Since taking power in 1949, the party has reinvented itself at critical moments to survive — after Mao Zedong’s death and following the Tiananmen massacre, for example. Mr. Xi, 64, contends that it faces one of those moments now, even as it moves closer to surpassing its Soviet brethren as the longest-ruling Communist Party in history.
In his speech, Mr. Xi referred repeatedly to social tensions unleashed by economic inequality, pollution and inadequate access to health care, schools and housing.
“Party leaders always feel peril close at hand, especially Xi, and that has not gone away,” said Deng Yuwen, a former editor with a Communist Party journal who now writes current affairs commentaries. “For him, this hard-line, centralized style of rule is the solution and must be consolidated.”
While Mao promoted class struggle and Deng Xiaoping embraced pragmatic capitalism, Mr. Xi’s vision of the party’s rule centers on restoring China to greatness — what he calls the “China Dream” — and it draws on both the fervent dedication of Mao’s era and the glories of China’s traditional culture that Mao tried to destroy.
In practice, that has meant a campaign to impose greater discipline in the party’s ranks, and political repression outside the party, including a crackdown on activists and more stringent media censorship, including on the internet.
“Under Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party is headed in the direction of strongman rule,” said David M. Lampton, the director of China studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a longtime analyst of Chinese leaders. “The 19th Party Congress is more likely to look like a coronation than an institutionalized transition to a leader’s second term.”
One big question as the congress got underway was whether Mr. Xi would try to claim an even bigger role than he already has in the nation’s future.
If he follows the script for leadership successions that his predecessors have followed since the 1990s, Mr. Xi will promote some next-generation leaders, who would be waiting in the wings for him to retire in five years.
Such figures could include Chen Min’er, the party secretary of Chongqing in southwest China, who was close to Mr. Xi when they were both provincial officials and enjoyed Mr. Xi’s conspicuous support.
But Mr. Xi may instead open the way for holding onto power in some form beyond his second term, breaking with the practice of his immediate predecessor.
One way he could do this would be to hold off in appointing any promising younger leaders to the Politburo Standing Committee, the party’s highest rung of power.
Another would be to enable his ally and anti-corruption czar, Wang Qishan, to stay in the Standing Committee.
At age 69, Mr. Wang has exceeded the age, 68, when an informal party rule says top officials should step down once the next party congress comes around. Keeping Mr. Wang on could set a precedent for Mr. Xi to buck the same rule at the end of his second term, when he will be 69 himself.
Mr. Xi also appears likely to use this congress to mark his place in the party’s history by inscribing his ideas, and perhaps even his name, into the party’s constitution, giving his policies a sheen of permanence.
“He’s going to get the ideological canonization,” said Christopher K. Johnson, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency. “If you’re opposing him, that’s no longer just a disagreement with the individual party chief or Xi Jinping personally. Then you’re challenging the party line.”
The weeklong congress in Beijing will be a carefully choreographed celebration of Communist rule, complete with the pageantry of goose-stepping soldiers, fluttering red hammer-and-sickle flags and the playing of “The Internationale.”
Yet despite the triumphant stagecraft, Mr. Xi remains driven by a fear that Communist rule could collapse in China as it did in the Soviet Union unless the party maintains firm control over an increasingly wealthy and diverse society that now has over a third of the world’s billionaires.
To do this, Mr. Xi has tightened his control over possible competing centers of power, including those billionaires and their businesses, the internet, the military and other arms of state power, as well as over the 89 million members of the party itself.
Mr. Xi’s opening address on Wednesday morning was crafted to sound a warning that the party cannot let down its guard, said analysts and party insiders who have followed preparations.
“Treating development and security in tandem, enhancing a sense of peril, remaining vigilant in times of peace — this is a major principle of our party’s governance of the country,” he said.
Mr. Xi has also called for renewed commitment to what he calls “reform” and did so again in his speech to the congress. But his notion of reform is unlikely to look much like previous bouts of economic liberalization that Deng and other leaders unleashed in the 1980s and 1990s.
Back then, the party gradually embraced market forces and then full-throated capitalism, pulling back some of its power over many sectors of the economy.
