2012's Top 5 stories from a changing China

  • Senior party members from left, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, People's Political Consultative Conference Chairman Jia Qinglin, National People's Congress Chairman Wu Bangguo and Chinese President Hu Jintao stand at the closing ceremony of the 18th Communist Party Congress, in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Nov. 14, 2012. AP

    Political Transition

    Senior Communist Party members, including Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, left, and President Hu Jintao at far right

    Xi Jinping, 59, replaced Hu Jintao as head of the Communist Party in November, and is expected to become China's new president in March, when the National People's Congress convenes. His appointment caps a long career of party posts in China's rapidly developing coastal cities.

    One of China's "princelings," Xi was born to a military hero who rose to vice-premier. His father later fell out of favor with Mao Zedong, and during the Cultural Revolution, Xi, then a teenager, was sent to China's rural northwestern Shaanxi Province to perform hard physical labor in the countryside.

    Xi is more charismatic and assertive than his predecessor, and his wife is one of China's most famous singers, the glamorous Peng Liyuan.

    Xi's record on human rights and political reform is mixed. During his time as governor of Zhejiang Province, grassroots organizations flourished, but dissidents and underground Christian churches were harshly repressed.

    There are some signs Xi will be more progressive than his predecessor. In his first speech to China's Politburo, Xi made strong remarks about stamping out corruption, and his recent trip to the city of Shenzhen may be a symbolic sign of his support for economic reform. Deng Xiaoping's 1992 visit to the southern boomtown marked the beginning of China's opening-up policy to the West.

    Whether Xi will attempt, or succeed, at implementing genuine political and economic reform remains a question for 2013, and beyond.