Xi Jinping is beginning the road towards succeeding Hu Jintao, the current First Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and the President of China. He will begin a one-week tour of the United States this week, where President Barack Obama and he will take each other's measure, then on to the Pentagon and State Department, talks with business leaders and a visit to a farm community in Iowa.
If possible, he will take in an NBA basketball game, although he probably will not be watching the current sensation of the New York Knickerbockers, Jeremy Lin, who is a big hit in China and Taiwan.
Nikita Khrushchev made a visit to an Iowa farm during his celebrated visit to the United States during the 1950s. The Soviet leader became a convert to corn and viewed it as a panacea to the ills of Soviet agriculture.
This week's high-ranking communist visitor is much more sophisticated than the 1950s Soviet leadership. He has a daughter studying under an assumed name at Harvard and as the Chinese supply the largest contingent of foreign students to the United States, she does not stick out. The heir apparent was previously married to the daughter of the Chinese ambassador to London and therefore knows what to expect in the West.
Xi, who grew up in the lap of relative luxury as the son of a communist hero during the Civil War who rose to the ranks of vice premier. Till the Cultural Revolution of 1965-1969, he enjoyed the privileges of the Communist elite in Beijing. When Mao Zedong turned against the party elite who were attempting to relegate him to the role of a figurehead after the failure and famines caused by his Great Leap Forward insanity. Xi was packed off to do hard labor and learn from the peasantry in the boondocks.
Both his father's generation and Xi's own came away from the Cultural Revolution with a deep suspicion of spontaneity and an abiding fear of losing control.
We will probably have to wait for the succession to be fully in place before departing speculation for firm conclusions. Because of his heritage. Xi has been called a princeling, one of a group in the party that grew up in the richer coastal regions and pursued careers in finance, trade, foreign affairs and technology as opposed to tuanpai whose path to the top went through the Chinese Communist Youth League and party leadership in the poorer interior. The current leader, Hu Jintao, is associated with the tuanpai. The princelings are considered more disposed to economic liberalization and the Chinese middle class, whereas the tuanpai are more sensitive to social equality.
On the other hand, in the buildup accompanying the succession, much is made of Xi's forced sojourn in the periphery, where he was able to experience poverty firsthand. This presumably made him more sensitive.