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FT: Life and Soul for the Party

Author: Richard McGregor
October 6, 2007



This Financial Times profile of China's President Hu Jintao gives a glimpse into his personal life, his early life, and his family. Through Hu's profile, the piece throws light on the workings of the Chinese political system.


If ever a moment summed up the parallel universe Chinese president Hu Jintao inhabits, it was when he spoke at Yale university in April 2006, at the end of a US tour. Hu told his audience that the visit to New Haven had triggered a sense of nostalgia in him for his "great experiences" at Tsinghua university in Beijing 40 years earlier. There are parallels - Tsinghua has an elite pedigree and holds a similar status in China to Yale in the US. But Hu's final years there could not have been more distant from the images of idealistic inquiry he alluded to at Yale.

His last three years at Tsinghua, working as a "political counsellor" after completing his engineering degree, overlapped with the early days of Mao Zedong's brutal cultural revolution. This was no summer of love. Using gangs of Red Guards, Mao Zedong's cataclysmic campaign wiped out political opponents and destroyed the lives of millions of Chinese in an effort to cleanse the party of so called "intellectual" and "bourgeois" influences. And yet, as Tsinghua was overrun by radical activism and denunciations of academics, Hu survived. Of the four political counsellors in his year at Tsinghua, "only Hu Jintao was called 'commander'," recalls Wan Runnan, a university colleague at the time.

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