Breakthrough?
From Mao to Deng to Jiang to Hu to ...
Xi Jingping with a ballot with only his name on it; in the background are his four predecessors (Mao, Deng, Jiang and Hu)
Rotatating yin yang symbol behind a Chinese dragon
Cartoon of Xi Jinping in imperial robes with an alarm clock set for 2023
 
 
Hu Jintao  and Jiang Zemin
Before the opening of the 14th National Congress of the CCP in 1992, senior party leaders, including Deng and Chen Yun, were to select candidates for the Politburo Standing Committee to ensure a smooth transition of power from the so-called second-generation leaders (Deng, Chen, Li Xiannian, Wang Zhen, etc.) to third-generation leaders (Jiang Zemin, Li Peng, Qiao Shi etc.). Deng also proposed considering another candidate for a further future transition, preferably someone under fifty to represent the next generation of leaders. Song Ping, as the organization chief, recommended Hu as an ideal candidate for the prospect of a future leader. As a result, shortly before his 50th birthday, Hu Jintao became the youngest member of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, and one of the youngest PSC members since the Communist Party assumed power in 1949. ...
Chart showing the leadership structure of the People's Republic of China
On 15 November 2002, a new Hu Jintao-led Politburo nominally succeeded Jiang. Although Jiang, then 76, stepped down from the powerful General Secretary and the Politburo Standing Committee to make way for a younger leadership, there was speculation that Jiang would retain significant influence because Hu was not associated with Jiang’s influential Shanghai clique, to which six out of the nine members of the all-powerful Standing Committee were believed to be linked. However, later developments show that many of its members have shifted their positions. Zeng Qinghong, for example, moved from a disciple of Jiang to serving as an intermediary between the two factions. In 2003, Jiang was also re-elected to the post of Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the CCP. Thus, despite Hu Jintao taking over as the General Secretary of the CPC, the Chairman of the Central Military Commission was still the former CPC leader, Jiang Zemin. ... Jiang resigned as Chairman of the Central Military Commission in September 2004, his last official post. Following Jiang’s stepping-down, Hu had officially taken on the three institutions in the People’s Republic of China where power lie, the party, the state, as well as the military, thus informally, had become the paramount leader. (Hu Jintai)
Animation showing one runner passing the baton to another
Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping
On 15 November 2012, Xi was elected to the posts of general secretary of the Communist Party and chairman of the CCP Central Military Commission by the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. This made him, informally, the paramount leader and the first to be born after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The following day Xi led the new line-up of the Politburo Standing Committee onto the stage in their first public appearance. The new Standing Committee reduced its number of seats from nine to seven, with only Xi himself and Li Keqiang retaining their seats from the previous Standing Committee; the remaining members were new. In a marked departure from the common practice of Chinese leaders, Xi’s first speech as general secretary was plainly worded and did not include any political slogans or mention of his predecessors. Xi mentioned the aspirations of the average person, remarking, “Our people ... expect better education, more stable jobs, better income, more reliable social security, medical care of a higher standard, more comfortable living conditions, and a more beautiful environment.” Xi also vowed to tackle corruption at the highest levels, alluding that it would threaten the Party’s survival; he was reticent about far-reaching economic reforms.
 
Poster for the "Chinese Dream" (China's response to the American Dream)
Xi Jinping fighting "tigers and flies" with a broom; the caption reads: "“We must uphold the fighting of tigers and flies at the same time, resolutely investigating law-breaking cases of leading officials and also earnestly resolving the unhealthy tendencies and corruption problems which happen all around people. (Xi Jinping)"
Global map showing the "corruption perceptions index" for 2021
 
