The Communist Party of China has promoted Xi Jinping to the same level as the country's first communist leader, Mao Zedong.
Xi's name and dogma has been added to the party constitution, which could allow the communist leader to take a more authoritarian approach to handling China's affairs, the Associated Press reports. In his role as leader, Xi serves as Communist Party General Secretary, President of the People's Republic of China, and Chairman of the Central Military Commission.
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The move came during a rare, twice-decade party meeting where the country's leaders gathered. The decision effectively makes any act of opposing the the communist president, who first assumed office in 2013, tantamount to an attack on the party itself. Following the decision, Xi remarked on China's future.
"The Chinese people and nation have a great and bright future ahead," Xi said.
Xi went on to give his vision for the the future where his dogma, "socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era," is realized.
"Living in such a great era, we are all the more confident and proud, and also feel the heavy weight of responsibility upon us," Xi said.
Through his vision, China's president has differentiated himself from his predecessors, according to the AP.
The concept Xi has touted is seen as marking a break from the stage of economic reform ushered in by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s and continued under his successors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao; Xi has spoken of China emerging into a "new normal" of slower, but higher quality economic growth. The placement of Xi’s thought among the party’s leading guidelines also comes five years into his term — earlier than his predecessors.
"In every sense, the Xi Jinping era has begun in earnest," said Zhang Lifan, an independent political commentator in Beijing. "Only Mao’s name was enshrined in the party ideology while he was still alive. We’re opening something that hasn’t been broached before."
For centuries, Chinese emperors were accorded ritual names that signaled either they were successors in a dynastic line or the founders of an entirely new dynasty. What Xi accomplished this week was a modern equivalent of the latter, Zhang said.
"He wants to join that pantheon of leaders," he said.
Xi leads China at a time of large growth for the country, which includes its military taking ongoing action in the Pacific to exert its influence. Action has included building islands in the South China Sea in an attempt to deter other nations from sailing or flying nearby, the New York Times reported in 2015.
While China has the world’s second-largest economy and legions of newly wealthy urban residents, raising living standards for millions of people continues to be a challenge, according to the AP.
Xi faces his challengers as well. During the party conference, delegates also voted on the new members of the powerful central committee. Despite Xi's success, not all of those elected are his allies. In fact, some of his closest supporters who were on the central committee are no longer members. The president also lacks the broad popular support of the Chinese public that Mao had enjoyed, according to Zhang Ming, a political analyst and recently retired professor in Beijing.
"This [elevation] is a result of the party’s political system and not of the sincere support of the people’s hearts," Zhang Ming said. "If he can achieve that, he would become Mao."