Xi has served the peo­ple since his youth Res­i­dents of the vil­lage in which China’s pres­i­dent spent nearly seven years re­call a young man de­ter­mined to im­prove their lives, as Huo Yan and Li Yang re­port from Yan’an, Shaanxi.

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Liangji­ahe vil­lage, a com­mu­nity of 120 homes scat­tered along a dry riverbed on the Loess Plateau in Yan’an, North­west China’s Shaanxi prov­ince, looks no dif­fer­ent from the other val­ley ham­lets in the re­gion, ex­cept for the vis­i­tors lined up wait­ing to board elec­tric minibuses to visit its cave dwellings and crofts.

From 1969 to 1975, Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping lived and worked in the vil­lage as an ed­u­cated youth dur­ing the “cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion” (1966-76) when he was ages 16 to 23.

It was in this vil­lage that Xi, who heads the Com­mu­nist Party of China, joined the world’s largest po­lit­i­cal party, which has nearly 89 mil­lion mem­bers.

In 1974, he was elected Party chief of the vil­lage com­mit­tee — the start of his pub­lic ca­reer — and he was still a res­i­dent when he was rec­om­mended as a suit­able can­di­date to be­come a stu­dent at Ts­inghua Univer­sity in Bei­jing.

Last year, Liangji­ahe re­ceived 900,000 vis­i­tors, and the num­ber is ex­pected to hit 1.3 mil­lion this year. That’s about 3,600 peo­ple a day on av­er­age. Un­like con­ven­tional tourists, some of the vis­i­tors are sent in groups by their em­ploy­ers, while oth­ers are clad in Red Army uni­forms and armed with note­books and pens, jot­ting down the things that in­ter­est them.

The vil­lage is small, and the usual tourist itin­er­ary fol­lows a set­tled or­der along a me­an­der­ing moun­tain path: the vil­lage mu­seum, a farm, a black­smith’s shop, a bio­gas di­gester, a well, a grinder pow­ered by a diesel gen­er­a­tor, a gro­cery store and the cave dwellings.

Apart from the mu­seum and the cave dwellings, the other items are re­garded as the her­itage left by Xi in the 1970s, and most still func­tion well to­day.

Xi, who learned about bio­gas tech­nol­ogy in Mianyang in South­west China’s Sichuan prov­ince dur­ing a gov­ern­ment-led cam­paign, built the bio­gas di­gester with other ed­u­cated youths and the vil­lagers. He also led lo­cal farm­ers in lay­ing five strips of farm­land in the riverbed, as the river, which was once wide, nar­rowed to a chan­nel, al­beit still suf­fi­cient to ir­ri­gate the land.

The small stream was the only source of wa­ter in Liangji­ahe. But the wa­ter was sandy. To solve the prob­lem, Xi led the vil­lagers in dig­ging a well. Many se­niors re­mem­ber how he was the first per­son to jump into the hole, and how he worked the long­est shifts in the numb­ing mix­ture of ice, wa­ter and mud. It was a dan­ger­ous job be­cause the well could col­lapse at any time dur­ing the ex­ca­va­tion process.

Be­fore the gro­cery store opened, it took hours for Liangji­ahe’s farm­ers to travel to the shop in Wen’anyi, a nearby town, to buy ne­ces­si­ties. Xi sug­gested that the vil­lage com­mit­tee should buy daily goods from the shop in Wen’anyi and sell them to the vil­lagers in Liangji­ahe at the price at which they had been pur­chased, sav­ing them a lot of time.

Xi also ex­changed a mo­tor­cy­cle he had been given by the county gov­ern­ment as a re­ward for his per­for­mance for the diesel gen­er­a­tor and grinder to help the vil­lagers.

Liang Yuqian, 62, a black­smith who made farm im­ple­ments dur­ing Xi’s time, still runs the same work­shop, which opened in 1974 af­ter Xi in­vited him to move from his home vil­lage nearby to work in Liangji­ahe.

“At first I just wanted to move from vil­lage to vil­lage. But Xi per­suaded me to stay. He talked about his plan cor­dially with me, say­ing my plan would bring more per­sonal profit, but that work­ing in one place would mean I served more peo­ple,” he re­called.

When Xi re­vis­ited Liangji­ahe in Fe­bru­ary 2015, he rec­og­nized Liang im­me­di­ately and greeted him with the words “Are you still do­ing the job?”

Liang Yum­ing, 75, who Xi re­placed as vil­lage com­mit­tee Party chief in 1974, said the her­itage items rep­re­sent just a small part of Xi’s con­tri­bu­tion to Liangji­ahe be­cause he also did many other things, such as teach­ing the vil­lagers to read and write, along with his­tory and ge­og­ra­phy. He also soothed re­la­tions be­tween fam­i­lies.

Liang Yum­ing said Xi was the youngest of the six ed­u­cated youths from Bei­jing who were as­signed to Liangji­ahe — Xi was age 16 when Liang Yum­ing met him for the first time in Jan­uary 1969 — and he was the one who most loved read­ing books.

