President Xi Jinping is China’s first leader to swear an oath to the constitution
Xi leads senior cadres in new ceremony after National People’s Congress confirms his second term in charge
Xi Jinping on Saturday became the first Chinese state leader to take a constitutional oath, as the country’s president and head of its military.
The ceremony was held in the Great Hall of the People, where three guards of honour goose-stepped towards the podium, as a copy of the constitution was placed before Xi.
After the national anthem was played, Xi was invited to take the oath both as China’s president and chairman of the Central Military Commission.
Next up to swear their allegiance were newly elected National People’s Congress chairman Li Zhanshu and Vice-President Wang Qishan.
Wang, a fan of American political television series House of Cards, punctuated his oath with a firm knock on the podium afterwards.
The show’s main character Frank Underwood has a habit of knocking twice on a table, which he once said was a sign of strength and resolution.
The South China Morning Post has reported that Wang, a seasoned troubleshooter for the Chinese government, is expected to oversee Sino-US relations in his new role.
The ceremony – which took place after Xi received unanimous support from lawmakers to serve a second term as president – was a symbolic move to show the significance of the constitution, which was revised last week to include Xi’s political theory, “Xi Jinping Thought”.
Term limits on the presidency and vice-presidency were also removed, and the Communist Party’s leadership role was spelled out – making it unconstitutional to challenge one-party rule.
Xi’s status as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong was on full display during the carefully choreographed ceremony in Beijing – it was only when the president took the oath that all members of the legislature stood, and his was the only oath accompanied by the military band’s drums.
“I swear to be loyal to China’s constitution and uphold its authority,” Xi said, his left hand on the constitution and his right fist held aloft.
He also pledged to work for a great, modern, socialist country that is “prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful”.
The oaths were also a rare chance for the public to hear Wang and Li speak, even though they have both been key enforcers of Xi’s signature policies over the past five years.
Wang, once the party’s formidable anti-graft chief who has mostly worked behind the scenes, read out his oath in a gravelly voice, slowly but confidently.
Li – who is Xi’s top aide and accompanied him on all of his overseas trips in the past five years – spoke with a heavy Hebei accent, mixing the third tone in Mandarin with the first.
Government officials at all levels have since 2016 followed an unwritten convention of pledging their allegiance to the constitution when taking office, but last week it was written into the constitution as a requirement.
Li Yuanchao, Wang’s predecessor and China’s weakest vice-president in decades, was not invited to Saturday’s session to receive a farewell from his comrades. But the former NPC head Zhang Dejiang joined the ceremony and shook hands with Li Zhanshu and Xi to the applause of more than 2,000 lawmakers.