Paper-cutting President reveals a common touch

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The Independent Online

The leader of the world's most populous nation, Hu Jintao, is a fiercely private man, with a ramrod-straight image, who allows few details about his private life to leak into the public domain.

All that is known about President Hu's activities during his leisure time is that he is a man of tidy habits – he has cycled to work on occasion and is said to be interested in ballroom dancing. But he is about to show his artistic side with an exhibition of his decorative paper-cutting skills.

In coming weeks, soon after a vital Communist Party congress in Beijing that will cement his rule and give him five more years as national leader, he will put on a display of paper-cutting called "Returning to mother's home".

The work will be shown at an exhibition in the central city Wuhan next month, according to the Changiang Times, which proudly ran a picture of the work.

The ancient art of paper-cutting is a popular way for many rural Chinese to spend their down time – cutting red paper into elaborate images, which are then often displayed on the windows of houses as chuang hua or "window flowers". It is also very politically correct – after all the Chinese invented paper and paper cutting was a hugely popular pastime among the rural poor over the centuries.

Senior figures in Chinese political life tend to have a hobby that shows their skills in other pursuits. President Hu's choice of paper cutting is significant. It's a simple, honest handicraft – all you need is red paper, scissors or a carving knife, and patience.

His government is trying to bridge a yawning wealth gap between the rich cities of the east coast and the rural poor in the heartlands, so the choice of a traditional handicraft as a display of being in touch with the people is a sign that he is keen to keep his finger on the pulse of China's poor.