Posters of Xi in Shanghai, March 2016
Aly Song / Reuters

Not long ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping was riding high. He had consolidated power within the Chinese Communist Party. He had elevated himself to the same official status as the CCP’s iconic leader, Mao Zedong, and done away with presidential term limits, freeing him to lead China for the rest of his life. At home, he boasted of having made huge strides in reducing poverty; abroad, he claimed to be raising his country’s international prestige to new heights. For many Chinese, Xi’s strongman tactics were the acceptable price of national revival.

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Outwardly, Xi still

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