China's trailblazing new communist leader vows to break with convention
The 59-year-old son of one of the party's revolutionary heroes walked out, just before noon yesterday, onto a red platform in the Great Hall of the People, fulfilling a destiny predicted since his youth.
Mr Xi will be rubber-stamped as China's president next March at the annual meeting of the parliament.
Standing at the head of a slimmed-down, seven-man ruling council, he signalled that his era would be different, breaking with "formalism" and "bureaucracy" to deliver a "better life" for the Chinese people. Appearing entirely at ease in front of hundreds of television cameras, Mr Xi was a stark contrast to his predecessor, Mr Hu, whose final addresses as president were stiff, interminable and packed with jargon.
Mr Xi's speech was confident and eloquent, without any slogans or the customary hat tips to the leadership and wisdom of Chairman Mao, Deng Xiao-ping, Jiang Zemin or Mr Hu.
"Our people love life and yearn for better education, stable jobs, more satisfactory income, greater social security, improved medical and healthcare, and a more beautiful environment," he said.
"We want our children to grow up well and have better jobs and more fulfilling lives. The people's desire for a better life is what we shall fight for. Every bit of happiness is created by hard work."
He outlined a vision of a more co-operative China on the world stage.
"We will make the Chinese nation stand rock firm in the family of nations," he said. "China needs to understand the world better and the world needs to understand China better too."
And while he said the party had "every reason" to be proud of its achievements, he said that its 82 million members must conduct themselves "honourably".
"Our party faces many severe challenges and there are also many pressing problems that need to be resolved, particularly corruption, being divorced from the people, and going through the formalism and bureaucracy caused by some party officials," he said.
"We are well aware that the capability of one individual is limited ... one can only work for a limited period of time, but there is no limit to serving the people with dedication. Our road ahead is a long one," he said.
Mr Xi's grand entrance won instant plaudits. "He looks confident, self-composed and the logic of his speech is clear. His wording is unpretentious," said Li Weidong, a liberal former editor of 'China Reform' magazine.
A well-connected commentator, who asked not to be named, said: "The most impressive thing is that he did not mention Maoism, Marxism and Leninism. He spared us the routine rubbish that the former leaders used to spout."
In an optimistic signed editorial in the journal 'Caixin', Hu Shuli, a well-connected journalist, said the Party Congress, which closed on Wednesday, had given "more substance" to hopes of further reforms.
"China as a country in transition bears signs of an authoritarian society," she wrote. "This makes it all the more crucial to have checks on power." (© Daily Telegraph, London)