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AP PHOTOS: Xi's portrait adorns new homes for China's poor

Communist Party leader Xi Jinping’s smiling visage looks down from the walls of virtually every home inhabited by members of the Yi minority group in a remote corner of China’s Sichuan province.

Xi has replaced former leader Mao Zedong for pride of place in new brick and concrete houses built to replace crumbling traditional structures in Sichuan’s Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, which is home to about 2 million Yi.

A considerable cult of personality has developed around Xi since he took over the ruling party in 2012. Millions of books containing his speeches have been distributed and an array of items from decorative plates to key chains display his image and that of his glamorous military singer-wife, Peng Liyuan, who also features in some of the posters hung in Yi houses.

A poster showing an image of Chinese President Xi Jinping is seen displayed on a wall of a home of members of the Yi minority group in Xujiashan village in Ganluo County, southwest China's Sichuan province on Sept. 10, 2020. Communist Party Xi’s smiling visage looks down from the walls of virtually every home inhabited by members of the Yi minority group in a remote corner of China’s Sichuan province. Xi has replaced former leader Mao Zedong for pride of place in new brick and concrete homes built to replace crumbling traditional structures in Sichuan’s Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, which his home to about 2 million members of the group. (AP PhotoAndy Wong)

Hanging portraits of Chinese leaders in private homes has generally declined since the days of Mao, when a perceived lack of deference to the leader could bring dire consequences. A giant portrait of Mao continues to hang on Beijing’s Tiananmen Gate.

For the Yi, displaying Xi’s portrait may be a decorative choice, brightening whitewashed walls while lacking other options, but it also continues the cultural and political assimilation into the greater Chinese nation that began as early as the Ming Dynasty 400 years ago. The process has accelerated under Communist rule, particularly as China’s leaders seek to impose a single national language, Mandarin, in education and public life, while continuing to portray China as a multiethnic nation made up of 56 groups, the vast majority being Han.

The Yi total 9 million people, spread across Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou provinces in China’s southwest, with some communities also found in Vietnam and Thailand. They speak a language related to Burmese with its own writing system and traditionally practice a form of shamanism, although some are also Buddhist and Christian.

A minority Yi woman stands inside her house displaying a poster of Chinese President Xi Jinping, in Xujiashan village in Ganluo County, southwest China's Sichuan province on Sept. 10, 2020. Communist Party Xi’s smiling visage looks down from the walls of virtually every home inhabited by members of the Yi minority group in a remote corner of China’s Sichuan province. Xi has replaced former leader Mao Zedong for pride of place in new brick and concrete homes built to replace crumbling traditional structures in Sichuan’s Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, which his home to about 2 million members of the group. (AP PhotoAndy Wong)

Posters showing images of Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan are displayed on a wall of a home of members of the Yi minority group in Xujiashan village in Ganluo County, southwest China's Sichuan province on Sept. 10, 2020. Communist Party Xi’s smiling visage looks down from the walls of virtually every home inhabited by members of the Yi minority group in a remote corner of China’s Sichuan province. Xi has replaced former leader Mao Zedong for pride of place in new brick and concrete homes built to replace crumbling traditional structures in Sichuan’s Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, which his home to about 2 million members of the group. (AP PhotoAndy Wong)

A minority woman and a child wave near posters showing images of Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan on display on a wall at her house in Xujiashan village in Ganluo County, southwest China's Sichuan province on Sept. 10, 2020. Communist Party Xi’s smiling visage looks down from the walls of virtually every home inhabited by members of the Yi minority group in a remote corner of China’s Sichuan province. Xi has replaced former leader Mao Zedong for pride of place in new brick and concrete homes built to replace crumbling traditional structures in Sichuan’s Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, which his home to about 2 million members of the group. (AP PhotoAndy Wong)

An ethnic minority Yi family rests near posters of Chinese President Xi Jinping in their village house built by the Chinese government in Ganluo county, southwest China's Sichuan province on Sept. 10, 2020. Communist Party Xi’s smiling visage looks down from the walls of virtually every home inhabited by members of the Yi minority group in a remote corner of China’s Sichuan province. Xi has replaced former leader Mao Zedong for pride of place in new brick and concrete homes built to replace crumbling traditional structures in Sichuan’s Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, which his home to about 2 million members of the group. (AP PhotoAndy Wong)

