At the center of the spectacle is the Communist Party congress, a gathering held once every five years that is the 18th such event in the party's history. The congress is more interlude than climax. Important decisions are made by current and retired leaders, some of whom are not even on the congress delegates' roster, in bargaining that began years ago and has largely been already resolved.
Here's a look at how it works:
Selecting delegates to the congress began months ago, with recommendations made by the party's 82 million members, which are then vetted, winnowed and voted on twice. In practice, the selection is controlled by the party's personnel division, giving the leadership room to make sure the powerful and their key proteges are included. President Hu Jintao, who will retire as party general secretary, is a delegate from Jiangsu province, where he grew up but has not lived for four decades. Most of the 2,268 delegates are chosen to show that the congress is broadly representative. Only the opinions of a small subset matter. One power-broker, retired President Jiang Zemin, is a specially invited delegate, a sign of his continuing influence in the leadership bargaining.
Image: A minority delegate from Yunnan Province arrives for the opening session of the Chinese Communist Party's five-yearly Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China on November 8th, 2012. The week-long congress, held every five years, will end with a transition of power to Vice President Xi Jinping, who will govern for the coming decade amid growing pressure for reform of the communist regime's iron-clad grip on power.