BEIJING — He cooked dumplings with families, made small talk with delivery workers and tried out riot gear with the police.
President Xi Jinping of China sought to project an image as a strong and folksy leader during a two-day tour of Beijing ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, which begins on Tuesday. Facing a slowing economy at home and a trade war with the United States, he used the occasion to defend his policies, including his efforts to create jobs and the Communist Party’s increasingly tight grip on society.
Here are the highlights.
Mr. Xi, the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao, rarely mingles with the public. But ahead of the Year of the Pig, he made an exception, visiting a historic Beijing alleyway on Friday to hang decorations with residents and make dumplings, a favorite New Year food.
The visit was yet another attempt by Mr. Xi to be seen as sympathetic to the struggles of ordinary people. With China’s economy slowing after years of breakneck growth, he does not want to risk being seen as out of touch.
In the alleyway, Mr. Xi asked about the cost of electricity, wished a restaurant owner success and patted children on the head. Later, he spoke with delivery workers, comparing them to “diligent honeybees,” and vowed to create more jobs.
Mr. Xi is often portrayed as a transformative, paternalistic figure on a pedestal with Mao. During his visit to the alleyway, his words were met with smiles and energetic applause.
Critics say Mr. Xi’s propaganda efforts risk creating a Mao-style personality cult. While Mr. Xi cannot yet match Mao’s dominance over daily life, there are some similarities, including the use of endearing nicknames.
At one point during his visit, an older woman in the crowd urged a young girl to refer to Mr. Xi as “yeye,” or grandpa.
Projecting Strength and Power
It was perhaps no surprise that Mr. Xi’s New Year tour prominently featured a visit with soldiers.
Since rising to power in 2012, Mr. Xi has tried to forge a close relationship with the military. He has led a sweeping overhaul of its ranks, purging commanders and installing allies to key posts.
Mr. Xi on Friday also visited a police command center, where he spoke about the importance of maintaining social stability. He has spoken repeatedly in recent weeks of the need to tighten control of society, in part because of a number of sensitive political anniversaries this year.
On Saturday, he joined soldiers as they raised a flag in the Forbidden City. He inspected their dormitories, asking whether they were warm enough with only one layer of sheets.
The reviews by the state-run news media were rapturous: “The soldiers stood by President Xi’s side filled with happiness and joy.”
October commemorates the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre falls in June.
Party leaders are probably concerned about widespread protests. To emphasize his call for stability at the command center, Mr. Xi picked up a riot shield and held it in front of his body.
Calling for a ‘Chinese Dream’
Mr. Xi’s signature phrase is the “Chinese dream,” a nationalistic promise of prosperity and rejuvenation for China and its people.
He often invokes the term in describing his vision for the economy, politics, science and foreign affairs.
During a visit to a training center for the 2022 Winter Olympics, which will be held in Beijing, Mr. Xi made clear that achieving success in athletics was also central to the “Chinese dream.”
The Olympics are a source of national pride as Beijing will become the first city to host both the Winter and Summer Games. Many see the games as a sign of China’s rising power and prominence on the global stage.
“If sports are strong,” Mr. Xi told the crowd of athletes, “then the country will be strong.”
Orignially published in NYT.