The Chinese Communist Party began its once-in-a-decade handover of power by vowing that while its leaders are changing, there will be no change to its hardline policies.
Hu Jintao, the outgoing president, opened the 18th Party Congress with promises of more economic miracles, but little political or social reform.
"We must not take the treacherous road of changing flags and banners," he said.
Beneath a 20ft-tall hammer and sickle at the Great Hall of the People, Mr Hu gave a glowing appraisal of his time in office and stamped out a path for his successor, Xi Jinping, to follow.
"The whole party should have every confidence in our path, in our theories and in our system," he said. It was a contrast to the democratic swings of the West, whose system China would "never copy", Mr Hu vowed.
There had been hopes in China that Mr Xi's arrival in office would usher in a new era.
However, those hopes evaporated during a near two-hour address in which Mr Hu (69) trumpeted the "superiority" of Chinese socialism and offered no hint of any change of policy.
"I listened with concentration but I did not hear anything new," said Chen Ziming, a liberal commentator arrested after the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
Mr Hu's speech, technically the "political report" of the last five years, was drafted over the course of nearly a year and more than 4,500 Party members were consulted for their views.
"It is no exaggeration to say it is a crystallisation of the views of the entire party" said Cai Mingzhao, a senior official.
The party will unveil its new leadership by the middle of next week.