In his early years as China’s ruler, Xi Jinping paid for his own steamed dumplings at a cheap restaurant, casually rolled up his trouser legs to avoid splashing in the rain, and was serenaded with sweet pop tunes. His image makers introduced him as “Xi Dada,” the people’s firm but sympathetic Uncle Xi. ”
A decade later, Xi dominates the country as a stern communist monarch, reflecting on China’s fallen ancient dynasties and determined to gain his lasting ascendancy. Chinese officials praise his speeches as sacred texts, professing loyalty with a fervor that sometimes echoes Mao Zedong era. Mocking Xi in private can lead to jail time.
The opening of a Communist Party congress on Sunday is shaping up to be Xi’s imperial moment, cementing and extending his rule, while heightening the long-term dangers of his singular dominance. During the meeting in Beijing, he seems certain of winning a third term as secretary general of the party.
The evolution of Xi’s public face has paralleled its transformation of China into a proudly authoritarian state, scornful of criticism from Washington, increasingly convinced that Western democracy has lost its appeal and eager to have a say in shaping the world order of the 21st century.
The party congress will be an opportunity for Xi to demonstrate that he remains fearless, despite the recent economic malaise, Covid outbreaks and growing animosity with the United States, which has branded China a national security threat. . He is likely to tell the 2,296 congress delegates that his government has saved many lives through its zero Covid policy; shifted the economy onto a path of cleaner and more efficient growth; enhanced China’s international position; and made great strides in military modernization.
“He wants to show he’s committed to doing great things,” said analyst Neil Thomas. Chinese policy for the Eurasia group. β€œHe sees his historical role as breaking the historical cycle of dynastic rise and fall, so that the Communist Party remains in power pretty much forever. ”
Xi, 69, presents himself as the storied guardian of China’s fate. He cites the overthrow of ancient Chinese empires, determined to ensure that it does not once again fall prey to political decadence, revolt or foreign aggression.
Xi is looking well beyond the next five years, trying to build a lasting edifice of power and policies. He fleshes out his own creed and promotes cohorts of young proteges, technocrats and military commanders who could advance his influence for decades.
Surrounded by deferential officials, Xi may become more prone to blustering overreaching. Unanswered questions about how long he will stay in power and when he will name a successor could confuse officials, investors and other governments. Most experts believe that he will not appoint an heir at this congress, fearing to undermine his authority.
In Xi’s worldview, the party is the guardian of traditional Chinese hierarchy and discipline, against dysfunctional democracies. He argues that centralized party power can mobilize China to accomplish feats beyond the reach of Western countries, such as alleviating rural poverty, jumping into new technologies or effectively halting the spread of Covid.
But by the time Xi summoned officials to hear the congress plans, the public mood in China had changed. The government’s measures against the incessant epidemics have fueled growing frustration. Chinese economy has been caught in a painful downturn, brought on by pandemic restrictions and measures to curb big tech companies. And Xi’s strongman, Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been mired in invading Ukraine.
Xi rarely refers to the United States by name, but his warnings are clear. Disagreements with the Trump and Biden administrations over tech sales, human rights and Taiwan appear to have deepened his distrust of Western intentions. President Joe Biden’s New National Security Strategy is likely to heighten Beijing’s distrust.
As the congress approached, Chinese officials showered Xi, the “core” leader, with vows of loyalty. “At all times and under all circumstances, trust the core, be faithful to the core, defend the core,” one said.

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