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Xinhua, Ma Zhancheng/AP

Happy Birthday, Hu Jintao, President of China

December 21, 2009
by Liz Colville
President Hu Jintao of China has been called a “pathbreaking” leader. Hu has worked to bridge his country’s class and regional divides.

Hu Jintao's Early Days

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Hu Jintao was born December 21, 1942, in Jixi, in the Anhui province of China, to a merchant family. Hu excelled as a student and studied at the Department of Water Conservancy Engineering at Tsinghua University, graduating with a degree in engineering in 1964. Hu did postgraduate work at the university, also working as an instructor and in research and development there. During China’s Cultural Revolution, Hu spent a year as a construction worker.

Hu's Notable Accomplishments

During his stint as a construction worker in the Gansu province in the 1960s, Hu made an important political connection with Song Ping, an elder member of the CPC, who was also a graduate of Tsinghua University; Song became his mentor, and assigned him to several regional posts in the government. Song also introduced Hu to then-general secretary of the CPC, Hu Yaobang.

Hu became the youngest member of the CPC’s Politburo Standing Committee, essentially the party’s central command, in 1992; he had previously worked as the party chief in the regions of Tibet and Guizhou, where he “oversaw crackdowns on pro-independence protests,” according to the BBC’s country profile of China. He also was able to “implement educational and economic reforms” in these positions, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica’s biography of Hu. Once in the Politburo, Hu made even more connections in the party, rising in the ranks to vice president by 1998 and chairman of the CPC’s Central Military Commission by 1999. In 2002, Hu became the general secretary of the CPC Central Committee—the official title of the party leader. The official Web site of the Chinese government has a biography of Hu, along with a list of the numerous government positions he has held—many simultaneously—since joining the CPC.

Elected president in 2003 by the National People’s Congress, Hu implemented a leadership style that broke with the past somewhat; he hoped to “harmonize” a country in the midst of social tensions and an impending global recession strongly affecting the Asian markets. The BBC wrote that Hu “has made the fight against corruption a priority; he has promised to promote good governance, saying the fate of socialism is at stake. But he has rejected Western-style political reforms, warning that they would lead China down a “blind alley.”

The Rest of the Story

Hu was reelected president this year. He has expressed a desire to bring better health and education programs to the rural parts of China. The BBC notes that “the economic disparity between urban China and the rural hinterlands is among the largest in the world.”

Hu was nominated to the “Leaders & Revolutionaries” category of Time magazine’s 2008 “100 Most Influential People” list. For Hu’s profile, former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger wrote that Jintao is a “pathbreaking leader” who could help Sino-American relations become something more positive than the “adversarial” relationship many predict the two countries will have as China’s economy continues to assert itself. Hu, Kissinger wrote, “has proclaimed the goal of a harmonious society whose components work together by consensus rather than direction. It is a principle he has tried to apply to international affairs as well.”

Hu faced tough criticism in 2008 as China experienced the devastating Sichuan province earthquake, which killed tens of thousands, and hosted its first Olympic Games in Beijing. China’s response to the earthquake was questioned, and protesters sought to bring attention to China’s human rights record in the run-up to the Beijing Games. For its part, China saw the Games as an opportunity to assert its increasing role on the world stage.
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