Led by Xi Jinping, the seven men strode on the red carpet at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 23, revealing the new generation of China's ruling elites.
These powerful officials are members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP's) top decision-making body. Current leader Xi heads the committee again after closed-door meetings at which roughly 370 hand-picked Party representatives rubber-stamped the committee's members.
The lineup at the conclusion of the 20th Party Congress demonstrates Xi's further consolidation of power, with all four newly appointed members being his protégés and allies.
Xi also retained his position as head of the Central Military Commission and is almost certain to remain the Chinese leader, which will be unveiled after the rubber-stamp legislative meetings next spring. He had already scrapped term limits by revising the constitution in 2018.
The lack of a possible successor to the 69-year-old leader suggests he may intend to extend his term further, which would normally end in 2027.
When Xi first joined the Standing Committee in 2007, it was clear from his age and from the makeup of the committee that he would replace then-Party leader Hu Jintao when Hu's term ended in 2012.
Taking over the Party's No. 2 position is Li Qiang, Shanghai's Party chief. The financial hub's most powerful position is often seen as a stepping stone to the CCP's top decision-making body. Li's predecessor, Han Zheng, was promoted to the Standing Committee in 2017.
The political rise of Li shows "Xi Jinping's criteria is the connection with him, absolute loyalty to him, and obedience to him," said Feng Chongyi, a professor of China studies at the University of Technology Sydney.
The 63-year-old is Xi's close ally. When Xi was a Party secretary of Zhejiang Province, Li was in charge of Wenzhou, a major city within Zhejiang. In 2004, Li was promoted to secretary-general of Zhejiang, becoming Xi's right-hand man.
Anti-corruption czar Zhao Leji is one of two people maintaining their positions on the Standing Committee. Zhao most recently headed the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the driving force behind Xi's campaign to rid the Party of political enemies—namely officials still loyal to former CCP leader Jiang Zemin.
The 65-year-old also led the Party's Organization Department, a powerful body responsible for appointments of senior officials. Zhao helped promote many of Xi's allies, according to the Brookings Institute.
Another person who retains a position in the Party's top governing body is Wang Huning, a veteran theorist.
The 67-year-old Wang is a rare political figure who has served three Party chiefs amid fierce political infighting and the once-in-five-year reshuffles.
"He [Wang] is not loyal to any leader," Feng told The Epoch Times. "He is just a theorist that the Party found useful."
The former professor and dean of the law school at Fudan University defined core ideologies for the three leaders, from Jiang Zemin's Three Representatives, to Hu Jintao's Scientific View on Development, to Xi Jinping Thoughts.
A newcomer to the elite standing committee, Cai Qi has known Xi for more than two decades. Cai worked under Xi when he held top posts in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces. After Xi took power, Cai was promoted to Beijing before he became the city's Party boss in 2017. In the same year, he joined the Politburo, despite public anger over his forced eviction of migrant workers on Beijing's outskirts.
As Xi's right-hand man, Ding Xuexiang's elevation to the Standing Committee is no surprise to observers, although he has never been a provincial-level Party secretary.
Ding's ties to Xi could date back to 2007. When Xi briefly served as Shanghai's Party secretary, Ding was the city's secretary-general and Xi's top aide. In 2013, just a few months after Xi took office, Ding moved to Beijing first as the deputy director of the General Office, then as leader of the powerful office that manages the top leadership's administrative affairs.
The 60-year-old has accompanied Xi on many trips abroad.
Li spent most of the first three decades of his career in northwest China, in the provinces of Gansu and neighboring Shaanxi. In 2015, Li was promoted to Party chief of northwestern Liaoning Province.
"As Party secretary of Liaoning, Li Xi was known for his tough stance against corruption and his enthusiastic support for Xi's call for more strict enforcement of Party discipline," Cheng Li, director of the John L. Thornton China Center at The Brookings Institution, told Reuters.
At the conclusion of the 20th Party Congress, Li will succeed Zhao Leji to lead the anti-graft agency. Analysts suggest that Li's political advancement reflects Xi's plan to intensify his anti-corruption drive over the next five years.
"I suppose [the anti-corruption work] after the 20th Party Congress would be fierce," said Zheng Xuguang, a U.S.-based Chinese commentator and economist. "It could be a ferocious purge."