President Xi Jinping took his place on Tian'anmen Rostrum on Tuesday at a grand celebration marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.
It was there on Oct 1, 1949, that Mao Zedong announced the birth of New China. Over the past seven decades, the socialist country has blazed an extraordinary trail, rising from a "poor and blank" state to a major country on the world stage.
Xi, the first top Chinese leader born after 1949, is at the helm in a new era, steering the country through wind and waves to a brighter future.
Into new era
Xi was elected general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee on Nov 15, 2012.
The world at that time was transforming. The impact of the 2008 global financial crisis still lingered. Emerging economies were rising. And China, after overtaking Japan as the world's second-largest economy, had entered a critical period in its modernization.
Two weeks later, Xi proposed the "Chinese Dream" of national rejuvenation.
Soon after assuming the Party's top post, Xi addressed senior cadres with a lecture spanning the history of world socialism over the previous 500 years. He talked of how China had failed in its previous experiment with all other "isms" and directed cadres to unreservedly follow socialism with Chinese characteristics.
The Party's authority was further emphasized in October 2017, with the establishment of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.
Xi demanded full and strict governance over the 90 million-member CPC. To this end, he introduced an eight-point decision on how to improve conduct, rolled out stricter Party rules and regulations, and over the past seven years, launched four education campaigns to strengthen the Party.
"Every day, we brush our teeth, wash our faces, clean the house and do the laundry. For Party building, we must do the same," he said.
An unprecedented anti-corruption campaign has left no stone unturned. In the first five years of Xi's leadership, 440 centrally administrated officials－mostly ministerial-level or above－were punished.
"Xi and his colleagues preside over the world's largest and most successful Marxist-Leninist organization, and they are determined to ensure that it remains so," an article in Foreign Affairs magazine said.
In late 2016, Xi's core status in the CPC Central Committee and the whole Party was established. He was re-elected general secretary of the CPC Central Committee in October 2017 and Chinese president in March 2018.
During a visit to Italy this year, asked about how he felt about being Chinese president, Xi told President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies Roberto Fico that governing such a huge country requires a strong sense of responsibility and hard work.
"I am willing to be selfless and devote myself to China's development," Xi said. "I will not let the people down."
Reform to the end
China aims to basically achieve socialist modernization by 2035 and build itself into a great, modern, socialist country by the middle of the century. Xi has said China today is closer than ever before to national rejuvenation, which is part of the Party's founding mission.
The Chinese economy surpassed 90 trillion yuan ($12.59 trillion) last year, cementing its place as the second-largest in the world. Between 2013 and 2018, it grew by 7 percent on average every year compared with just 2.9 percent for the global economy.
China has the world's most complete production chains. The output of more than 220 industrial products ranks No 1 in the world. China has laid down the longest network of high-speed rail tracks and sent a lunar rover to the dark side of the moon.
For the first time, a total of 129 Chinese companies made the Fortune Global 500 list this year, more than any other country.
The achievements can be attributed to people's hard work and deepened reforms. Unsurprisingly, reform and opening-up, introduced by Deng Xiaoping in 1978, is regarded as a "social revolution".
Xi is committed to seeing this through to the end. In 2012, for his first inspection as the Party's top leader, he headed to the reform test bed of Guangdong.
Reform and opening-up is a "critical measure" concerning contemporary China's fate and there shall be no "pause" or "back-peddling", he said.
Reform under Xi is distinctive in its own right: it places more focus on quashing vested interests, emphasizes top-level design and underscores a systematic, holistic and coordinated approach. A far-reaching seven-year reform plan was adopted in late 2013.
Xi has presided over scores of leading group or central committee meetings on deepening overall reform. At the most recent, in September, 11 documents on reform plans and guidelines were adopted on topics ranging from private business support to plastic waste treatment.