A minority Yi woman stands inside her apartment house displaying a portrait of Chinese President Xi Jinping, in Yuexi County, southwest China's Sichuan province on Sept. 11, 2020. Communist Party Xi’s smiling visage looks down from the walls of virtually every home inhabited by members of the Yi minority group in a remote corner of China’s Sichuan province. Xi has replaced former leader Mao Zedong for pride of place in new brick and concrete homes built to replace crumbling traditional structures in Sichuan’s Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, which his home to about 2 million members of the group. (AP PhotoAndy Wong)

A minority Yi family sits inside their home displaying a poster of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Xujiashan village in Ganluo County, southwest China's Sichuan province on Sept. 10, 2020. Communist Party Xi’s smiling visage looks down from the walls of virtually every home inhabited by members of the Yi minority group in a remote corner of China’s Sichuan province. Xi has replaced former leader Mao Zedong for pride of place in new brick and concrete homes built to replace crumbling traditional structures in Sichuan’s Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, which his home to about 2 million members of the group. (AP PhotoAndy Wong)

A Yi ethnic minority member stands inside his house displaying posters of Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan, in Xujiashan village in Ganluo County, southwest China's Sichuan province, on Sept. 10, 2020. Communist Party Xi’s smiling visage looks down from the walls of virtually every home inhabited by members of the Yi minority group in a remote corner of China’s Sichuan province. Xi has replaced former leader Mao Zedong for pride of place in new brick and concrete homes built to replace crumbling traditional structures in Sichuan’s Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, which his home to about 2 million members of the group. (AP PhotoAndy Wong)

A minority Yi woman and her child sit inside her house displaying a poster of Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, in Xujiashan village in Ganluo County, southwest China's Sichuan province on Sept. 10, 2020. Communist Party Xi’s smiling visage looks down from the walls of virtually every home inhabited by members of the Yi minority group in a remote corner of China’s Sichuan province. Xi has replaced former leader Mao Zedong for pride of place in new brick and concrete homes built to replace crumbling traditional structures in Sichuan’s Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, which his home to about 2 million members of the group. (AP PhotoAndy Wong)

Ethnic minority Yi women stand inside their new apartment houses built by the Chinese government in Yuexi county, southwest China's Sichuan province on Sept. 11, 2020. Communist Party Xi Jinping’s smiling visage looks down from the walls of virtually every home inhabited by members of the Yi minority group in a remote corner of China’s Sichuan province. Xi has replaced former leader Mao Zedong for pride of place in new brick and concrete homes built to replace crumbling traditional structures in Sichuan’s Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, which his home to about 2 million members of the group. (AP PhotoAndy Wong)

Posters of Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan are displayed on a wall with a photo of members of the Yi minority group inside their home in Xujiashan village in Ganluo County, southwest China's Sichuan province on Sept. 10, 2020. Communist Party Xi’s smiling visage looks down from the walls of virtually every home inhabited by members of the Yi minority group in a remote corner of China’s Sichuan province. Xi has replaced former leader Mao Zedong for pride of place in new brick and concrete homes built to replace crumbling traditional structures in Sichuan’s Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, which his home to about 2 million members of the group. (AP PhotoAndy Wong)

A partially damaged portrait of former leader Mao Zedong is seen inside an abandoned old house belonging to a member of Yi ethnic minority, in Qingshui village in Ganluo County, southwest China's Sichuan province, on Sept. 10, 2020. Communist Party Xi Jinping’s smiling visage looks down from the walls of virtually every home inhabited by members of the Yi minority group in a remote corner of China’s Sichuan province. Xi has replaced former leader Mao Zedong for pride of place in new brick and concrete homes built to replace crumbling traditional structures in Sichuan’s Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, which his home to about 2 million members of the group. (AP PhotoAndy Wong)