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Xi takes leaders to revolutionary site, signals ‘challenges ahead’

President Xi Jinping took his newly appointed team of loyalists to a key landmark in the Communist Party’s revolutionary rise, telling China’s most-powerful men to prepare for “challenges ahead.”

The seven-man Politburo Standing Committee—China’s most powerful body—traveled to Yanan, in China’s northwestern Shaanxi province, on Thursday to tour one of the party’s main revolutionary bases, the official Xinhua News Agency reported

The group visited the city’s Yangjialing area, where former Chinese leader Mao Zedong regrouped after the Long March, before winning the country’s civil war and founding the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Xi called on party members to “strengthen their fighting capacity” and “resolutely overcome difficulties and challenges ahead,” according to Xinhua. Earlier this month, Xi vowed to ensure China “leads the world in terms of composite national strength and international influence” by 2049, a goal that seemingly sets Beijing up for increased competition and tensions with Washington.

The Yanan trip comes days after the 69-year-old Xi clinched a precedent-defying third term in office at a leadership reshuffle that saw him sideline rivals in order to stack the Politburo and Standing Committee with allies.

Xi’s growing dominance has fanned concern among investors that Beijing has abandoned pragmatism for ideology, as the party shifts its focus from economic development toward security.

Previous trips

Chinese leaders typically signal their policy priorities for the next five years by traveling to a politically significant site immediately after securing a new term in office.

In 2017, Xi led the previous Standing Committee to a Shanghai museum commemorating the first congress of the Communist Party, foreshadowing the party’s 100th anniversary celebrations that fell during his second term. 

In 2012, Xi took his top leadership panel to Shenzhen, following in the footsteps of former leader Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 southern tour that kick started the nation’s “reform and opening up” policy. That trip bolstered hopes Xi would further open the world’s second-largest economy and drive economic reforms.

The choice to travel to Yanan, and recall a key moment in Mao’s rise, could stoke fears Xi is taking China back to an era of personality cult and unwinding the system of collective leadership embraced after the party patriarch’s death in 1976. Yan’an is also where Xi’s father, the revolutionary hero Xi Zhongxun, met with Mao in 1947—a reminder of Xi’s deep ties to the nation’s birth. 

Long before becoming president, Xi worked for several years in a village near Yanan during the Cultural Revolution, now a popular “red tourism” site that attracted about a million visitors a year before the pandemic. Bloomberg News

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