Picked twice to bring a troublesome part of the country under control, Xi on Monday won another boost to his succession prospects when the ruling Communist Party promoted him to the body that oversees the country's military.
Xi, 57, has long been marked out as the likely successor to President Hu Jintao, who must retire from running the Party in late 2012 and from the presidency in early 2013.
Xi's prospects for clinching the top job became even clearer after the Party's Central Committee, a council of about 370 senior officials, promoted him to Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, which controls the People's Liberation Army.
Hu is Chairman of the Military Commission, and Xi's promotion means he is following in the footsteps of Hu, who was also promoted to the Commission before becoming state president.
Xi has crafted a low-key, sometimes bluff political style. Earlier this year, he complained officials' speeches and writings were clogged with Party jargon and demanded more plain speaking.
During a visit to Mexico early last year, he mocked foreign worries that China was headed down the wrong path.
"Some foreigners with full bellies and nothing better to do engage in finger-pointing at us," he said.
"First, China does not export revolution; second, it does not export famine and poverty; and third, it does not mess around with you. So what else is there to say?"
Xi went to work in the poor northwest Chinese countryside as a "sent-down youth" during the chaos of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, and became a rural commune official.
He later studied chemical engineering at Tsinghua University in Beijing, an elite school where Hu also studied. Xi later gained a doctorate in Marxist theory from Tsinghua.
XI THE PRINCELING
He is the son of reformist former vice premier and parliament vice-chairman Xi Zhongxun, making him a "princeling" -- one of the privileged sons and daughters of China's incumbent, retired or late leaders.
A native of the poor, inland province of Shaanxi, home of the terracotta warriors, Xi Jinping was promoted to governor of the southeastern province of Fujian in August 1999 after a string of provincial officials were caught up in a graft dragnet.
In March 2007, the portly Xi secured the top job in China's commercial capital Shanghai when his predecessor, Chen Liangyu, was caught up in a huge corruption case. Xi held that job until October 2007 when he was promoted to the Party's Standing Committee -- the ruling inner-circle.
Xi shot to national fame in the early 1980s as Party boss of a rural county in Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing. He had rare access to then national Party chief Hu Yaobang in the leadership compound, Zhongnanhai, west of the Forbidden City.
Xi is married to Peng Liyuan, a renowned singer who was once arguably more popular in China than her husband, until the Party began ordering her to keep a low profile as her husband moved up the ranks.
"He's the best," Peng gushed in an interview with a state-run magazine in 2007, describing him as frugal, hardworking and down-to-earth.
"When he comes home, I've never thought of it as though there's some leader in the house. In my eyes, he's just my husband. When I get home, he doesn't think of me as some famous star. In his eyes, I'm simply his wife," she added.
(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Alex Richardson)
By Ben Blanchard
BEIJING | Mon Oct 18, 2010 6:38am EDT