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'You are our lucky star': Chinese media in overdrive on Xi Jinping's New Year tour

The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, in Zhanqi Village of Pidu District in Chengdu
The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, in Zhanqi Village of Pidu District in Chengdu. Photograph: Xinhua / Barcroft Images

Xi Jinping has flown into one of rural China’s most deprived corners to champion his war on extreme poverty before the country’s week-long Lunar New Year holiday.

China’s leader toured the adobe shacks of Sanhe and Huopu, two hardscrabble high-altitude farming villages, during a visit to Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in the south-western province of Sichuan.

“No matter how hard it might be … we have to win this battle,” Xi told locals from the Yi minority, according to the Communist party’s official mouthpiece, the People’s Daily. “Not a single family should be left behind.”

The poverty stricken region, about 440km (270 miles) south-west of Sichuan’s capital, Chengdu, made global headlines two years ago after photographs showed children from one mountain community scrambling down a 800m rock face to get to school.

Party leaders traditionally tour China’s poor hinterlands on the eve of the New Year break, which begins on Thursday and will see hundreds of millions of migrant workers flock home as part of what some call the world’s greatest annual human migration. This year, Xi’s “inspection” has taken on extra significance after he made eradicating extreme poverty one of three top priorities for 2018, alongside pollution and economic risks.

Chinese President Xi Jinping visits the home of an impoverished family in Sanhe Village of Sanchahe Township in Zhaojue County of Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, southwest China’s Sichuan Province.
Xi Jinping visits the home of an impoverished family in Sanhe village. Photograph: Xinhua / Barcroft Images

Beijing has vowed to help 30 million people rise above its official poverty line of about 70p (US$1) a day by 2020. Hundreds of millions have escaped poverty since China’s economic opening in the 1980s but, according to a UN report, 5.7% of China’s rural population still lived in poverty at the end of 2015.

In a recent interview Mark Wang, a University of Melbourne academic, said he believed Xi was personally committed to the poor but suspected the relentless focus was also about politics. “How can you make sure a billion people trust you, and say, ‘This is our strong leader’? If I were him I would do the same thing.”

The political function was unmissable in propaganda reports about Xi’s Sichuan visit, which stressed the charity and supremacy of a ruler who was last year anointed China’s most powerful since Mao.

Xi Jinping poses with villagers
Xi Jinping poses with villagers. Photograph: Xinhua/REX/Shutterstock

“You are our good leader and the lucky star of the Chinese people,” one elderly villager told Xi according to the official news agency, Xinhua. “Thank you,” Xi replied. “I am a servant of the public.”

The People’s Daily dedicated its entire front page to Xi’s visit on Wednesday.

“Villagers used simple words to express their happiness at seeing President Xi,” its correspondent reported. “They spoke of how the Communist party and the government cared for them, and of the great benefits they had enjoyed as a result of the poverty alleviation work.

“Some villagers burst into tears as they spoke. Moved, Xi said: ‘I have always cared for the Yi people. I’m happy to be here and feel comforted to see your lives improving.’”

As China’s leader bade farewell, “the sound of singing, applause and cheering echoed through the village”.

Additional reporting by Wang Xueying

This article titled "'You are our lucky star': Chinese media in overdrive on Xi Jinping's New Year tour" was written by Tom Phillips in Beijing, for The Guardian on Wednesday 14 February 2018 04.33am

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