What can we learn from President Xi Jinping’s childhood?

Children across the country received greetings from Chinese President Xi Jinping on the occasion of International Children’s Day on Tuesday.

In a reply letter dated May 30 to members of the Chinese Young Pioneers at a primary school in east China’s Jiangsu Province, Xi called on learning the Party’s history and having a firm faith to follow it from a young age.

Xi often shows his concern for children’s growth. He frequently writes to children, visits schools, drops in at their homes, watches them play sports games and practice calligraphy, and joins them in activities such as planting trees.

President Xi has on many occasions shared his childhood memories. We explore how President Xi spent his childhood and whether these experiences have made who he is.

Five-year-old Xi Jinping (L), his younger brother and their father Xi Zhongxun, 1958. /CMG

Frugal habits

President Xi’s family, a revolutionary one, had a tradition of adopting the frugal lifestyle.

In an interview with CCTV in 2003, Xi recalled having to wear flowery hand-me-down clothes and shoes from his elder sisters.

President Xi with students during his visit to Beijing Haidian National Primary School in Beijing, May 30, 2014. /CMG

Taking responsibilities

Ahead of the International Children’s Day in 2014, President Xi visited a primary school in Haidian District in Beijing and called for fostering socialist values among children.

While attending a Young Pioneers ceremony, Xi told the students about his “crying story.” “I cried because I wasn’t old enough to become the first batch of the Young Pioneers,” he said. Then children all laughed when Xi asked: “Is it embarrassing to cry for this?”

He then recalled his excitement after finally being able to join the organization while calling on the Young Pioneers to stand ready for taking forward the cause of socialism.

President Xi visits Beijing Haidian National Primary School in Beijing, May 30, 2014. /CMG


During that visit, Xi also encountered a group of students who were practicing calligraphy with the characters “Jing Zhong Bao Guo,” meaning “serving the nation with absolute loyalty.”

The phrase comes from the story of Yue Fei, an ancient military commander known for his patriotism. Yue’s mother tattooed these four Chinese characters on his back to remind him of the importance of unswerving loyalty to the nation.

Xi told the students, as a child, he was very inspired by the story of Yue, which he learned from a picture book his mother had given him.

“I said it must have been a great pain to have those words tattooed on the back, but my mother said that although it was painful, he remembered it by heart,” Xi recalled.

“This (Jing Zhong Bao Guo) has become the pursuit of my life,” Xi added.

President Xi visits Beijing Bayi School, September 9, 2016. /CMG

Importance of physical exercise

Ahead of the Teachers’ Day in 2016, President Xi visited his alma mater Bayi School, where he spent his primary and junior high school years.

Stopping at the soccer field where students were training, Xi, a soccer fan, recalled the old days when he played on the same field, which is grass now but was dirt and mud 50 years ago.

Physical exercise is imperative to cultivating one’s temperament and will power, Xi told the students.

President Xi greets a boy from the ice hockey team of Zhongguancun No. 2 Primary School at a venue for the 2022 Winter Olympics ice hockey event in Wukesong Sports Center, Beijing, February 24, 2017. /CMG

A pair of skating shoes

During a trip to a 2022 Winter Olympics facility in Beijing in 2017, President Xi shared his story with the young ice hockey players practicing there.

“I could only go skating on frozen Shichahai Lake,” Xi said, recalling his teenage years.

He said he loved skating and always wanted to have a pair of skating shoes, while his younger brother liked playing ice hockey. But they could only afford buying one pair. So he gave the chance to his younger brother.

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