In December 2012, Xi visited Guangdong in his first trip outside Beijing since taking the Party leadership. The overarching theme of the trip was to call for further economic reform and a strengthened military. Xi visited the statue of Deng Xiaoping and his trip was described as following in the footsteps of Deng’s own southern trip in 1992, which provided the impetus for further economic reforms in China after conservative party leaders stalled many of Deng’s reforms in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. On his trip, Xi consistently alluded to his signature slogan the “Chinese Dream”. “This dream can be said to be the dream of a strong nation. And for the military, it is a dream of a strong military”, Xi told sailors. Xi’s trip was significant in that he departed from the established convention of Chinese leaders’ travel routines in multiple ways. Rather than dining out, Xi and his entourage ate regular hotel buffet. He travelled in a large van with his colleagues rather than a fleet of limousines, and did not restrict traffic on the parts of the highway he travelled.
The trifecta of the paramount leader: President of the People's Republic of China, Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party
Xi was elected President of the People’s Republic of China on 14 March 2013, in a confirmation vote by the 12th National People’s Congress in Beijing. He received 2,952 for, one vote against, and three abstentions. He replaced Hu Jintao, who retired after serving two terms. (Xi Jinping)
Rotatating yin yang symbol behind a Chinese dragon
Cartoon of Xi Jinping in imperial robes with an alarm clock set for 2023
The Problem of Succession
As the central figure of the fifth generation of leadership of the People’s Republic, Xi has significantly centralised institutional power by taking on a wide range of leadership positions, including chairing the newly formed National Security Commission, as well as new steering committees on economic and social reforms, military restructuring and modernization, and the Internet. Xi’s political thoughts have been written into the party and state constitutions. His tenure has also seen a significant increase of censorship and mass surveillance, significant deterioration in human rights, the return to a cult of personality and the removal of term limits for the President in 2018. Due to these factors, Xi has been called a “dictator” by many Western political observers. However, Xi Jinping remains widely popular in China. A YouGov poll released in July 2019 found that 22% of Chinese people list Xi as the person they admire the most. (Xi Jinping)
 

 
Mr. Deng was only partly successful in solving China’s succession problem. He got rid of his first two chosen successors, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, because they didn’t crack down on student protesters. He then anointed Jiang Zemin as his successor and picked Hu Jintao as Mr. Jiang’s successor. For 20 years, it seemed, Mr. Deng had resolved the succession problem. Mr. Jiang and Mr. Hu served out their designated terms and stepped down.

It looked like the institutionalization of a succession mechanism, with the power-holder in effect designating his own successor after one five-year term and stepping down after a second. Clearly, that wasn’t Mr. Deng’s preferred system, since he told the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci that “for a leader to pick his own successor is a feudal practice.”

Mr. Deng at one time argued against the concentration of too much power in one man, but he accepted Mr. Jiang wearing three hats at the same time: party leader, military chief and president. Since then, that has been true of each new leader.When Xi Jinping became the new leader in 2012, it was generally assumed that he would follow the same pattern and unveil his own successor in 2017, who would take over in 2022. But Mr. Xi didn’t act according to the script. Instead, last year he lifted the presidential term limit put in the constitution by Mr. Deng and is undoing other Dengist political reforms.

Now, China again faces the succession problem. In fact, no autocratic society has developed a system to ensure a succession process that is peaceful and transparent, such as democratic elections.This isn’t China’s internal affair. As Mr. Deng said, turmoil in China will have a serious impact on other countries. “If the political situation in China became unstable,” Mr. Deng said, “the trouble would spread to the rest of the world, with consequences that the world would find hard to imagine.” (Globe and Mail)

Construction site barrier completely plastered with posters of Xi Jinping
 
Animation of a woman carrying the Chinese flag
Should China abandon its one-party system for a more genuine form of democracy?
 

 
Or
has China developed a form of government that is appropriately
"modern" while remaining grounded in its own history and culture?
Rotatating yin yang symbol behind a Chinese dragon
Map of Eurasia and Africa showing the land and maritime routes of the "Belt and Road" initiative
 
Chart showing balance of trade between China and the U.S.
 
Map showing U.S. vs. China in Global Merchandise Trade: Who Leads Where?
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Contemporary Issues
 
Man shoveling coal
Animated gif of a Chinese lantern
Chinese factory belching out bright orange smoke
Animated gif of a Chinese boy doing a flip
Beijing National Stadiums (a.k.a. the "Nest") with left side on a relatively clear day and right side with heavy pollution
Animated gif of a Chinese lantern
Photo of the Three Gorges Dam
Animated gif of a woman in traditional Chinese costume
Deep red-colored river
Animated gif of firecrackers exploding
Chart showing China's water quality and usage
Animated gif of a woman in traditional Chinese costume
Map of China showing regional water levels
Animated gif of a Chinese lantern
Map showing global human rights index for 2017
Animated gif of a Chinese lantern
China's per capita income by region
Animated gif of a Chinese boy doing a flip
Chart comparing urban and rural income gap
 

So, has China finally recovered from its "Century of Shame" —
and if so, what role will it play on the global stage in the 21st century?

 
Parody of a Cultural Revolution poster with Mao replaced by a cat with the caption "Chairman Meow"
Animated gif of Chinese men in traditional clothing walking forward