Party of one: Xi at the 19th Party Congress, Beijing, October 2017.
Thomas Peter / Reuters

Standing onstage in the auditorium of Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, against a backdrop of a stylized hammer and sickle, Xi Jinping sounded a triumphant note. It was October 2017, and the Chinese leader was addressing the 19th Party Congress, the latest of the gatherings of Chinese Communist Party elites held every five years. In his three-and-a-half-hour speech, Xi, who was appointed the CCP’s general secretary in 2012, declared his first term a “truly remarkable five years in the course of the development of the party and the country,” a time in which China had “stood up, grown rich, and become strong.” He acknowledged that the party and the country still confronted challenges, such as official corruption, inequality in living standards, and what he called “erroneous viewpoints.” But overall, he insisted, China was headed in the right direction—so much so, in fact, that he recommended that other countries

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