On October 18, the world media descended upon Beijing. The Communist Party of China was holding its biggest gathering in five years, and Xi Jinping, Chinese president and Communist Party General Secretary, took center stage. On the opening day, he gave a telling three and a half hour report outlining his agenda. During the marathon course of which – and to the note of the world media, such as the Guardian – former Communist and Chinese leader Jiang Zemin fell asleep.
For China watchers, the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China was a much-anticipated event. Similar to the national conventions held by parties in the United States during the 2016 presidential election, the Communist Party both sets its program and chooses its leadership at its congresses; however, since the Communist Party controls the state, its leaders and programs either are or become state leaders and policies. Observers and experts watch for signs of new figures, new policies, and power struggles within the party. At this particular congress, all eyes were on Mr. Xi. He had much to gain and show.
First, Mr. Xi received many opportunities to strengthen his control over the party by empowering his allies. According to the Economist, “About 70% of the nearly 400-strong Central Committee—the body from which the highest leaders are drawn—have reached retirement age or have been purged for corruption.” It should be no surprise that most of current party leadership is filled with his allies and has solidified Mr. Xi’s rule. Surrounded by his allies, he has less reason to fear his rivals within the party, which means that he can pursue his own agenda more assertively.
Second, Mr. Xi’s position was strengthened ideologically. For those who study China and the Communist Party, they may have heard of Mao Zedong’s “Mao Zedong Thought,” Deng Xiaoping’s “Deng Xiaoping Theory,” Jiang Zemin’s “Three Represents,” and Hu Jintao’s “Scientific Outlook on Development.” Each leader attempted to solidify their position and legacy through leaving an ideological addition to the Communist Party’s base of Marxism-Leninism. Xi Jinping now has his “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.”
The Communist Party’s People’s Daily wrote on October 20, “It is fair to say that Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era is the latest achievement in adapting Marxism to the Chinese context, following the success of the Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory.” Elsewhere in editorial highlighting aspects of Mr. Xi’s opening speech, the People’s Daily praised Mr. Xi’s contributions, concluding “Socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era.”
Not only does Xi Jinping have absolute control over the Communist Party, but he also now stands in ideological contributions above Deng Xiaoping, who opened China’s economy to the world after Mao. The BBC notes, “None, besides party founder Mao Zedong, have had their ideology described as “thought”, which is at the top of the hierarchy, and only Mao and Deng Xiaoping have had their names attached to their ideologies.” If anything, Mr. Xi has now positioned himself equal to Mao Zedong in importance and certainly above his two predecessors, Jiang and Hu.
It is worth noting that before the congress was even concluded, Chinese officials were already calling for the implementation of “Xi Jinping Thought.” On October 19, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was reported by Chinese state news agency Xinhua along with other officials calling “for efforts to fully comprehend and implement Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.”
Now that the 19th National Congress has ended, the results are for all to see. Xi Jinping stands supreme in China today. While it is certain he still has rivals within the party, Mr. Xi now stands on firmer footing than before. For, until the conclusion of the congress, there was always the marginal possibility he might be out-maneuvered and replaced.