Hebei Daily praises Xi Jinping in front-page article as 'mass line' campaign continues
The Hebei Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece in the northern province, has published a lengthy front-page article eulogising President Xi Jinping's early career in the area.
Analysts said the unusually direct praise for a current leader's past achievements may form part of a publicity campaign by the central government to highlight Xi's personal charm and strengthen his image as a leader.
"It will serve to shore up Xi's personal authority," said Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based political commentator. "We need to wait a few more days to see if this is just a spontaneous move by the local government, or a move suggested by the central government."
The article comes after Xi was photographed ordering and paying for steamed buns at a cheap restaurant in Beijing, a move that was praised by many internet users on the mainland as showing the president had the common touch.
The 15,000-character article in the Hebei Daily lauded what it called Xi's easy-going working style with the public and his frugal and simple lifestyle.
Xi quit a job at the Central Military Commission in 1982 and worked as the deputy party head and then party chief in Zhengding county, Hebei, for three years. The article said Xi began rural and economic reforms in the then underdeveloped county. He also developed Zhengding's education system and promoted tourism in the area. The article highlighted what it called Xi's respect for his old comrades and said he had emphasised enforcing discipline in the party in the county.
One of the three authors of the article, Cheng Baohuai, aged 77, was a former colleague of Xi's in Zhengding. Xi has retained an emotional connection to the county, the article said.
He has visited the county four times since he left in 1985 to take up a post as the deputy mayor of the southern coastal city of Xiamen , according to the newspaper.
Hundreds of people have visited the steamed bun restaurant in Beijing after news of Xi's visit went viral on social media on the mainland. There have also been extensive comments online about Xi's New Year's message on state television.
It was filmed in what appeared to be his office, with family photographs on display.
Only a few Chinese state leaders, including former premier Wen Jiabao , have been filmed for the public in their private office.
High-profile propaganda pieces about a current leader's past achievements, such as the Hebei Daily article, are also rare.
"There could be a special team in charge of the public image management of Xi," Zhang said. "They are learning some tactics from Western politicians.
"The message is that Xi is a man who loves his family, in line with Chinese and also with American traditional values," Zhang said.