Xi Jinping, the enigmatic leader of the world’s second largest economy, started his weeklong U.S. tour today. This marks the first state visit by Xi, whom both Western and Chinese scholars have called the most powerful leader China has had in decades.
There will be 21-gun salute on the White House lawn, a lavish state dinner, and President Obama will need to appear tough but courteous in the meeting with one of the U.S.’s most important frenemies. While Obama is on his way out, Xi still has seven years to go (Supreme leaders in China have 10-year tenures.)
Here are some non-essential facts that actually tell you a lot about who Xi is:
1. Chinese people call him “Big Daddy Xi” and NOT in an ironic way.
It’s hard to say who started using it first and how much credit goes to state-employed spin-doctors, but the nickname has stuck, casting Xi as a tough-but-loving father figure to the Chinese people.
This persona is supported by Xi’s popular anti-corruption campaign, which has sacked top political figures. As social mobility in China diminishes and inequality widens, this move has helped boost his popularity.
2. Before becoming the first lady, his wife was a household name and opera singer.
Peng Liyuan is arguably the most glamorous first lady in PRC’s history. Most had seen her perform on state television long before she became the first lady. She wears Chinese designer brands on state visits and wears them well. Brace yourself for breakdowns of her outfits and how her fashion sense stacks-up against Michelle Obama’s in the coming week
3. He likes Hollywood movies, including Saving Private Ryan.
Xi isn’t afraid to show personality, which is rare for Chinese leaders. To the shock and awe of China’s people, he is seen kissing babies, kicking a football, and eating dumplings in hole-in-the-wall restaurants. His proactive approach has thrown off American policy makers who are used to stoic, reactive Chinese leaders, Shen Dingli, an expert on Sino-American relations, told the New York Times.
4. He is arguably the most powerful leader in China since Deng Xiaoping.
Obama once compared Xi’s power over China to that of Deng Xiaoping, who led the reform and opening up more than 30 years ago that started China’s current era of rapid growth. Since taking office three years ago, Xi has amassed significant power. He heads many special committees in charge of essential economic, social, and national security policies. Xi’s power also stems from his perceived legitimacy: He is the son of a top political figure in the Communist Party during the revolution era, thus belonging to the so-called “red aristocracy."
5. He looks like Winnie the Pooh to many people, apparently.
This was a photo that went viral on Chinese’s Twitter-like platform, Weibo, before overzealous censors took it down.
Their efforts have proved vain. This image of Winnie in a car started trending again on Chinese social media after Xi’s appearance at the military parade early September.
Isabelle Niu is a digital video producer at Fusion.