Thirty years ago, a young government official with a plum job in Beijing made an odd request: reassignment to a poor rural area.
At the time, millions of young people were still clawing their way back to China's urban centers after being exiled to the countryside in the Mao era. But 30-year-old Xi Jinping bucked the trend, giving up a secure post as adviser to a top military leader to navigate the tumultuous village politics of Zhengding, in Hebei Province.
The move offers a window on the political savvy of Mr. Xi, who, despite a recent two-week absence from public view that raised questions about his health, is on the cusp of taking over as China's supreme leader at a party congress that officials announced Friday would begin November 8.
Xi gained a measure of credibility to speak for rural Chinese compared with many other well-connected children of the elite. He also realised, according to several inside accounts, that his powerful family stood firmly behind him, ensuring that his stint in the countryside would be a productive and relatively brief exercise in résumé building that could propel him up the Communist Party hierarchy.
His powerful father, Xi Zhongxun, a revolutionary-era military leader, helped orchestrate his transfer, selecting Zhengding because of its relative proximity to Beijing, and later having Xi reassigned when he ran into local opposition, Chinese experts said.