Xi Jianping isn't quite a household name in America, but as Vice President of the Central Military Commission, the most important title, seems to be on track for an uneventful succession as the paramount leader of the People's Republic of China.
Since China might could hit American cities with nuclear weapons in a war over Taiwan, that makes him an important person, if an American first strike might evade that problem; it would still be a scary moment, as to things to care about in life.
"Mr. President, the Trident strike should eliminate all Chinese WMd, and worst case, we lose Los Angeles and three other cities, and we have a really bad day in cyberspace for civilian infrastructure, but they lose 400 million people. Shall I sir?"
I don't think most people really want to think about that too much, and fortunately, much of Xi's career would suggest he probably wouldn't really want to come to close to that edge, if lots of people like brave talk about the Yangtse turning red all the way to Chongqing, not to mention the Huang Ho turning red all the way to X'ian. Sounds like a bad day to me.
As to what the new Chinese leader is like, his life story strongly suggests that he is a communist aristocrat as a aurvivor. The one downside is that people who have seen really, really bad times can be made callous, if they are also more risk averse to losing what they have and what they have built too.
As to the aristocrat, Xi Jinping's father was one of the founders of China's guerilla forces fighting the Guomintang and the Japanese, and remains something of a legend in the force he helped create, the People's Liberation Army. His bloodlines could hardly be better, a feature of political life most places, in reality.
That service in founding the PLA with Mao and Zhou and Deng didn't save either Father or Son CCP aristocrats from the ravages of the Cultural Revolution. (It got Deng's son thrown off a balcony to be paralyzed.)
As to Xi's reversal of fortune, while Dad served time in various prisons for various alleged absurdities, his son was sent to farms to labor with the peasants for almost seven years; reversals of fortune make for survivalists and survivors, sometimes callous but also often risk averse too.
Xi Jinping remains reserved in his few comments on that topic of the CCP aristocratic baby who had to slave with peasants on Maoist communes while being forced to endure "self-criticism" sessions worthy of a Dadist horror movie, but clearly, to go from being a member of the power elite to the Maoist farmsimilar to Pol Pot in many instances from the ages of 15 to 22 has to have been a powerful formative experience, as to being not just a CCP aristocrat, but a toughened survicor too, if presumably a rather pragmatic one in terms of ideology.
As to his riches to rags to riches story, after being re-educated on Maoist farms in the Cultural Revolution, which even Xi Jinping can only obliquely criticize as to "not being ideals that werevery practical," guanzi, personal ties, then came to save him from obscurity, and paved the way for his rise to heir apparent to Hu Jintao.
Taken under the wing of various assoicates of his father, the presumed future leader of China studied chemical engineering, even making a visit to Iowa in the 80s to study American agricultural techniques.
Like leaders of this generation, he probably stuck those Iowans as ever so quietly diligent, like Deng said, working hard, biding one's time, before showing one's strength.
His foreign experience is like all reigning Chinese leaders, somewhat limited in character, the vast majority of his career having been spent in the Mainland, untainted by too much Western influence one would think as to the inablility of members of the Chinese diplomatic core to rule in contemporary China.
In the end, people who have extensive foreign experience, or even knowledge, are regarded somewhat warily, as to having "gone native."
Most of his rise to power elite status was in the province of Fujian, opposite from Taiwan, which in his day was the main place Deng's reforms as to economic modernization in the vehicle of freer markets took place.
That of course is the anamoly in the rule of the CCP, a communist party rationalized on rather different principles than put in practice, if the CCP is well aware of this problem, and expends plenty of effort helping people think about that correctly, if nationalism like most places is their last refuge.
A CCP aristocrat as pragmatic survivor would seem to be the hallmark of the latest generation of Chinese leaders, somewhat colorless tecbnocrats with an engineering bent, not unlike in the heyhay of the LDP in Japan.
The only bump on the road was a financial scandal in Shanghai in the early 2000s, which however Xi Jinping evaded, again an aristocrat as survivor.
You would be a pretty tough cookie and a thoughtful one too one would think if you went from pampered CCP aristocrat to farm and back again.
The one weakness one can see in his rise applies to all contemporary Chinese leaders, which is with the PLA, possibly.
Although Xi Jinping did acquire some military experience in the 80s, it can hardly be said to be impressive compared to the revolutionary hero of his father, if this applies to everry contemporary Chinese leader, given the CCP's insistence that the Party rules the Gun, and the lack of serious combat since the Revolution (the war with Vietnamin 1979 was pretty trivial in character, and Korea was a long time ago.)
As to the issue in the rise of XI Jinping, there is in the extant Western literature some speculation that the PLA is starting to feel its oats more with respect to the Party, since so few members of the Party at the senior level have deep military experience. That makes it easy to talk tough, here and there, if in fact, it's all simulations as to what PLA engagements would look like in the real world, per Clausewitzian fog and the fact that all plans die on contact with the enemy.
As to that issue, someone like Xi Jinping, hopefully for everyone's sake, can point out that the PLA's experience is all in simulations, and intelligence operations, as the PLA has only seen major combat in Korea and with a brief episode in Vietnam in 1979, a history that shouldn't generate excessive adventurism in the South China Sea or with Taiwan for example, not to mention over Korea.
But as to an aristocrat who survived the Cultural Revolution up close and persoanl in terms of hardships, one would think that Xi Jinping might also have a sense of survivor-ness that in itself might in certain circumstances lend itself to his own tough-mindedness, if those would be buttons to therefore avoid pushing, as the rest of his career suggests a lot of pragmatism.
You'd be tough if you spent seven years on a Maoist farm, thinking about whether or not Fortune would reverse itself, if you might be more fatalistic too about reversals of fortune being able to happen to anyone, even CCP aristocrats.