There are some close observers who believe, or hope, that Xi's Moscow tour is designed to draw upon symbolism from the revolutionary era when his father was vice premier and China's policy was "to lean to one side" in favor of the Soviet Union.
"Xi will shortly execute China's own pivot," says one well connected observer who has a seat in one of the two legislatures that are meeting in Beijing this week.
The observer says Beijing's move toward Moscow is a response to Washington's "military" pivot, just like when "the Western powers totally ostracized" China in the 1950s.
But the historical parallels are not so clear cut. Unlike the Soviet Union of the 1950s, China runs a successful, market-oriented economy, integrating into the global financial system and heavily dependent on exports to the West.
The economic reforms that Deng is credited with launching in December 1978 propelled China away from Soviet-style autarky into connected capitalism. But Deng was not the architect of reforms as much as an important part of an elite consensus. One of the most important members was Xi's father, Xi Zhongxun.
While Xi Zhongxun and Li Xiannian both served then Chairman Mao Zedong in the 1950s, they left their marks following Mao's death in 1976.
Xi Jinping will remember Li Xiannian from when the revolutionary leader kindly brought him in for a home-cooked meal in the early days of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s, when Xi's family was in disgrace. He is also likely grateful for how Li signed off on his father's rehabilitation in August 1977.
And around the time when Deng was photographed waving a 10-gallon hat at a rodeo in Texas, it was Li Xiannian who endorsed Xi Zhongxun's most radical project, according to Warren Sun, a historian of modern Chinese history at Monash University in Australia. Li endorsed Xi's radical idea of a free trade zone and allocated him the piece of land that has now expanded into the bustling export city of Shenzhen.
Since then, the Chinese economy has grown at an average of nearly 10 percent a year, and its GDP has risen from just over $175 billion to $7.3 trillion. But unlike 1979, when China was exuding optimism and the Communist Party was rallying around the promise of reform, there is a pervasive sense of fear and foreboding that the power and corruption of the party-state could derail efforts at reform.
China is once again at a "crossroads," to use a word in vogue among the Beijing intelligentsia. Conservatives hope Xi will move to the conservative left, as symbolized by Putin's Russia. But if Xi Jinping is truly his father's son, he will use the Moscow visit to shore up his left flank while quietly re-starting Deng's journey of opening and reform.