotism to the CCP. He concluded (rough translation) “We want to complete the unfinished business Panchen Lama, to safeguard national unification and ethnic unity, to build a united, prosperous and civilized socialist new Tibet, to promote the common prosperity of all nationalities and make new contributions.”
- Personal Testimony, exiled Tibetan: In the mid 1980s Hu Yaobang and Panchen Rinpoche wanted a Tibetan [Party Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region], but the only possible candidate at the time, Baba Phuntsog Wangyal, turned the offer down, and Wu Jinghua, from the Yi nationality in Yunnan and a Vice Minister in the UFWD, was acceptable to Xi Zhongxun and Panchen Rinpoche as a compromise.