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China’s Return to Strongman Rule

The Meaning of Xi Jinping’s Power Grab

Watching the party congress on a public screen in Hong Kong, October 2017. Bobby Yip / REUTERS

A new era has begun in Chinese politics. On October 24, as the curtain fell on the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th National Congress, party officials revised their organization’s charter to enshrine a new guiding ideological principle: “Xi Jinping Thought.” Few observers know exactly what this doctrine entails—it is an amorphous collection of ideas about maintaining China’s one-party state and transforming the country into a global power—but most immediately grasped the political symbolism of its introduction. The party has elevated the Chinese ruler’s ideological contributions to the same level as those of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, the only other CCP leaders whose ideas have been so canonized.

This was only the first inkling that Xi had scored a major political victory at the party congress. The real extent of his triumph became clear the next day, when party officials selected the new members of the

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