He's the president in waiting who's set to take the hot seat of one of the most powerful and prosperous countries on earth, but to many China's Xi Jinping remains something of a mystery.

The 59 year old is expected take over from President Hu Jintao after the Communist Party Congress kicks off on 8 November, and his journey to the top has been anything but ordinary.

Born in 1953 as the second of seven children fathered by communist revolutionary Xi Zhongxun, he led a privileged life the son of a man with close ties to leader of the country Chairman Mao.

But his life took a sharp turn when at the age 15, his father was denounced by Mao and sent to live in a lice-infested cave to learn the communist way. During these desperate times, Xi spent his nights in the cave reading books on Marxism, maths and chemistry. It was these smarts that saw him gain a degree in chemical engineering and rise up the political ranks after joining the party in 1974.

Up until now his ascent to the top has been low-key, and residents in Beijing admitted they were not sure what life will be like under Xi's rule.

"I don't know much about him, but I think he should be the next leader. I think it will be better than before. Because now each generation is better than the last."

"I think in terms of overall direction, he should be pretty similar to President Hu. But in terms of style, I think he will be a bit tougher. That's from my own personal speculation, and from some discussion online."

But to many, Xi cuts an elusive and enigmatic figure. Back in September, the heir apparent seemed to have vanished after cancelling a series of high profile meetings without explanation, including a visit from US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. He reappeared just as suddenly, with officials claiming he had been suffering a bad back after a swimming accident. Once he takes the reigns of the emerging superpower, it's going to be a lot harder for Xi to avoid the limelight.

I am Ann Salter, thanks for watching. Follow me for the latest coverage on China ahead of this historic regime change.

Presented by Ann Salter

Written by Alfred Joyner