How Xi has changed China

When Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, he unveiled a sweeping vision for the “great rejuvenation” of the country — a “dream” that would make China powerful and prosperous.

Ten years later, Xi has transformed China. He has consolidated the country as a force on the world stage, with an expansive economic footprint, a modernizing military and rising technological prowess.

But China has also become an increasingly restrictive place for its citizens, with swift suppression of dissent, pervasive surveillance and mounting social controls, which have only grown more pronounced under Xi’s costly and isolating zero-Covid policy.

With the Chinese Communist Party in the midst of its five-yearly leadership reshuffle, CNN looks back at a decade of dramatic change for China that has set the stage for the country’s next chapter, as Xi — its most powerful leader in decades — steps into an expected norm-breaking third term.

Power to the party

Xi has overseen a wide-scale anti-corruption campaign within the Communist Party to cement his grip on power. Critics have called it a political purge, but the push has appeared to win public support for cracking down on a culture of excess and corruption among both “tigers” — high-ranking officials — and “flies” — lower-level cadres.

million

officials investigated since the 18th Party Congress in late 2012, when Xi came to power.

of them were senior officials.

Source: CCP Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (2022)

Credits (from top right): Ng Han Guan/AP, Kevin Frayer/Getty Images, Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images, Ng Han Guan/AP, Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images.

Credits (clockwise from top left): Ng Han Guan/AP, Kevin Frayer/Getty Images, Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images, Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images, Ng Han Guan/AP.

Xi has also built a cult of personality around himself as the “core” of the party and strengthened its role in all aspects of life.

Beijing’s human rights record, assertive foreign policy, handling of Covid-19 and close ties with Moscow are among factors that have damaged perceptions of China in the West — and its relationships with governments there.

2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016 2018 2020 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80% Favorably Unfavorably 82% 16% Xi Jinping ​ comes to ​ power in ​ November ​ 2012

“Common prosperity”

Turning China into a “moderately prosperous society” has been a cornerstone of Xi’s decade in power. Early on, he trained his sights on eliminating “absolute poverty” in rural areas.

During these early years, private companies thrived mostly unimpeded and a consumer tech revolution bloomed — enhancing daily conveniences for a growing middle class, as China transitioned from an industrial hub to a services and high-tech economy.

Performers carry red balloons during the filming of a Chinese Communist Party propaganda video in the upscale shopping area Sanlitun in Beijing in 2021. Credit: Thomas Peter/Reuters

In more recent years, Xi has tightened regulations to tamp down on debt, property speculation and financial risk, while also upping Communist Party control within the economy. His “common prosperity” vision to narrow the wealth gap and broad campaigns to rein in powerful companies have appeared to signal the end of an era of freewheeling private enterprise.

Some of these moves, along with the zero-Covid policy, have contributed to higher unemployment and dragged down China’s already slowing growth.

2000200520102015202002468101214%

million

rural residents no longer living below China’s standard of “absolute poverty” since 2012.

billion

internet users in China as of June 2022, up from 564 million in 2012.

kilometers (about 20,000 miles) added to China’s high-speed rail network since late 2012.

$ trillion

estimated loss in market value for Chinese companies worldwide at the height of China’s 2021 crackdown on private enterprise.

Source: China’s State Council Information Office, China Internet Network Information Center, Xinhua news agency, and Goldman Sachs

End of one-child policy

Plummeting birth rates — and the economic risks of an aging society and shrinking workforce — pushed China to overhaul decades of restrictive birth controls, ending its one-child policy in 2015. The demographic crisis continued, and in 2021 China further relaxed its rules, allowing families to have three children.

But for many young people grappling with unattainable home prices, long workdays and a challenging job market, the government’s push for marriage and children remains unappealing — especially for women, who still bear the brunt of child raising due to entrenched gender norms.

“We’re the last generation.”

a viral slogan embraced by China’s disaffected young people

2010 2012 2014 2016 2018 2020 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 2015 One-child policy relaxed 2021 Three-child policy introduced 2021 Three-child policy introduced

Stifling dissent

Xi has overseen a mass crackdown on civil society, choking an already limited sector by targeting or jailing human rights lawyers, academics, journalists, feminists and activists. The Xi era has also included broad efforts to smother all forms of dissent and bolster the control of information, including by ramping up surveillance and online censorship.

During the so-called “709” crackdown in 2015, around 300 human rights lawyers and activists were rounded up for interrogation, according to monitoring groups, with some later handed prison terms — a sweeping, state-backed blow to civil rights in China.

I will keep defending Wang Quanzhang’s rights. I will take care of our child and wait for Wang Quanzhang to come home.”

Li Wenzu, wife of prominent human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang imprisoned during the 709 crackdown, said in 2019. Wang, who was formally sentenced by a Chinese court that year, was released from prison in 2020.

Li Wenzu, whose husband was imprisoned during the 709 crackdown, protests by shaving her head in Beijing in December 2018. Credit: Fred Doufour/AFP/Getty Images

Technology powerhouse and digital surveillance

Xi has called innovation the “soul driving a nation’s progress” and increased funding for research, while overseeing a push to make China a leader across high-tech fields from space to quantum computing and AI to green energy.

China’s high-tech capabilities also have another focus: tracking the public through the installation of massive video surveillance systems and biometric data collection — efforts that have intensified in the name of fighting Covid-19.

A rocket carrying a module for China’s Tiangong space station lifts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province in April 2021. Stringer/AFP/Getty Images
China54%Othercountries46%

From this day forward, the central task of the Chinese Communist Party is to lead the Chinese people of all ethnic groups in a concerted effort … to advance the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation on all fronts through a Chinese path to modernization.”

Xi Jinping General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, speaking at the opening of the 20th Party Congress on October 16, 2022.

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