Novelist served as sounding board over the years for future president
The essay that President Xi Jinping wrote in memory of a deceased friend, who was a writer, offers a rare glimpse into the top leader's loyalty to friends and his philosophy of governance, literary analysts say.
Kang Zhigang, vice-chairman of the Shijiazhuang Writers' Association, said on Monday that he shared three essays, including Xi's, on his blog to honor his mentor, Jia Dashan, on Sunday evening after Kang attended an annual gathering of writers in Beijing.
"President Xi respected my mentor a lot. I was the editor of the essay he wrote, and later asked his secretary to submit it to the literary magazine Modern People," Kang said. Xi's draft was good and did not need much editing, he added.
Kang said he did not know that Guangming Daily, a newspaper whose target audience is Chinese intellectuals, dedicated a whole page of its Monday edition to the three essays, including Xi's — In Memory of Dashan — until he heard about it from media reports.
In his 3,000-word essay, Xi recalled his friendship with Jia, a well-known novelist he befriended and confided in while working as a local Party official in Zhengding county, Hebei province, from 1982 to 1985.
Jia was the first local resident to whom Xi, then in his 20s, paid a home visit after assuming his new position in the local government after working in Beijing as a secretary at the General Office of the State Council and the Central Military Commission.
The two quickly became close friends, and they enjoyed long conversations on various topics that included literature and social issues, while usually losing track of time, Xi wrote.
Jia, then a civil servant and a part-time writer, was promoted to the head of the county's cultural bureau by the end of 1982. Jia turned out to be a good leader, overseeing the construction of many cultural facilities and the renovation of numerous ancient cultural heritage sites, Xi wrote.
"My mentor," Kang said, "was not a Party member, and in the 1980s, it was uncommon for a non-Party member to become a director of a government department, which showed the courage of President Xi in using industry experts for governance no matter the person's political beliefs."
Xi said Jia was a window to public opinion and also a political adviser, as Jia often shared "unique, insightful analyses and reasonable advice on social issues that people had strong reactions to", Xi wrote.
Xi, then a rising political figure, was promoted in 1985 to deputy mayor of Xiamen, a coastal city in Fujian province, and the two friends "shed tears of emotion" during their last, long meeting before Xi's departure.
The pair maintained their friendship in the following years with letters and phone calls. Xi visited Jia several times after Jia fell ill in 1995 and up until his death, the essay said.
He Xiangjiu, a renowned writer and expert in ancient cultural studies from Hebei province, remembers Jia as a down-to-earth person and a master of short stories.
"Jia's works are mainly about rural life, written with solid structure and skills. The characters he created are people who fight tough battles against fate, and they're vivid with blood and flesh, which might be a reason they drew President Xi's interest," He said.
Gao Fei, a 25-year-old graduate student from Tianjin, said she was moved after reading Xi's memorial essay.
"I think it is not easy for a man and a political leader to express his feelings," she said. "Their friendship was touching, and I am sure that President Xi will be firm in taking the path of serving his people and nation."
Cheng Manli, a media professor at Peking University, said the Chinese public welcomes Xi's common-touch leadership style.
"Dining at a steamed bun restaurant and his giving a public speech in his office ahead of the new year — such warm and people-first moves win a lot of positive feedback from the public," she said.
Zhang Yu in Shijiazhuang, Hebei contributed to the story.