He re­called Xi’s two suit­cases were the heav­i­est be­cause they were filled with books.

“When the farm­ers, who were used to hard out­door la­bor, helped to carry the young men’s lug­gage they said Xi’s suit­cases were too heavy and it was a won­der that a 16-yearold could carry them all the way from Bei­jing on the three-day jour­ney to the re­mote val­ley,” he said.

Lei Ping­sheng, who was Xi’s room­mate and is now a se­nior re­searcher at the Chi­nese Academy of Med­i­cal Sciences, said Xi’s pas­sion for knowl­edge was im­pres­sive. “When we woke up late at night, we of­ten found him still read­ing care­fully in the dim light of an oil lamp sur­rounded by dark­ness and quiet.”

Xi likes read­ing about his­tory, pol­i­tics, eco­nom­ics, phi­los­o­phy and lit­er­a­ture, and com­par­ing notes with peo­ple who share the same in­ter­ests, ac­cord­ing to Lei.

“The ed­u­cated youths shared their books. For most of us, learn­ing seemed to be a part of life, undis­turbed by the po­lit­i­cal move­ment swirling in our far­away home­town of Bei­jing,” he added.

What made Xi dif­fer­ent from the other book­worm ed­u­cated youths was that he was al­ways ready to put what he had learned into prac­tice to serve the peo­ple.

“Since his youth, it has been Xi’s unswerv­ing be­lief to un­der­take prac­ti­cal work for the peo­ple,” said Tao Haisu, an ed­u­cated youth from Bei­jing who was in the same county as Xi and of­ten com­mu­ni­cated with him about his­tory and lit­er­a­ture.

One time, Xi en­cour­aged a dif­fi­cult vil­lager, who was of­ten fiercely crit­i­cized for be­ing a thief, to sing his fa­vorite folk song to the vil­lagers who were pre­par­ing to crit­i­cize him at a meet­ing. The man sang well and with great emo­tion, mov­ing many of his po­ten­tial crit­ics. From then on, he was a changed man and was ac­cepted by his neigh­bors.

“Although Xi is five years younger than me, he reads more books and is knowl­edge­able in more fields than me,” Tao said. “He is hon­est and trust­wor­thy.”

Many peo­ple be­lieve that the hard life he led in Liangji­ahe played an im­por­tant role in pre­par­ing Xi’s re­solve to serve the peo­ple.

Wang Yan­sheng, an­other ed­u­cated youth from Bei­jing who was also Xi’s room­mate at Liangji­ahe, said: “Xi is hon­est in ad­mit­ting he was un­sure about the fu­ture when he first ar­rived at Liangji­ahe. Ev­ery­body has a process of de­vel­op­ment. No man is great when he is born.”

Wang vividly re­calls the “four dif­fi­cul­ties”, as Xi noted, that af­fected ev­ery newcomer to Liangji­ahe: fleas, short­age of food, hard work and un­cer­tain thoughts.

Lei said they were shocked by the poverty of the re­gion when they first ar­rived in Yan’an, which was known as “a holy land of rev­o­lu­tion”, as the Party’s main or­gans had stayed and de­vel­oped there for eight years.

“Some peo­ple slapped the roof of the truck’s cab and asked the driver if he was lost,” Lei said.

Af­ter Spring Fes­ti­val in Jan­uary or Fe­bru­ary, the vil­lage was al­most empty, be­cause most of the farm­ers left to live as beg­gars and try to al­le­vi­ate the lack of food dur­ing spring, ac­cord­ing to Zhang Weipang, 70, a vil­lager and good friend of Xi’s at the time.

“The hand-to-mouth life of the

The vil­lagers in Liangji­ahe have writ­ten to Xi four times since 2007 to tell him about the lat­est de­vel­op­ments. Xi replied to their let­ters ev­ery time, ex­press­ing his nostal­gia — he calls Liangji­ahe his “spir­i­tual home” — and send­ing his best wishes for the vil­lage’s de­vel­op­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to Gong Baox­iong, vil­lage com­mit­tee chief, the vil­lage set up a tourism com­pany in 2015, cre­at­ing enough jobs for the farm­ers to work at home. Since 2007, the vil­lage has had a new road, in­ter­net, run­ning wa­ter, elec­tric­ity and most mod­ern fa­cil­i­ties. The main sources of in­come are tourism, root crops, ap­ples, vine­gar and pick­led veg­eta­bles.

Gong, in his late 30s, said: “Pres­i­dent Xi said he ‘se­cured the first but­ton of his life well’ at Liangji­ahe. That pro­vides mo­ti­va­tion for all young civil ser­vants to in­te­grate serv­ing the peo­ple with their ca­reers and also their lives.”

“He asked me which fam­ily I came from,” said Gong, as he re­called his chat with Xi dur­ing the visit two years ago. “When I said my fa­ther’s name, Pres­i­dent Xi smiled and said ‘I know him. He is an hon­est man.’”

Con­tact the writ­ers at liyang@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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