Mr. Xi’s father oversaw China’s cadre of Soviet experts and visited the Soviet Union in 1959, bringing back gifts for his son that were later destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, according to Joseph Torigian, an assistant professor at American University and author of a forthcoming biography of Mr. Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun.
Mr. Xi has recalled in interviews that he grew up reading Russian literature and was inspired by a minor character in “What Is to Be Done?” the 1863 novel by Nikolai Chernyshevsky, who sleeps on a bed of nails.
“They have very similar views of the role of history in politics and how attacks on their own history are seen as treacherous and dangerous,” Mr. Torigian said of the two leaders.
Both ended up in government service, Mr. Putin as an intelligence officer in the K.G.B. and Mr. Xi as a regional party functionary after the political rehabilitation of his father, who had been imprisoned during the Mao era, accused of spying for the Soviets.
Sergey Alexsashenko, who was a deputy chairman of the Russian central bank during Mr. Putin’s rise in the 1990s, said there was a key difference between the two leaders’ biographies.
Mr. Putin, he noted, served in the intelligence service when the Soviet Union was entering its inexorable decline in the 1970s and 1980s, while Mr. Xi joined the government ranks as China’s transformation from impoverished nation to global economic powerhouse began.