The rise of Xi Jinping, explained

The rise of Xi Jinping, explained

How Xi Jinping became China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong

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Xi Jinping, president of China and general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party since 2012, is one of the most powerful political figures in the world. By initiating an unprecedented third term as China’s leader in October, 2022, Xi has signaled that he may plan to remain in power for life – making him the first Chinese leader since Mao Zedong to hold unchecked power over the People’s Republic of China.

But Xi’s connection to Mao goes deeper than a shared outlook that emphasizes unifying the party around a single leader. When Xi was just a young boy, his family – who had held elite party status thanks to his father’s pivotal role in Mao’s “Long March” in 1935 – was denounced during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, a chaotic decade of purges and persecution that saw even Mao’s closest allies removed from power. During this time, a teenaged Xi was forced to work hard labor in the countryside outside of Beijing, and his father was imprisoned.

Xi’s subsequent rise after Mao died in 1976 was a methodical process in using his restored elite status as leverage to gain prominent party positions in rural provinces around China, culminating in his promotion to the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party in 2007.

From there, Xi pulled from Mao’s playbook: purging his political rivals and promoting those with whom he shared close personal ties. This process undid the work of Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, to prevent the consolidation of power around a single leader in China.

By the time his third term began in October 2022, Xi had reshaped the party and Chinese military leadership to be fully packed with Xi loyalists. And even in the face of social upheaval surrounding his failed Zero Covid policy, Xi has shown no sign of giving up any of the power he has consolidated since taking over as leader of the country.

Further reading:

These books and podcasts below helped us understand Xi Jinping’s rise, Xi’s similarities to Mao, how politics changed in the PRC since its founding, and the structure and culture of the CCP:

Coalitions of the Weak by Victor Shih (Associate Professor in China and Pacific Relations at the University of California, San Diego)

Chinese Politics in the Xi Jinping Era by Cheng Li (scholar and expert in Chinese elite politics)

Party of One by Chun Han Wong (Reporter at the Wall Street Journal)

Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-first Century by Orville Schell and John Delury

The Prince by Sue-Lin Wong (Correspondent at The Economist)

These databases and papers were also helpful in gaining a better understanding of Xi Jinping’s alliances and the CCP structure under his terms:

Decoding Chinese Politics interactive by Asia Society Policy Institute

CCP Elite Database by UCSD/Victor Shih

China’s Political System in Charts: A Snapshot Before the 20th Party Congress by Susan V. Lawrence and Mari Y. Lee

Xi Jinping’s Inner Circle by Cheng Li

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30 Responses

  1. MrHaydnSir says:

    now this feels like a classic Vox video

  2. Beatriz Cascelli says:

    A MASTERPIECE! Thank you, Vox!

    • 黑口偶 says:


    • Electron Spark says:


    • fitfirst says:

      thank dee’s nuts

  3. Philip Jackson says:

    Deng Xiaoping once said “Hide your strength, bide your time.”

    Xi certainly heeded those words.

    • Jake says:

      And he’s still doing this today, building his military and economy. His intentions are clear as they expand their claim on territories that don’t belong to them.

    • skp says:

      @Jake gtfoh what are you talking about? They’re not the US, France, UK or Russia.

    • carsso35 says:

      @JakeNo, not at all. He gained his power following that well-known motto for us Chinese, but his philosophy of governance has gone the opposite way. Otherwise you may never know our expanding desire.

    • 无心漫谈 says:

      “In fact, Xi Jinping, unlike Bo Xilai, who is a more honest person, is basically a faithful implementer of this basic plan that was laid down by the party hierarchy decades ago. What he is implementing is the next step in the “three-step reform and opening-up” strategy. Originally, when Deng Xiaoping formulated the reform and opening-up policy, the first step was to solve the economic problems and realize a moderately prosperous society; after the realization of a moderately prosperous society, the next step was to end the biding of light and to build a strong socialist country. Xi Jinping is carrying out this next stage, and he is just concretizing Deng Xiaoping’s plan, which was still a vision at that time. In the process of materialization, he did not betray the basic plan of the party and the state (in Trump’s terms: the deep state) for the party and the state, but rather won greater support than Bo Xilai and Wen Jiabao because of the considerable prudence and loyalty he demonstrated in carrying it out, and because he was much more reliable than either of them.”——Liu Zhongjing

    • ShutIn Alley says:

      @Jake Thats an issue that goes back to forever everywhere. The problem is old world mentalities that is a global problem.

  4. Kiran Rajpurohit says:

    After everything you’ve produced so far, I wonder if you’ve got plans to create multi-hour documentaries?
    Thank you for your work! You people produces some of the best content on the internet.

  5. TokenBlackWoman says:

    He really played the long game to gain power.

    • skp says:

      Not really he played the game of not stepping on people, not becoming beholden because of corruption and being technically proficient.

      He learned from his father that wings could be clipped so unlike Icarus decided not to fly too close to the sun.

      That’s why he has the role he has now he’s considered fairly impartial not a lackey of the military, the political princes or the business elite since he wasn’t brought to power by one of them and more importantly he’s more of an administrator than a political/philosophical revolutionary… His entire creed is just efficiency if it works study it, if it doesn’t get rid of it, if it’s corrupt dismantle it, if it threatens stability destroy it and this is all done relatively without prejudice.

      His only enemy is inefficiency

    • Dan Petrescu says:

      play long time to gain power ? but he work hard , very hard for his people . i think is ok to get power in this way

    • askosefamerve says:

      ​@Dan PetrescuI don’t think unlimited power is great but he won it right and square.

    • Karlach says:

      I gotta commend the guy, he played the political game perfectly. I respect it even though I disagree with his ideals.

  6. Chase Bemis says:

    Fascinating focus on the consolidation of powers. I would be interested to follow up on this video with a deep dive in what is meant by “Xi Jinping Thought” as defined in the Third Resolution and the contrast between its theory of change, rhetorical tone, and consequences.

    • rgcv says:

      Certainly worth a video!

    • Nathan Gibbs says:

      Just read his books. The four volumes of the Governance of China. And read Roland Boer’s “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, a Guide for Foreigners.” Great reads, very informative!

    • Aej Lim says:

      ​@Nathan Gibbsno, its internet everyone wants summarization, so spill it here

    • Frank Artanis says:

      The content of the third resolution is unimportant here. The fact that Xi put a thought named after him into the party constitution symbolizes the amount of power Xi has.

  7. Roozbeh Zarei says:

    This episode was very informative. Thank you to all the people behind it.

  8. Ordisi Gipma says:

    Vox should continue doing this type of videos

  9. Brian Kivuti says:

    Thank you so much for this well presented piece! I loved the infographics 🌟

  10. Walter Villanueva says:

    Wow, this was a great history lesson. Thank you! More of these please.

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