China’s most powerful leader in decades entered Communist Party folklore on Tuesday when cadres voted overwhelmingly to engrave the Xi Jinping way into their constitution.

“Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” adds a new section to the already-weighty party tome, and puts the 64-year-old Chinese president in distinguished company.

xi jinping
Xi Jinping. File photo: UN.

Only two other men — Communist China’s founder Mao Zedong, and the architect of market reforms, Deng Xiaoping — have previously been granted such an honour.

Here are some things to know about the move.

What does it mean?

China has a state constitution, which governs how the country is run, but the Communist Party that has ruled the world’s most populous nation since 1949 has its own charter for its 89 million members.

With Xi’s name newly inked in the party constitution, disputes can be crushed and rivals can be parried with a swift look at the rulebook.

“It means his authority has been recognised by the entire party,” said Chinese political scholar Hu Xingdou.

Not only that, but the way Xi thinks will seep through the collective political conscious — all the way down to the youngest members of society.

Officials have plans to cement Xi Thought into hearts and minds across China, with the country’s education minister telling reporters that it would be incorporated into school curriculums.

National People's Congress npc beijing great hall
File photo: Lukas Messmer/HKFP.

“(The thought will) go into textbooks, into classes, and into the brains (of students),” Chen Baosheng said, according to the South China Morning Post.

What thoughts, exactly?

Xi sketched the outlines of his philosophy in a mammoth opening address spanning three and a half hours last Wednesday, although he has been incorporating his principles into CCP rhetoric for years.

Broad brushstrokes include banner notions such as a “moderately prosperous society” and the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

“The principal contradiction facing Chinese society in the new era,” Xi said in his speech, “is that between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life.”

For a party that came into power promising a radical redistribution of the nation’s wealth, success on this front is crucial for credibility.

Shortly after taking office in 2012, Xi also popularised the notion of a “Chinese Dream,” the comprehensive realisation of a modernised party and nation united under socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Now that dream has been defined as one for the “new era” — an era with Xi at its helm.

How did it go down?

In the highly-choreographed world of Communist Party Congress, Xi’s wisdom was tremendously well received.

Mentions of “Xi Thought” (the philosophy’s state-approved shorthand) echoed through Beijing’s Great Hall of the People during the week-long congress.

“We have entered the new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics with General Secretary Xi Jinping as the core,” Yang Baofeng, a delegate from northeast Heilongjiang province, told AFP Tuesday.

Li Hualiang, a village party branch secretary in northeast Jilin province, called the ideology a “very great formulation and innovation.”

“There were absolutely no dissenting opinions. This is normal,” he said. “Now our country is unified, cohesive and moving up in the world.”

Meanwhile, state media has trumpeted the proliferation of the philosophy.

“Xi’s speech hailed as inspirational, thought-provoking,” said one headline from the official Xinhua news agency.

How does it stack up against the others?

With a title more than double the length of the other constitutionally-approved philosophies — Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory — the addition of Xi to the charter solidifies his place as a Chinese leader that history will reckon with.

mao zedong
Mao Zedong. Photo: Wikicommons.

Mao is the only other figure in Chinese history to have been honoured in this way while he was still alive, triggering speculation that Xi will hang onto power well beyond the standard two terms after his second mandate ends in 2022.

Xi’s predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, had concepts included in the constitution but without their names, and then only when they shuffled off into retirement — the Communist Party equivalent of a testimonial football match.

AFP is a global news agency delivering fast, in-depth coverage of the events shaping our world from wars and conflicts to politics, sports, entertainment and the latest breakthroughs in health, science and technology.