by Xinhua writers Peng Shujie, Xu Jianmei, Huo Xiaoguang
BEIJING, March 16 (Xinhua) -- China completed an orderly and institutionalized transition of power at the end of an annual session of China's top legislature here Saturday with President Xi Jinping heading the fifth generation of the Chinese leadership.
The once-in-a-decade handover is the third generational power transfer and sixth term-of-office change of the Chinese leadership since the current Constitution, a watershed in the development of China's leadership transition mechanism, was promulgated in 1982.
Mao Zedong (1893-1976), founder of New China, who represented the first generation of the Chinese leadership, never retired from China's top post until his death in 1976.
Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997), who led the second generation of the Chinese leadership, stepped down as China's senior leader at the age of 85. His successor, former President Jiang Zemin, who was at the core of the third generation of the Chinese leadership, handed over the helm of the Communist Party of China (CPC) to Hu Jintao at the age of 76.
Hu was not yet 70 years old when he handed over the Communist Party's leadership to Xi Jinping at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) held in Beijing in November 2012.
Institutionalization and standardization are the two main features of mechanism maturity fully displayed in the change of China's power structure at the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC) this month.
Drawing an end to the longstanding practice of de-facto life tenure for senior leaders, China's Constitution stipulates that holders of the country's top leading posts, except for the chair of the Central Military Commission, shall serve no more than two consecutive five-year terms.
Since then, the leadership replacement every five years is popularly referred to as a term-of-office change, and the once-in-a-decade power transfer a generational change.
The installation of the fifth generational leadership, led by President Xi, culminates a long process of gradual improvement of China's leadership transition mechanism.
Neither the tenure of the first generation of chief leaders of China was subject to any time limit, nor was there an established mechanism for power handover.
During the Cultural Revolution which ran from 1966 through 1976, China's Constitution was trampled on, with the mechanism of the People's Congress sabotaged and the rights of citizens violated.
The untamed expansion of the individual's power brought enormous disasters to the party, nation and people as China's renowned jurist Xu Zhongde recalled: "The Cultural Revolution razed democracy and the legal system to the ground."
Recalling the pains, at a meeting of the CPC Political Bureau in August 1980, Deng Xiaoping pointed out that the existence of a lifelong tenure system of leading cadres was, to some extent, linked to feudalism as well as the party's lack of a proper retirement system.
In February 1982, the CPC Central Committee introduced a retirement system of leading cadres, opening a path of the rule of law, instead of the rule of man, to govern the country.
China's third generation of leadership led by Jiang and the fourth-generation leadership led by Hu continued to advance along the path and constantly pushed for the improvement of the leadership handover mechanism.
Therefore, the retirement mechanism of the top leadership was effectively put in place, especially after the 16th CPC National Congress. Those who are aged 68 or older at the end of the first term normally will not take another term of office.
Dozens of fresh faces emerged in the new leadership of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the NPC, bringing vitality and vigor to the two political bodies.
Among the CPPCC National Committee's 23 vice chairpersons elected on March 11, 16 are newcomers. Three days later, 10 new faces appeared among the 13 newly-elected vice chairpersons of the NPC Standing Committee.
At the first session of the 12th NPC on Saturday, four vice premiers and five state councilors of the State Council were elected, all of them newcomers.
On March 14, Xi, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, was elected China's president.
With live broadcast on TV, people around the world saw the new Chinese leaders shaking hands with their predecessors in a successful leadership transition.
"I'm very impressed by the age of the new leaders ... I believe that the new leadership will bring China dynamism and new thinking," Xn Iraki, a columnist in Kenya, told Xinhua.
A reflection on the transition in the Chinese leadership reveals that the replacement has entered a stable virtuous circle as the tenure of party and state leaders has become more and more specific, with the procedures of power handover better regulated.
At the same time, the construction of socialist democracy and the socialist legal system has been pushed forward constantly.
The retirement system of Chinese leaders, initiated by the second generation of the Chinese leadership, has become a convention within the framework of the Constitution, strongly safeguarding and promoting the authority of the basic law.
At this year's annual sessions of the NPC and the CPPCC, the election of both NPC representatives and members of state organs showed that China's electoral system has continued to be improved.
For example, the difference in the proportion of members of the NPC Standing Committee elected this year rose to 8 percent from 7 percent in 2012. This year also witnessed for the first time ever the implementation of the principle of equal representation of urban and rural citizens.
In addition, the number of NPC representatives from the grassroots level has largely increased, with the proportion of party and government leaders dropping by 6.93 percent.
"The once-a-decade power transition of the Chinese leadership has finally come to an end; it's very important," said Jabin T. Jacob, assistant director of the Institute of Chinese Studies in India.
"In the future, the two sessions will play a more important role in China," he added.
The leadership replacement during both the 18th National Congress of the CPC in November last year and the annual sessions of the NPC and the CPPCC this year shows that China has further institutionalized and standardized the regular transition of its leadership, observers say.
A maturer mechanism of the Chinese leadership transition has ensured not only the lasting political stability indispensable for China's economic development, but also a continuous vitality in governance necessary for reform and opening-up, thus boosting the world's confidence in the "Chinese dream."