BEIJING, Oct. 16 (Xinhua) -- A bowl of rice might not sound like a heavy burden, but for the leader of the world's most populous country, a man who has known real hunger, it is a great weight to carry.
In 1969, Chinese President Xi Jinping, a teenager at the time, left Beijing for the rugged, rural village of Liangjiahe in northwest China. He would spend the next seven years living and working alongside the community; he would see people struggling to put food on the table.
When the annual spring plowing began, the women and children would beg for food in other villages, leaving what little sustenance they had at home for the men, who had to fill their stomachs to work the land.
The community lived hard lives year-round. There was always hoeing, herding, and hauling to do, and at the end of a long day, the dimly lit, flea-infested caves barely offered any 'home comfort.'
Xi once asked villagers what would be their goals for an ideal life. Their replies would stay with him long after he left the village.
First, they said, was enough chaff to feed themselves so they wouldn't have to beg. Second, they craved grains such as sorghum rice and corn meal, and third -- a seemingly unattainable dream at that time -- was to have rice and flour on the table at any time, with a meal of meat regularly: Their happiness was a full "rice bowl."
This story is why, throughout his career, Xi has visited the kitchens of China's underprivileged communities, lifting a pot lid or opening a fridge, or taken time to venture out into the fields to check the crops and chat with farmers.
In 2018, during once such inspection, of a paddy field in Heilongjiang Province, northeast China, Xi picked some ears of rice and said, "Chinese people should hold their rice bowls firmly in their own hands, with grains mainly produced by themselves."
Less than two years later, a global health emergency would make the significance of this statement more critical than ever. In February 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world food market was beginning to struggle, yet, under Xi's direction, China held its rice bowl securely. That year it celebrated a bumper harvest for the 17th year in a row.
Hunger is now a distant memory for the villagers of Liangjiahe and hundreds of millions of others across the country. One extreme, however, should not be replaced by another, and Xi has rolled out policies to address reckless food waste.
Many people of Xi's generation remember hunger, as the president once said. The experience in his youth influences his attitude to food.
"When I was young, I was strictly taught by my family not to waste any food, even a single grain of rice," he has said.