How Xi Jinping Remade China in His Image

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In 10 years of ruling China, Xi Jinping has expunged political rivals, replacing them with allies. He has wiped out civil society, giving citizens no recourse for help but his government. He has muzzled dissent, saturating public conversation with propaganda about his greatness.

Now, having secured a precedent-defying third term, Mr. Xi is poised to push his vision of a swaggering, nationalist China even further, with himself at the center.

His consolidation of power is splashed across the front pages of the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s official mouthpiece. At the end of every party congress for the past 20 years, the paper has shown the top leader alongside other high-ranking officials, signaling a model of collective leadership. But that tradition ended at the last party congress, with Mr. Xi’s face filling almost the entire page.






Other members of the Politburo

Standing Committee

Other members of the Politburo

Standing Committee

Other members of the Politburo

Standing Committee


This year’s congress, which closed on Saturday, cemented his control even further. Mr. Xi is now positioned to be China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, whose nearly unfettered authority allowed him to lead China into years of famine and bloodshed.

As a result, Mr. Xi’s reach into everyday Chinese life is almost certain to grow even more — in a country where he is already seemingly everywhere.

Mr. Xi’s omnipresence begins at the very top of China’s government.

The Politburo Standing Committee is the Communist Party’s most powerful decision-making body, and its membership is negotiated in secret by top party members during each congress. Historically, competing factions of the party have jockeyed to elevate their preferred candidates to the committee, forcing the final group to weigh different policy priorities and govern by consensus.

But the new lineup, announced Sunday, shows how thoroughly Mr. Xi has discarded that norm.






Mr. Xi appointed allies who are too old or inexperienced to take over for him.

Some members who were seen as less close to Mr. Xi retired early.

Mr. Xi appointed allies who are too old or inexperienced to take over for him.

Some members who were seen as less close to Mr. Xi retired early.

Mr. Xi appointed allies who are too old or inexperienced to take over for him.

Some members who were seen as less close to Mr. Xi retired early.


In a major shakeup, four of the seven previous standing committee members — several of whom were seen as less closely allied with Mr. Xi — are being replaced by men regarded as Xi loyalists. The new members include Li Qiang, the party secretary of Shanghai, whose longstanding ties to Mr. Xi seemed to outweigh his overseeing of that city’s disastrous lockdown, and one of Mr. Xi’s top aides, Ding Xuexiang.

The new composition makes it much less likely that anyone will push back on his priorities in the coming years, even in the near-total opacity of standing committee decision-making.

Also noteworthy: All of the seven members are at least 60 years old, making it highly unlikely that any would be positioned as a potential successor to Mr. Xi in five years. Mr. Xi is ensuring that there is no question about who is — and will continue to be — in charge.

Xi’s Agenda

One of Mr. Xi’s central messages is that he alone has the ability to lead China to glory. He has framed his policies such as “zero Covid” — the attempt to wipe out coronavirus infections with lockdowns and mass testing — and an aggressive posture toward Taiwan as the only way for China to prove itself on the world stage.

That means that even as some of those policies hurt the economy, stoke public discontent and raise geopolitical tensions, to question them is to question him — increasingly unthinkable in today’s China.

Even accounts of the party’s history now revolve around Mr. Xi, as if its evolution was all building inexorably toward his leadership. Take the Museum of the Communist Party of China, which opened last year in Beijing.



The museum seems designed to reinforce the cult of personality around Mr. Xi and suggest that his agenda has the backing of history. His quotations are plastered on the walls throughout the exhibitions — even those about events decades before his birth, such as anti-imperialist student protests in 1919 — as if only he can explain and validate these key moments in party history.

Xi as “the Core”

Around the country, slogans adorn malls and bridges proclaiming the centrality of Mr. Xi. Many refer to him as “the core,” a phrase that propaganda officials have coined to describe both Mr. Xi himself and his political ideas.

Because of the length of the phrase “with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core,” some banners stretch across entire overpasses.






With Comrade Xi

Jinping as the core”

Unite more closely around the Party

Central Committee with Comrade Xi

Jinping as the core. Take practical

actions to welcome the victory of the

Party’s 20th National Congress”

With Comrade Xi

Jinping as the core”

With Comrade Xi

Jinping as the core”

Unite more closely around the Party

Central Committee with Comrade Xi

Jinping as the core. Take practical

actions to welcome the victory of the

Party’s 20th National Congress”

With Comrade Xi

Jinping as the core”

With Comrade Xi

Jinping as the core”

Unite more closely around the Party

Central Committee with Comrade Xi

Jinping as the core. Take practical

actions to welcome the victory of the

Party’s 20th National Congress”

With Comrade Xi

Jinping as the core”


The description of Mr. Xi as the core has been around for several years. But it has been increasingly emphasized. At the closing ceremony of this year’s congress, the delegates voted to make upholding “Comrade Xi Jinping’s core position” part of the “obligations of all party members.”

“Xi Jinping Thought”

Even when the country is not hosting a major political event, Mr. Xi is inescapable. Children learn Mr. Xi’s political philosophy, known as “Xi Jinping Thought,” in textbooks that pun on his name. (The character for Xi is also the character for the word “learn.”) His books on how to govern China are prominently displayed at the entrances to bookstores. Xi Jinping Thought even has its own app.

His philosophy was also written into the Communist Party’s constitution in 2017. Its status was further reinforced at this year’s congress, through a resolution declaring that the amendments to the party constitution were designed to better uphold Xi Jinping Thought.

The emphasis on lavish, highly visible homages to Mr. Xi has created pressure for local governments, schools and other institutions to demonstrate their loyalty. During the congress, photos circulated on social media of hospital patients, firefighters and even monks watching Mr. Xi’s speech.


Still, even under Mr. Xi, shows of fealty can go too far in a country still scarred by the Cultural Revolution, the decade of violence and fanaticism Mao engineered to bolster his own power.

Earlier this year, local officials in the southern region of Guangxi printed and distributed small red booklets about Xi Jinping Thought.



Photos of villagers, students, hotel chefs and government workers poring over them circulated in state media outlets. “A treasure in the palm of your hand,” one government website declared.


But as the images spread on social media, some users expressed alarm at the echoes of the Little Red Book, the book of Mao’s writings distributed widely during the Cultural Revolution.

Before long, the state media reports and glowing official propaganda about the booklets were deleted.

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