Chinese Studies Xi Jinping
Kerry Brown, Alice Politi
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0195


Since his appointment as party secretary of the Communist Party on the 15 November 2012, and as National President in March the following year, Xi Jinping has become the dominant figure in contemporary Chinese politics. He has been called the most powerful leader in the world currently (2021). His politics has been characterized as highly centralized and autocratic, with controversial campaigns like the extensive anti-corruption campaigns from 2013, and the removal of time limits from the State Constitution for the presidency in 2018, in effect clearing the way for his remaining in power for many years into the future. Xi has presided over a China which has appeared increasingly confident on the global stage. The main foreign affairs idea has been around the Belt and Road Initiative (originally framed as the New Silk Road in 2013). This vast idea has been described as China’s Marshall Plan. It has also been accused of being a strategy for regional and global dominance. What is clear is that China is now willing, and capable, of articulating a global vision with its own characteristics. This runs alongside a major attempt to enforce party loyalty and discipline in China, and to ensure that there is an appropriate ideology—Xi Jinping Thought, written into the Party Constitution in 2017. Xi’s era has also seen fierce and widespread repression of rights and democracy activists. In particular, the government has prosecuted a widespread Party Building campaign to enforce unity in the party, and engaged in a huge operation in Xinjiang against, in particular, people of Uyghur ethnicity. This has attracted international criticism. During the COVID-19 pandemic from late 2019 into 2021, the profile of China as a country, and Xi as a leader, has risen. His standing in China has strengthened because of the government’s management of the public health crisis, which has largely been relatively effective. But it has become increasingly polarizing internationally.

Biographical Studies

Brown 2016 and Bougan 2018 show that Xi Jinping originates from an elite family in the People’s Republic. His father, Xi Zhongxun, was a former Vice Premier who was removed from power due to political issues in the early 1960s. This means that unlike his predecessor Hu Jintao, there is a much better record of Xi’s path prior to becoming national leader in 2012. Even so, full-length biographical studies have been hindered by the general inaccessibility of archive material in China, and the opacity and the protectiveness of the party about its leaders. Official accounts of Xi’s life issued in China have been unsurprisingly laudatory. The main focus therefore has been on matching Xi’s words during this time in power, and his actions. Here, with China as a global power, there is far more visibility, with him traveling to and speaking in over fifty countries since 2013. Another focus is on the networks around him in the party, and their possible links to him. As Lam 2015 shows, Xi’s characteristic is the way in which, while being from an elite background, he straddles the worlds of the military, business (through his years in the highly entrepreneurial environment of Fujian and Zhejiang provinces), and provincial and central government (he has uniquely served at all levels of government in China). That gives some clue to his political skills and his ability to form coalitions and support networks. Yu 2014 contains an early but much more critical view of Xi’s rule, accusing it of increasing autocracy. The Party School Interview Records 2017 gives an account of Xi’s formative years during the Cultural Revolution in rural China in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a period that has been referred to as a major part of the “myth” of Xi and his links to all parts of China today.

  • Bougan, Francoise. Inside the Mind of Xi Jinping. Translated by Vanessa Lee. London: Hurst, 2018.

    Succinct study, written by an economics correspondent for Le Monde, of Xi’s background and core elements of his political program. It has a particular emphasis on Xi’s cultural interests (which on paper at least seem wide) and his family networks.

  • Brown, Kerry. China’s CEO: The Rise of Xi Jinping. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2016.

    DOI: 10.5040/9781350985650

    An overview of Xi’s biography before coming to power, and then his essential political program since being appointed party boss in 2012. This work focuses in particular on the question of why Xi was able to advance past other contenders for the prime role, and then consolidate power so quickly. This involves looking at his extensive and diverse networks in the army, party elite, but also at the provincial level.

  • Brown, Kerry. “The Powers of Xi Jinping.” Asian Affairs 48.1 (2017): 17–26.

    DOI: 10.1080/03068374.2016.1267435

    An argument addressing the question of what Xi’s powers might be founded on, looking at the role of the party as a knowledge community.

  • Lam, Willy Wo-Lap. Chinese Politics in the Era of Xi Jinping: Renaissance, Reform or Retrogression? New York and London: Routledge, 2015.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315719368

    An overview, using largely Chinese source material, of Xi’s rise to power and his first years in office. This is part of a series of books by Lam on elite politics in China over the last thirty years, and is characterized by a succinct, deft analysis and astute political assessment.

  • Party School Interview Records. Xi Jiping de Qi Nian Zhiqing Suiyue. Beijing: Chinese Central Party School Press, 2017.

    (Xi Jinping’s seven years as a sent down youth). The official account of Xi’s period after being sent from Beijing at the end of the 1960s to the Chinese countryside in the central province of Shaanxi. This era in which Xi worked among farmers and reportedly lived in a cave has been referred to in official biographies as proving the authenticity and depth of Xi’s experience.

  • Yu Jie. Zhongguo Jiaofu: Xi Jinping. Hong Kong: Open Publishing, 2014.

    (China’s godfather: Xi Jinping). Yu Jie is a Chinese historian based in New York. This is a fiercely critical overview of Xi’s rise to power, and of his performance in the early period of his rule. While often almost hysterical in tone, the book presents a forceful Chinese language account of why Xi’s rule is regarded as autocratic and dictatorial.

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