Celebrated for his ability to connect with the people through language－Xi's often quoted maxims such as "do concrete work and take the lead", "a state thrives on practical work but wanes on empty talk" and "grab the iron bar hard enough to leave a mark" shed some light on how China has achieved so much in such a short period.
Xi drafted market-oriented reforms for State-owned enterprises and has supported the development of the private sector. In 2018, at an unprecedented private enterprise symposium, Xi said private companies and entrepreneurs are "our own people".
Innovation, too, has received support, with Xi once saying that vital, core technologies are something that China cannot obtain through "begging".
Party and State institutions are now more efficient and modernized. Red tape has been cut and governments at various levels have expanded online approval and one-stop services.
The country further opened up, from the expansion of the pilot free trade zones to fewer restrictions on foreign investment in the automotive and banking sectors.
Last year, at the first import expo in Shanghai, Xi mentioned opening-up 52 times in his 35-minute speech.
Thanks to reform and opening-up, China's investment environment has continued to improve.
According to the World Bank Doing Business 2019 report, China advanced to a global ranking of 46th, up from 78th in just a year. Moreover, China's consumer market is edging closer to becoming the largest in the world.
Despite trade and economic frictions started by the United States, China saw more than 24,000 new foreign-invested enterprises established in the first seven months of this year. Foreign direct investment inflows in actual use grew by 7.3 percent to reach 530 billion yuan.
Xi considers employment "pivotal" to people's well-being. He supports e-commerce and the new economy, which create jobs that never existed before.
Every day in China, about 16,500 new enterprises are established, and 40,000 people find new jobs in towns and cities.
In total, China has created more than 80 million new urban jobs over the past seven years, equal to the entire German population.
China now has the world's largest courier delivery service market, employing more than 3 million people, who send everything from meals to fridges around the country. Earlier this year, Xi paid a surprise visit to a tiny delivery station in Beijing and chatted with a group of deliverymen.
This closeness to the people is not a singular event. For the past seven years, Xi has spent time with regular people before every Chinese New Year: giving them festival gifts, observing festive traditions such as food preparation, and asking about their lives and welfare.
"CPC members must wholeheartedly serve the people," Xi often reminds Party cadres.
This connection with the people can be traced back to a time when Xi lived and worked in a remote village in Shaanxi province as an adolescent and young adult for seven years.
He has said that he understands the hardships of the people because he once lived in an impoverished corner of the country. He has been known to check the toilets and washrooms of ordinary homes, offer advice on garbage sorting, and show concern for students' poor eyesight.
In 2013, Xi put forward "targeted poverty alleviation" and set a goal to eliminate extreme rural poverty by 2020, a deadline that is 10 years earlier than the goal set by the United Nations.
Over the past seven years, more than 82 million Chinese people left poverty behind. Xi said extreme poverty "would be historically solved in the hands of our generation".
Kishore Mahbubani, a professor at the National University of Singapore, said the most outstanding achievement of China in the last 70 years had been the dramatic improvement in the living conditions of the people.
Reviewing China's long history, Mahbubani said even at previous peaks of glory, the bottom 50 percent of the population had to struggle to make ends meet. But today even low-income people have access to nutritious food, education, healthcare, housing, employment and even the ability to travel.
"There is no doubt that, in terms of the living conditions of the people, the past 70 years have been the best years in China's history," he said.
China is increasingly connected to the world. In 2014, Chinese made over 100 million overseas trips. The country's outbound direct investment topped $120 billion, achieving a near equilibrium with foreign direct investment for the first time. More Chinese live, study and work abroad.
The expression "China is moving closer to center stage" now appears often in news reports. The topic of how to handle China's interactions with the rest of the world has become a major subject for the Chinese leadership.
In his first overseas trip as Chinese president in March 2013, Xi introduced the notions of "a shared future" and "a new type of international relations".
Two years later, Xi took the podium at the UN, expounding "a community with a shared future for humanity". He later elaborated that the desired world would be one that is safe, prosperous, open, inclusive, tidy and beautiful.
