The Atlantic

Xi Jinping May Be Less Powerful Than He Seems

As Donald Trump sizes up the Chinese president, he may be surprised by what he finds.
Source: Jason Lee / Reuters

Once, on a visit to China in August 2015, I heard an odd theory about one of the most powerful men in the world. Xi Jinping, the president of China, would prefer to travel overseas more, but he dreaded doing so, according to the theory. Why? Because he feared deplaning in Beijing and seeing the other six members of the Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top ruling body, lined up to meet him. “Thank you for your service,” each man would say solemnly, shaking Xi’s hand and looking him in the eye. Then, in this nightmarish scenario, military police would arrest him, and he would spend the rest of his life under house arrest.

It’s impossible to confirm such a story. And yet it illustrates how little the outside world actually knows about both what goes on at the top of the Party and how firmly Xi is in charge. Xi, who

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