As the Chinese Communist Party’s sixth plenary session wraps up in Beijing, much of the focus outside China has been on two key aspects.

The first is the meeting was primarily designed to strengthen the political position of Xi Jinping as both general secretary of the party and the president of the country heading into next year’s Party Congress when he looks certain to secure a third five-year term as leader.

The second is the approval of a resolution on Communist Party history. This was intended not only to cement Xi’s position in the party but also to determine the official narrative of the party’s history that will provide an ideological guide to future policies.

Notwithstanding Xi’s centrality in all of this – as well as the significance of a resolution on party history – these interpretations of the events may be somewhat misleading.

Mao and Deng

The inner political dynamics of the party’s leadership are largely unknown. Commentators guess intelligently about groups and factions, about policy divides and preferences, about past experiences and future visions.

Xi occupies the leading position in the political system and has done since 2012. At the same time, Xi’s current position in the party is different to that of former leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping when…

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