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Xi Jinping’s Faustian Moment

Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution caught up with the 15-year-old Xi Jinping, as Edward Luttwak recounted recently in the London Review of Books.

The young Xi, son of a Communist luminary disgraced by the Red Guards, was sent to work in Liangjiahe, a miserably poor mountain village of windowless cave houses in a barren landscape of deforested hills in northern Shaanxi.

It was there that another teenage exile lent him a copy of Goethe’s “Faust”, which Xi read again and again till he knew it by heart, as he credibly boasted on meeting Angela Merkel.

That is the single most important data point we have about a man whose public persona consists of Brobdingnagian billboard images and speeches in turgid officialese. The second data point, of course, is that he married Peng Liyuan, a popular singer of sentimental “Heimatslieder.”

Goethe’s great drama is the definitive work of modern literature. Virtually all of it is in rhymed verse, in a language at once so colloquial and so sublime that it defies translation.

Read more at Xi Jinping’s Faustian Moment

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