Xi Jinping: A star-esque Chinese leader on the rise

Rise to “Stardom”

Soon after Xi’s election as general secretary in the 18th CPC National Congress, a mysterious Weibo account appeared on Sina Weibo, China’s biggest microblogging platform. The Weibo, first named “President Xi Fan Club” (Xi Zong Fensi Tuan in pinyin), focuses entirely on Xi Jinping, with posts about his family, life, work and background. And in many of its posts, it refers to Xi as “Pingping”, which is a very endearing way to address a person, much in the same line as those pop star fans. Particularly eye-catching are the many rare photos of Xi posted on this Weibo despite the tight censorship of the Chinese internet. In its profile description, it said, “This is for everyone who loves and supports Xi. Love Xi forever.” Then it changed its name to “Learning from Xi fan club” (Xue Xi Fensi Tuan), a play on word with “Xi”, meaning “to learn” which is also a family name. Its reference of Xi also changed from “Pingping” to “Xi Dada”, meaning Uncle Xi.

The account first caught people’s attention after Xi’s Shenzhen tour. Its accurate and timely reports of the tour stole the thunder from the official media. The Washington Post was the first foreign media to report on this weibo, expressing its suspicion that it might not be the work of a grassroots person but rather “Xi’s publicity or media team”. Because of this article, the popularity of this Xi’s fan Weibo soared, whose followers increased in thousands everyday.

But what made the Weibo truly well-known, is after its even better coverage of Xi’s February inspection tour to Lanzhou. Not only was its reporting accurate, it was, at a number of times, even ahead of the official media, with more exclusive and candid shots of Xi during the tour, which prompted CCTV’s official Weibo’s exclamation, ”What is going on? Learning from Xi Fan Club is quicker and closer than us!” Suspicions of the Weibo founder’s true identity were once again aroused.

This picture of Xi, named "Stop shooting", uploaded on Weibo by Zhang on February 6, was an instant hit, which has now been blocked by Sina Weibo. Photo: weibo.com

To clear the air, on February 5, a declaration was posted in which the founder stressed once again its grassroots Xi fan identity. However, a close shot of a squinting Xi posted a day later totally ruined this effort. This picture was forwarded nearly 10,000 times and reaffirmed the speculation that this Weibo is by no means run by an ordinary citizen. Decided that the situation is not good for the spreading of the “positive energy” and fearing that it might cause “worries” to Xi himself, the founder of Learning from Xi Fan Club, a college dropout and migrant worker Zhang Hongming, revealed his identity to AP on the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year.

After his "coming out", Zhang also temporarily considered calling it quits because he could not cope with the harassing reporters. But he decided to continue managing the account, thanks to his many Weibo supporters encouraging him along. Three months after its opening on November 21 2012, it has attracted over one million followers and still counting fast, including many "V"-celebrities (celebrities whose identity have been verified by Sina). Xi Dada has also become a popular address for Xi Jinping adopted by the media and the public alike.

This star treatment of a Chinese leader is a brand new phenomenon in China, unlike the blind worshipping of Chairman Mao but in a similar vein with the “Hello Xiao ping” sentiment nearly 30 years ago. Xi’s personal charm and his refreshing style is the ultimate spark that lit this flaming new trend. Hopefully, in the next 10 years, it will continue as Xi lead the Chinese people on a path towards the realization of the Chinese dream.

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