“This is the first book I’ve read on Xi,” admits software engineer Wu Huifeng as he leafs through one of the latest tomes of China’s prolific president.
It need not be his last.
A Communist party publishing blitz ahead of next week’s political summit means the shelves of Chinese bookshops are now packed with Xi Jinping-themed works designed to strengthen both his reputation and his rule.
Immediately inside the entrance to the state-run Beijing Book Building, one of the capital’s largest stores, a recently inaugurated display features at least 50 works by or about China’s scribbler-in-chief.
“The language is simple and sincere – quite down-to-earth, I think,” said Wu, 43, who was perusing one of the latest publications, a 452-page paperback about Xi’s seven years of rural exile during the Cultural Revolution that sells for 76 yuan (£8.75).
Nearby, Fan Yubiao, a 22-year-old salesman, was examining another recent volume, Xi Jinping’s Discourse on Youth and the Work of the Chinese Communist Youth League.
“Xi’s quite a good person. He’s strict,” Fan said, praising his leader’s populist anti-corruption campaign which has toppled some of China’s most powerful politicians since he took power in 2012.
The works of Xi – who some now suspect will seek to remain in power beyond the customary decade – boast titles both stirring and sterile.
At the Beijing Book Building you can buy catchily named volumes including Xi Jinping: Wit and Vision, Xi Jinping: Know More, Love More and Xi Jinping Tells Stories as well as the president’s best-known opus, Xi Jinping: The Governance of China.
Other titles are less enticing: Xi Jinping: Statements on the Construction of a Clean Government and the Anti-Corruption Campaign, Excerpts from Xi Jinping: Comprehensively Managing the Party in Strict Manner, and, for environmentalists, Xi Jinping’s Discourse on Ecological Improvement.
China’s party-run press claims Xi’s writings have proved a hit both at home and abroad. If you believe Xinhua, the official news agency, a recent book of Xi anecdotes sold nearly 1.5m copies in under four months. The Governance of China has supposedly shifted 6.42m copies in 21 different languages.
“These vivid stories … have opened a window to the essence of Xi’s remarks,” the president of party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, gushed in a recent interview.
Beyond the constraints of China’s heavily-censored publishing industry, rather more unconventional works about Xi are also starting to emerge, including a 23-page work of erotic fiction called Xi’s The One.
The synopsis of the book, which sells on Amazon for £2.44, suggests it is unlikely to find a publisher in authoritarian China.
“She’s a lonely, overworked waitress in a downbeat Chicago pizza joint and he’s the President of the People’s Republic of China on a tour of the United States,” it says. “Their stressful, boring lives are about to heat up like a pizza…”
Here are some choice excerpts from China’s Storyteller-in-Chief:
Xi Jinping: The Governance of China, 2014
“When I meet foreign leaders, one question they often ask in amazement is this: ‘How can one govern such a large country as China?’ Indeed, it is not easy to govern a country with 1.3 billion people … In such a big, populous and complicated country as ours, we the leaders must have an in-depth knowledge of the national conditions and learn what the people think and what they want … We must cultivate an attitude of ‘governing a big country is as delicate as frying a small fish’.”
Xi Jinping: Know More, Love More, 2015
“To love one’s hometown, one first of all needs to know about it. A profound love must be built upon a profound understanding. One can only know more about one’s hometown, by loving it more.
“Communists must hold clear positions as to what they support and what they oppose. Their flags must be clear and their attitudes forthright, especially when faced with major issues of right and wrong.”
Xi Jinping: Wit and Vision (Selected Quotations and Commentary), 2015
“Language has a magical power. In his speeches, President Xi Jinping frequently uses analogies and storytelling to express profound truths. His colloquial, straightforward language clarifies ideas that many find puzzling, and his quotations from China’s traditional culture well summarize his topics and thoroughly expound his propositions. His speeches express wisdom in simple language that packs a powerful, penetrating punch.”
Xi Jinping’s Seven Years As An Educated Youth, 2017
“Xi Jinping’s Seven Years As An Educated Youth is a series of interviews planned and organised by the party school of the Communist party’s central committee [with those who knew him in the early 1970s].
“Even though the events [described] took place more than 40 years ago, [the interviewees’] precious memories have by no means faded. Everywhere general secretary Xi Jinping left footprints, we have listened attentively to stories of how he went through thick and thin, together with the people [and] of how he studied assiduously … [These stories] pierce people’s souls over and over again.”
Additional reporting by Wang Zhen