Xi Jinping's UK state visit
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President Xi pictured at the Guildhall where he gave a speech to dignitaries in the City of London earlier this week. Photo: AP

Xi Jinping has revealed he sought out banned works as a youth by Shakespeare

President Xi Jinping’s diplomatic visits overseas often give clues about the head of state’s interests and passions. His trip to the UK has been no exception.

During his trip to the United States in September Xi talked passionately about the American writer Ernest Hemingway. Now in the UK he has revealed his love for the works of arguably the greatest writer in the English language, William Shakespeare.

READ MORE: Hemingway, mojito and living in poverty: China's Xi Jinping reaches out to US with personal anecdotes

“Hamlet said ‘To be or not to be: that is the question.’ His words left a deep impression on me,” Xi told an audience of financial dignitaries in the City of London during his four-day stay in Britain. 

“When I was just shy of 16, I left Beijing for a small village in northwestern China to become a peasant for seven years. During that time, I was desperately looking for Shakespeare’s works. I read A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth,” he said.

Xi also mentioned four classics written by the Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu, or “eastern Shakespeare”, who lived in the same age as the English writer and the 400th anniversary of his death will also be marked next year. 

This is not the first time that Xi, who has previously said his biggest hobby is reading, has disclosed his reading list from his youth.

It overlapped with China’s Cultural Revolution, which saw hundreds of millions of educated youths sent to remote villages for what the government called “ideological transformation through labour”.

Western books and plays, including Shakespeare’s, were considered “poisonous weeds”.

Xi went to Yanchuan county in Shaanxi province as a teenager in 1969 and worked in the countryside until 1975. 

State-run media, keen to promote the image of the bookish Xi, reported that the youngster “brought a basket of books to the village, read brick-thick books and sometimes held the volumes while eating”. 

Xi’s previous speeches have also indicated that he may have also read books by literary giants such as Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, and Jack London. 

READ MORE: China's first lady Peng Liyuan strikes right chord chatting to music students, Mandarin pupils during visit to UK

Some internet users have expressed doubts that the future president was reading banned books during the political upheaval of the Cultural Revolution.

“You couldn’t even find these books during that period. If you found one, would you dare to read it?” one person wrote on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. Some Western classics were not even translated into Chinese in China at that time, the writer added.

Another writer on social media said Xi’s listing of his favourite works sounded a lot like showing off.

“Here again, begins the game of counting names,” the commenter wrote.