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The Hu Family

The most famous descendant of the Hu family has never visited the hall his ancestors built during the Ming Dynasty. But Fang Min has high hopes that Hu Jintao, 59, the new leader of China, will come home soon.

"Maybe the timing hasn't been right, but he'll visit us after he becomes emperor," said Mr. Fang, a staff member at the hall's entrance.

The Chinese consider home towns and family origins important in explaining someone's personality and potential. Throughout much of the last decade, Hu Jintao has been an unknown, but to villagers in Jixi county, Hu's ascent is a tribute to his political skills and his interesting family background.

Born in Shanghai, the Vice-President prefers to emphasise his family's roots in this rural corner of Anhui province less than an hour's flight from China's most cosmopolitan city.

He rarely draws attention to his urban connection and has always written under family origins, Jixi Ren - man from Jixi.

Jixi county is tucked into the foot of the famous Yellow Mountains in a region traditionally known as Huizhou. Its elegant and ornate architecture was the backdrop for the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

The area has long been a cradle for ambitious scholars seeking their fortune in Beijing's imperial courts. The dream of ascending the dragon throne too ran in the Hu family blood.

About 500 years ago, ancestor Hu Zongxian fought Japanese pirates who terrorised the Chinese coast.

It pleased the emperor so much that he promoted him to defence minister.

When Hu Zongxian built the family's ancestral hall, he chose a spot surrounded by mountains to symbolise a person sitting on a dragon's chair. But in Chinese culture, only the emperor has that right.

He displayed even more audacity by carving nine dragons on the door's wooden pillar, albeit facing the inside courtyard for the viewing pleasure of fellow clan members.

Hu Zongxian's flagrant ambition eventually led to a humiliating death at the hands of a jealous rival.

Another emperor later rehabilitated the former hero. But the moral of the story lived on: practise discretion to avoid political suicide.

That's exactly what Hu did during his muted but meteoric rise from engineer to the inner sanctum of the Chinese Communist Party. Gallery of Jixi County

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