Mr. Xi’s version of reform is pointed in the opposite direction: to invigorate party control. “Government, military, society and schools, north, south, east and west — the party is the leader of all,” he said on Wednesday.
“He spent his first five years basically dismantling the old system, which he sees as too lax, too corrupt,” said Minxin Pei, a professor at Claremont McKenna College in California who studies Chinese politics.
What Mr. Xi wants to build now, Professor Pei added, is “a disciplinary state.” He continued: “It disciplines everybody. It disciplines the party, it disciplines Chinese society. And to enforce discipline, you have to have a very powerful security state.”
More than any other recent Chinese leader, Mr. Xi has cast himself as the salvation of both party and nation. He has also been dismissive of his recent predecessors, whom he implicitly blames for failing to act forcefully enough to ensure the party’s survival.
For Mr. Xi, the fall of the Soviet Union is a warning of what will go wrong if China’s party succumbs to those dangers.
“Why did the Soviet Union collapse?” Mr. Xi said to officials in 2013. “There was ideological chaos, the party apparatus at every level seemed ineffectual, the military was no longer under the leadership of the party.”
Mr. Xi wants to ensure that the Chinese Communist Party stays in power long after it celebrates the centenary of its founding four years from now, and long after it overtakes the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in length of time in power, a milestone that by some measures it will cross next year.
As the “princeling” son of a revolutionary, Mr. Xi exudes a sense of inherited responsibility for preserving the party. Since he took office, Mr. Xi has removed officials for corruption and disloyalty more senior than previous leaders dared take on, and overseen investigations of more than 200 officials at the vice-minister level or higher.
Mr. Xi has also ordered party members and officials to return to an almost puritan faith in Marxism and Mao, even amid China’s flashy wealth. He introduced draconian rules weaning cadres off fancy meals, heavy drinking and karaoke sessions. He shook up the military and security services, dumping dozens of generals, including two commanders last summer.
The party was beset by “laxity and softness” before he took charge, Mr. Xi told the delegates on Wednesday. Now, he continued, “the overwhelming force of the anti-corruption struggle has coalesced and is being consolidated and developed.”
He has also created a plethora of new leadership groups that allow him to control policy more directly than previous party leaders.
“Xi started off fast,” said Joseph Fewsmith, a professor at Boston University who studies Chinese elite politics. “Now he looks like he’s got all the pieces in place and will start whatever the positive agenda of the Xi Jinping era is.”
The major decisions to be unveiled this week were most likely made in advance by a small circle of senior party leaders.
“The intense interest in this congress is how far Xi can and will go in reshaping the norms of Chinese politics to get his way,” Professor Fewsmith said. “Everyone has been on pins and needles because they sense that something is changing.”Continue reading the main story
At the conclusion of the Communist Party National Conference on Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping not only was re-elected president for another five years, but his philosophy on Chinese socialism was included in the party’s constitution, alongside the words of founder Mao Zedong.
More than 2,000 delegates at the party congress, which is held every five years, approved the inclusion of “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era” in the Communist Party of China’s constitution, further cementing Xi’s power.
In the past, the document included ideologies from other leaders, but none besides Mao and Deng Xiaoping had their names attached.
Since Xi’s election in 2012, observers say the leader of the country of 1.4 billion people has cracked down on corruption – and dissenters. China now has the globe’s second largest economy, which has elevated the nation on the world stage in the eyes of many.
“His policies are sharper, but you also feel he’s close to the people. He’s also different because he speaks up on the world stage. As a Chinese, that’s a good feeling,” a 20-year-old student who gave only his surname Wang told the Associated Press.
“Xi Jinping has a vision of China’s role in the world that is much more ambitious than anything we have seen before, talking about China kind of moving toward the center of the world and having a lot more influence than it did before,” Susan Shirk, a research professor and chairwoman of the 21st Century China Center at the University of California, San Diego, told the PBS NewsHour.
An analysis by the Council on Foreign Relations says Xi’s second term will likely focus further on domestic economic reforms and the country’s “belt and road” initiatives, which invest in infrastructure along China’s trade routes.
The party congress also named a Central Committee, which will announce new members of the Politburo Standing Committee — China’s top executive body — on Wednesday.