BEIJING - The Chinese Communist Party’s 18th Congress concluded with 59-year-old Xi Jinping being officially chosen as head of state.
The decision at the weeklong meeting was in no way a surprise but came as the culmination of the months of intense behind-the-scenes maneuvering between neo-Maoist and pro-reform factions. Xi’s party is considered to be one of moderate reform, and he was a compromise candidate. His rise to China’s top position was considerably aided by the fall of his neo-Maoist rival Bo Xilai, who is awaiting trial for abuse of power and whose wife was convicted of murdering a British businessman.
At a press conference for 200 members of the foreign and domestic media, Xi declared that the Party faced “problems of corruption, of loss of contact with the people, of bureaucracy. We must respond,” reports Le Monde.
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Xi Jinping’s appointment has been seen by many as a sign that the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party wants to move forward with at least some reforms. But the new party lineup, notes Asahi Shimbun, “is heavy on conservatives and leaves out reform-minded politicians” and is “another all-male cast of politicians whose instincts are to move cautiously.”
Another twist in Xi’s biography is his wife, Peng Liyuan, who was famous before he was, as she is a well-known singer in the People’s Liberation Army. (Here she sings “My expand=1] Motherland.”)
Xi, a Chinese “princeling” whose father was a revolutionary, grew up in luxury as “red nobility,” reports Le Monde, but was sent to a remote village to live in a cave during his father’s disgrace at the time of the Cultural Revolution.
A villager told an NPR reporter that once Xi accidentally ate a frog and a snake for supper (it was “an exceptionally good meal. They didn’t know why”). The young man was plagued by fleas and not used to climbing mountains; the villagers were impressed that someone from such an important family would be “close to the people.” The link to the story was removed from Twitter almost immediately.
During the weeklong meeting, which was intensively but carefully covered by Chinese media, much of Beijing’s normal life was affected by security measures. The microblogging site Sina Weibo was monitored by censors for any disrespectful posts, including mentions of “Sparta,” which was a web nickname for “18th Great.”
One compilation of the 18 different Politburo members, from 1949 till now, showing a progression from intense young revolutionaries in peasant clothes to plump middle-aged men in suits, was immediately deleted, along with a surreptitious series of photos showing former premier Jiang Zemin dozing off during the interminable speeches.
Tealeaf Nation, a China-watching site, published a Beijing University student’s sardonic take on “taking my girlfriend shopping for the 18th time....The main focus of her shopping is cosmetics. She usually purchases seven or nine varieties there are seven to nine members of the Politburo. This time, she crossed the name of a very famous brand off her shopping list, because there have been some problems with this brand,” a reference to Bo Xilai.