Chinese officials' attempts to convert the cave home in a village where Xi Jinping spent his seven years into a living shrine has drawn rare criticism from his roommate who believes the hype is creating a personality cult and doing more harm than good to the Chinese President.
Lei Pingsheng, 68, now a retired pharmaceutical scientist shared the cave dormitories at the impoverished Liangjiahe village in Shaanxi province with Xi during the Cultural Revolution of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong in 1969 during which the privileged urban youth were sent to rural areas to work in the countryside to get rid of their pro-bourgeois thinking.
Between 12 to 18 million young city dwellers, sometimes against their will, were sent to villages between 1950 and 1976 to work with local peasants, according to Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.
Lei came from the same elite Beijing Bayi High School as Xi. Both his father and Xi's father were purged during the Cultural Revolution, so going to the countryside as an educated youth was inevitable because they were politically discriminated against, Lei said in an interview to the Post.
After he became the leader, China's officialdom aided by the state-run media has gone on overdrive in projecting Xi's image, often drawing criticism of promoting personality cult akin to the days of Mao.
Tourists from across the country under the pretext of learning from the president's formative years have flocked to Liangjiahe. The village attracts about 13000 Chinese Communist tourists a day as it is being projected as the cave room, a living shrine of Xi and the life he led in early years.
Lei said the hype had become too great and cooling it down was the right thing for the president.
"I think the [publicity about Liangjiahe] is too heated and should be cooled down it would be positive and good for Xi Jinping," he was quoted as saying in the report.
According to a guide at the village, Liangjiahe has hired about 40 guides, mostly young women, to tell visitors stories of how Xi never lost his determination to join the Communist Party despite his applications being repeatedly rejected because his father had been purged in the Cultural Revolution, and of how he arrived with heavy luggage packed with books and studied late into the night under a dim light.
"The seven years of hardship in rural areas is a great experience for me. After that, whenever I encounter difficulties, I will tell myself that if you could get things done then, you must be able to get things down now," he said.
Lei, his cave dormitory roommate, was close to the president. Now living in Beijing, he was interviewed in a book published last year by the Central Party School on Xi's early years as a "sent-down" youth.
The book named 'Xi Jinping's Seven Years as an Educated Youth' has become a must-read in ideological classes for local party officials.
Lei said neither him nor Xi could have imagined that one day Xi would become the top leader of China, yet he believed those early experiences prepared the President for his future career.
"Xi was tough and willing to take on hard tasks. Unlike me I'm just not the material to be an official," Lei said.
Asked what he remembered vividly about their days in Liangjiahe, Lei said, "tiredness".
"It was so tiring to do all that manual labour," he said.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)