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China's Communist Party ends its closely watched sixth plenum

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

China's ruling Communist Party has a new version of history, and it could shape China's political future as it sets up the party's current chairman, leader Xi Jinping, to continue his rule beyond 2022. With us is NPR's Emily Feng in Beijing to help us understand what all this means. Emily, so what's a resolution on history, and why does it matter so much?

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: These resolutions are official interpretations of history, and they're important because they are used so scarcely. There's only been two other such resolutions. The first one was in 1945, and that allowed Chairman Mao Zedong to cement his control over the party. The second resolution was in 1981. That ushered in these major economic reforms which made China the powerhouse we know today. So this third one this week signals another historical chapter, one led by Xi Jinping. The resolution's language describes him as the founder of a new school of thought that will guide China into the next century and lauds Xi for possessing enormous political courage. Xi Jinping has faced challenges to his rule. He's faced pushback both at home and abroad for his more authoritarian methods. He's faced down a pandemic. But being able to choose which facts are allowed is a form of political power. And this resolution shows he's in charge, and there is no one else strong enough to oppose his continued rule.

MARTINEZ: All right. A new chapter in history. So does this resolution make Xi a political figure on par with Mao Zedong?

FENG: Yes. This resolution officially designates him not just as a human political leader but as a living historical figure. And by getting the entire Communist Party behind him to publish this resolution, Xi has illustrated he's amassed more power than any leader since the 1980s. So he is now equal to Mao, and he's also equal to Deng Xiaoping, who was another prominent Chinese leader. Today, I went to a government press conference where party officials explained the resolution's significance. Here's one of them. His name is Wang Xiaohui.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WANG XIAOHUI: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: He says, "With Xi Jinping at the core of the Communist Party, we have successfully completed all important and necessary items and overcome all challenges placed in our path. This proves Xi Jinping thought reflects the wishes of the party, the military and the people." And the resolution then concludes that the last century of party rule should officially be considered overwhelmingly successful. And then it says Xi Jinping is the only person possible who can lead China towards another century of success.

MARTINEZ: Now, resolution - this one sounds like it's about history, but it appears also to be more about shaping China's political future. So what does that look like now?

FENG: Xi is signaling that he will almost certainly stay on as head of the party for a third five-year term. Technically, he can also stay on as president, but it's really party chairman that matters here. And this has huge ramifications for Chinese society because in the last almost decade or so, Xi Jinping has already made his mark as a much more authoritarian leader. He's completely reshaped the Communist Party by purging his rivals. He's stamped out dissent in Hong Kong. He's ordered the mass incarceration and detention of thousands of ethnic Uyghurs in the region of Xinjiang. And he has a much more nativist style of rule that has put him on a collision path with other countries, including the U.S. His ambitions now are to reshape Chinese society. He wants to bring China's private sector under party control, to emphasize patriotism and increase censorship. And now he's just won himself at least another five years to make all of these political goals happen.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Emily Feng in Beijing. Emily, thanks a lot.

FENG: Thanks, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.