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On his rise to the top, Xi served as a secretary to a noted general, spent time as a low-level administrator in a rural area and then took successive postings in rapidly developing coastal provinces that placed him at the forefront of market-oriented reforms. There, Xi gained a reputation as a can-do administrator, though one careful not to antagonize colleagues in China’s consensus-bound politics.

Xi’s promotion Thursday marked only the second smooth transition under Communist rule, despite a turbulent political year in which politicking for leadership spots was buffeted by the messiest political scandal in decades.

Bo Xilai, a member of the elite like Xi and a contender for the Standing Committee, was purged months after an aide disclosed that his wife murdered a British businessman.

Speaking to the media Thursday, Xi traced China’s ancient civilization and its struggles to regain its leading role in the world, culminating in a Communist revolution that he promised to lead on to the benefit of the Chinese people.

“Our responsibility now is to rally and lead the entire party and the people of all ethnic groups in China in taking up this historic baton and in making continued efforts to achieve the great renewal of the Chinese nation, make the Chinese nation stand rock-firm in the family of nations, and make even greater contribution to mankind,” Xi said.

He then ran through a list of deliverables to the Chinese people: better education, higher incomes, a bigger social safety net, environmental protection.

“To meet their desire for a happy life is our mission,” Xi said in remarks that were relatively free of the jargon Chinese leaders usually employ.

Xi faces significant obstacles in meeting those goals. Leadership decisions are made by consensus. His colleagues in the leadership owe their positions not to him, but to other political patrons.

Li, who is in line to become premier, counts Hu as his mentor. Though Xi and several others in the new team share a patron in Jiang Zemin, the 86-year-old former party chief who retired a decade ago, they are not aligned in policies. That will force Xi to forge coalitions to get things done.

Getting their team in place will take the better part of a year. Hu still holds the largely ceremonial role of state president, which he is not expected to relinquish until the party-controlled legislature meets in March and appoints leading officials in the State Council, the Cabinet.

Hu’s ascension to party boss in 2002 was China’s first power transfer that did not involve the death of a leader or the unseating of a designated successor.