During the Cultural Revolution, Xi Jinping's own mother denounced him

Chinese President Xi Jinping
(Image credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

As Pope Francis leaves Washington, D.C., following his address to a joint session of Congress, the nation's capital prepares for the arrival of another foreign dignitary: Chinese President Xi Jinping, who will attend a state dinner at The White House on Friday. In preparation for his turn in the spotlight, The New York Times published an article on Thursday examining Xi's experiences during the Cultural Revolution, when his father, Xi Zhongxun, and many other high-ranking officials were purged from the Chinese Communist Party, as Mao Zedong sought to reassert his control over the country. Xi Jinping's family during that time underwent numerous humiliations and hardships, including the death of his half-sister and the exile of his father.

But perhaps no episode better captures the topsy-turvy nature of the Cultural Revolution, and the way it tore families apart, than when Xi was paraded on stage as a delinquent to be denounced by the crowd, which included his own mother:

"The mother had no choice but to go to the struggle session and sat below the stage," Mr. Yang [Ping] wrote. "When they yelled, 'Down with Xi Jinping!' on the stage, his mother was forced to raise her arm and shout the slogan along with everyone." [The New York Times]

Amazingly, his treatment at the hands of Mao Zedong's most zealous supporters did not turn Xi into a lifelong opponent of the CCP. Indeed, the Times says it may have hardened an "elitist rejection" of that kind of upheaval. Since coming to power in 2012, Xi has further centralized control in his office and launched a campaign to purge corrupt officials.

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Ryu Spaeth

Ryu Spaeth is deputy editor at TheWeek.com. Follow him on Twitter.