It has taken five years for President Hu Jintao to finally reveal who he really is. When the enigmatic Mr Hu became the front man of the Communist Party in November 2002, the question on everybody's lips was: 'Who is Hu?' The suggestions ranged from closet reformer to puppet president. Few had a clue. But the temptation was strong to write off the new boss of the world's biggest political organisation. Mr Hu, at 59 the youngest leader in the party's history, was a bland face who paled beside his charismatic predecessors Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping . Moreover, his immediate predecessor, Jiang Zemin , cast a long shadow over him. Even after the then 78-year-old Mr Jiang relinquished the powerful top military post in the autumn of 2004, his presence was very much felt. It looked as if Mr Hu had assumed Mr Jiang's titles but not his power, leaving observers wondering if a generational change had really taken place. In many regards, Mr Hu is the antithesis of Mr Jiang. Compared to the latter's expansive or even pompous style, analysts say Mr Hu would rather err on the side of caution. Having spent more than 20 years working in poor western areas, he seems more at home shaking hands with peasants than foreign diplomats and multinational executives. He is well known for keeping his personality a mystery to outsiders and is said never to have granted a one-on-one interview. Nevertheless, his first five years in power have revealed the president to be the ultimate product of the party system. Through much underestimated political adroitness, the hydraulic engineer conceived a grand strategy to put his own stamp firmly on the party. He turned out to be a shrewd power player, a top communist ideologue, a capable autocrat, an unyielding hardliner and a fervent believer in prosperity under one-party rule. 'In many senses, Hu's far more politically astute and effective than Jiang Zemin,' said Steve Tsang, senior research fellow in Modern Chinese Studies at St Antony's College, Oxford University. 'He's not only looking to consolidate his own power but to sustain the party's long-term monopoly on power.' The 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome marked the start of Mr Hu's deft political manoeuvring. His open - although belated - handling of the health crisis not only stirred up expectations of political opening but also served as a perfect tool to ease out non-supporters. That was only the beginning of a long battle - one that was sometimes fought under the benign name of an 'anti-corruption campaign' - to neutralise Mr Jiang's lingering, off-stage influence and to stack important posts with his own men. Probably the climax of his political manoeuvring was the sacking of Cheng Liangyu , a leading member of the so-called 'Shanghai Gang', which was Mr Jiang's power base. The 17th party congress confirmed the extent of Mr Hu's hold over the party. Edward Friedman, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said Mr Hu was not necessarily a born political animal, but the authoritarian system dictated what he did. 'That's how the system works,' Professor Friedman said. 'Once you're in the position of power, you're going to consolidate it and make your mark.' And Mr Hu has proved he's not short of ideas on how to do so. An orthodox Marxist with a traditional Confucian upbringing, he has synthesised his thoughts on social engineering into the slogans 'scientific development' and 'harmonious society'. In a nutshell, Mr Hu has called for a major shift in priorities from breakneck growth to sustainable development. Gone are the days of 'getting rich is glorious'. Now ordinary people should be put first. 'He's sophisticated enough to recognise the social problems that threaten to clog up or even overwhelm the system,' Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, professor of political science at City University of Hong Kong, said. 'The mode of development has been altered.' Analysts say that whether the new political priorities can bring significant change to people's lives remains to be seen. Its ultimate purpose is to refine the existing system with a more efficient party mechanism. 'Hu is not really interested in the slightest in political reform,' Dr Tsang said. 'He is more focused on improving the capacity of the party to govern, to deliver and to stay the course.' The genius of Mr Hu's politics is his ability to hack out a centralist path under the pressure from both ends of the political spectrum. On the one hand, he has made it clear that he wants to maintain China's free-market economic approach, which is the key source of the party's legitimacy for most Chinese people. On the other hand, harking back to the Maoist era, he has tightened the party's control over the public sphere. The past five years have seen him increasingly willing to impose new limits on speech and other civil liberties. Political dissidents are on the run and liberal intellectuals are disillusioned. The statement most revealing of his thinking was when he reportedly called the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, 'a traitor to socialism'. He is said to admire Cuba and North Korea for their domestic politics. To Professor Friedman, 'he's the creature of the system who has been working very well within the system and thus has a vested interest in maintaining the authority of the system'. Mr Hu is now on top of his game. Analysts say that, over the next five years, he will continue to use his well-honed skills to play the double game of maintaining a fast-growing capitalist economy within a closed, illiberal political system. 'His script has already been written,' Professor Cheng said.