The Belt and Road Initiative, proposed by Xi, connects continents and oceans through trade and investment like never before.
The goal, contrary to what some people in the West claim, is to help more countries and regions enjoy the fruits of economic globalization through mutually beneficial results.
This reflects the kind of international relations envisioned by Xi－mutual respect, fairness and justice, and win-win cooperation.
A total of 136 countries and 30 international organizations have signed cooperation agreements with China on the initiative. A study by the World Bank found that if implemented fully, the initiative could lift 32 million people out of moderate poverty and boost global trade by up to 6.2 percent.
China is becoming a hub for joint consultation on global governance and development. Xi hosted world leaders in a series of global summits, including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Beijing meeting in 2014, the G20 Hangzhou summit in 2016, the BRICS Xiamen summit in 2017 and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Qingdao summit in 2018.
On the world stage, more Chinese have assumed top positions at international organizations, most recently the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. China's currency, the yuan, has been included in the International Monetary Fund's special drawing rights basket, and financial institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Fund have been set up.
China has become an indispensable force in resolving global and regional issues, from climate change, terrorism, wealth disparities and fair trade to peacekeeping.
This year, China became the second-largest contributor to the UN's regular budget after the US. China is also the largest contributor of peacekeepers among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. A$1 billion China-UN Peace and Development Fund has been in operation since 2016.
"The CPC always regards making a greater contribution to humanity a mission," Xi said.
Fight for a great dream
Despite the achievements, the journey to national rejuvenation won't be plain sailing.
Last month, Xi told up-and-coming Party cadres at the opening of a Party school training session that a "great struggle" is needed to make the "great dream" a reality. The word douzheng (struggle) appeared nearly 60 times in his speech.
Xi said the risks and challenges facing the Party would only grow bigger and sometimes "there would be tempestuous waves beyond our imagination".
But Xi is a man who rises to challenges.
Facing the challenges of an economic downturn, Xi has proposed measures such as supply-side structural reform to shift the economy toward high-quality development.
Tough battles were also launched to forestall and defuse major risks, carry out targeted poverty alleviation, and prevent and control pollution.
Economic and trade frictions with the US are another struggle. China has taken the position that "it doesn't want a trade war but is not afraid and will fight one when necessary". Over the past year, Xi has met US President Donald Trump twice, first in Buenos Aires last December and then in Osaka, Japan, this June, taking important steps toward solving the issue.
On Hong Kong, Xi said making everything political or deliberately creating differences and provoking confrontation would not help. Instead, it would severely hinder Hong Kong's economic and social development.
Xi told Ho Iat-seng, incoming chief executive of the Macao Special Administrative Region, in Beijing last month that "one country, two systems" has proved to be a workable solution welcomed by the people.
On Taiwan, Xi said: "We do not renounce the use of force and reserve the option of taking all necessary measures. This is to guard against external interference and a tiny number of separatists and their separatist activities for 'Taiwan independence'. It does in no way target our compatriots in Taiwan."
Xi pushed a sweeping reform of the armed forces, setting the "ability to fight" as the sole and fundamental criterion.
Chinese service personnel have taken up "protecting China's overseas interests" as an important mission. When turmoil rocked Yemen and Libya, Xi instructed operations to bring back Chinese nationals. A film based on this story smashed China's box office records.
Xi has warned that all sorts of struggles will last a long time. He and his team are aware of both the rapidly changing and increasingly complex environment abroad and the situations at home. China, he said, is still the world's largest developing country.
In May, Xi chose East China's Jiangxi province, where the Red Army began the Long March in the 1930s, to call for a new Long March.
Back then, the Red Army soldiers trekked about 12,500 kilometers across China, battling the harsh environment, the enemy and diversion within the Party. When they re-emerged victoriously in northwestern China, they continued the fight and won the revolution.
To Chinese communists, sacrifice and hardships are worthwhile for a glorious goal.