During the worst period of World War II Hu Jintao was born to a struggling tea-shop owner and his wife. Seven years later, his mother sickened and died and his father, who worked alone in his little tea-shop day and night, sent the boy to live with an aunt.
He loved to sing and dance and proved bright and diligent so, when he had completed high school the local Party arranged a full scholarship for him to attend one of China's most renowned universities, Tsinghua. So highly was he regarded that he was admitted to its most prestigious faculty--engineering.While he learned to design bridges, dams, and canals, his fellow students elected him president of the University's student union, a large operation with 300 staff overseeing a dozen departments and activities. Like many top students, he was invited to join the Communist Party. He graduated in 1965 with a reputation for having a photographic memory.
The new graduate volunteered to work in Gansu Province, in north-central China, building a hydroeletric power station, while at the same time managing Party affairs for the local branch of the Ministry of Water Resources and Electricity. He went on to work as an engineer for Sinohydro, the world's largest hydroelectric company.
It was during his early career that tragedy again struck his family: his father was attacked by the Red Guards and disgraced by the his town council for being a bourgeois business owner. Not long after, his father died. Friends said his heart was broken.
More promotions followed, and soon the young engineer was invited to do graduate study at the ultra-exclusive Central Party School where he studied socialism, communism, and capitalism.
Now that his career was beginning to be established, he decided to devote his savings to clearing his father's name. He wrote a petition to the town council that had disgraced his father, asking them to retract the unfair and exaggerated accusations. The council replied favorably, so he promised to come to meet with them personally. He invited all of the members of the council to a grand banquet to celebrate his father's exoneration. On the night of the banquet, he waited expectantly at the banquet hall for several hours before realizing that the councillors had reneged on their promise. Nobody came. Like every Chinese he could not bear to see good food go to waste so he invited the entire staff--cooks, servers, and cleaners--to join him in honoring his father's memory.
His career continued its rapid progress and the Party gave him his final test: in 1988 they made him governor of Tibet, China's most difficult province. Though Tibet's freed slaves welcomed the Chinese as liberators, the members of Tibet's upper class deeply resented their fall from power that followed the Chinese presence. Hu barely survived a major riot which almost got out of control because he waited too long to call for military help. Like a good engineer he believed that he could reason with the rebels. Altitude sickness cut short his tenure (he once confessed to bystanders that he hated high altitudes, low humidity, and wind, and that he missed his family) and he returned to Beijing in less than three years.
His meteoric rise continued. In 1992 he was elected to the Politburo Standing Committee and 10 years later the committee elected him President of China. He is due to step down in 2012 after his 10-year term is up.
One American trade negotiator who has met Hu describes him as having "the air of immense competence". Chinese men do not typically display their personalities in public, and engineers are notoriously devoid of personality, so this makes it difficult to get to know Hu in the way Westerners do. Since his teenage years, however, Hu has always been noticed for his deep, natural humility. It was this characteristic which endeared him to China's old revolutionaries and helped advance his career.
On his first visit to the USA, when he saw a crowd of Chinese-Americans standing in pouring rain at the gate of his hotel, he went outside and greeted them with a very old-fashioned, very deep bow.