Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke to the country on Wednesday about “waves of positive energy” from the ruling Communist Party after its twice-a-decade leadership shuffle, but on the rural outskirts of Shanghai, not everyone was riveted to the screen.
As the party congress drew to a close and Xi prepared to unveil a new leadership team during the national broadcast, some elderly residents gathering for lunch in the sleepy suburb of Fengxian expressed indifference.
An 85-year-old man with a shock of white hair, who identified himself by the surname Cai, said he would not watch.
“Whatever happens today, I don’t care,” he said with a smile.
“I‘m a Christian and I go to worship after lunch, and I will be late if I watch. I am not cultured. I don’t understand what they are saying.”
Gathering in a crowded two-story compound with dusty concrete floors and solid wooden furniture heaving with fruit and snacks, Fei Jinxian, another 85-year-old Fengxian resident, said she was unclear of the significance of Wednesday’s events.
Watching the broadcast, Fei and her friends nodded appreciatively when Xi emerged on to the stage, but she said she barely recognized any of the other figures appointed to the Politburo Standing Committee, including Premier Li Keqiang.
“I recognize Xi Jinping, and I recognize Han Zheng because he is from our city, but the others I don’t know about,” Fei said in the local dialect.
As a Chinese television commentator reflected on the “historical importance of this moment”, 58-year-old Gu Wenfeng said she did not understand.
“I don’t normally pay much attention to politics,” she said. “I only watch it if my son is around and he puts it on.”
Xi has emerged as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong after a congress that enshrined his own political theory into the constitution.
Xi told the gathering of Chinese and international reporters and a TV audience of millions about the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and the “waves of positive energy” from the ruling Communist Party, but people in Fengxian were more concerned about local matters.
Fengxian has seen its population decline as its youth head into the cities for fresh opportunities and better wages, but rapid urbanization and a campaign to build a “new socialist countryside” through government infrastructure spending has transformed the area.
“The leaders have been paying a lot of attention with the waterways, roads and whatnot,” said Gu, pointing to a new drainage channel running through the village. “I think the next five years are going to get better.”
Shen Bo, a 31-year-old grassroots Communist Party official in Fengxian, told Reuters that he was unfamiliar with most of the new leadership line-up, but said he was proud of the “powerful” President Xi, who had a “feeling for the times” and remained in touch with China’s rural heartlands.
“I can use three characters to describe him,” he said, using characters that mean ‘touching the ground’, or ‘down to earth’.
“Because he has studied the grassroots more, and that is my strongest impression of him.”