All the Emperor’s men: How Xi Jinping became China’s unrivalled leader

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: United Kingdom

Publishing organisation: Financial Times

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 2022-10-18

Language: English

Authors: Andy Lin, Edward White, Dan Clark, Caroline Nevitt and Sam Joiner.


Andy Lin reports Asia news stories using data analysis, graphics and statistics on the FT’s visual and data journalism team.
Edward White is an award-winning journalist and China correspondent since 2021.
Dan Clark is a graphics journalist in the Visual Storytelling Team, an interdisciplinary group of journalists combining data, design, coding and reporting skills.
Caroline Nevitt is the Head of Editorial Experience Design.
Sam Joiner is the Visual Stories Editor and leads the Visual Storytelling Team.

Project description:

In October, ahead of his unprecedented appointment for a third team as leader, we produced a visual story explaining how Xi Jinping manipulates China’s political networks to cement his status as the country’s most powerful premier since Mao.

All the Emperor’s Men visualised the changing people in Xi’s orbit to outline the sway he has over Chinese politics, in the process revealing how Xi has centralised decision-making in his own hands, bulldozed opposing factions and stacked key positions with loyalists.

Impact reached:

The project proved hugely engaging, with more than 65% of readers who started the story making it 100% of the way through the piece.

Readers comments were effusive, and one of the most recommended summed up exactly what we had hoped to achieve with the project:

_“This is such terrific reporting with helpful and compelling visuals. Thank you FT. Explaining the nuances of the CCP’s (Chinese Communist Party) system of governance is no easy feat, but I feel like I have an understanding now”._

Techniques/technologies used:

This piece was built using React, made up of individual components for the various sections. The introduction to the piece was something that we tinkered with a lot; we knew we wanted a visual representation of Xi’s centrality to Chinese politics, and planets orbiting felt like the right visual metaphor.

This animation was achieved by using css keyframes. There were two animations needed: one to orbit the circles themselves and then another to “invert” the face within the circle so that it was always facing forwards.

The other technical challenge for the piece was how we would explain the Chinese Communist Party system and animate the circles to highlight different people for each slide.

We used JavaScript to iterate through a data file and draw circles for each person. We then had a config file which explained, for each slide, which position that circle needed to be moved to and used CSS animations to transition the circles smoothly.

Context about the project:

The FT wanted to explain the complex world of Chinese politics to a wider audience and dive into how Xi has effectively secured the position of premier for life.

Our Hong Kong-based Data Reporter Andy Lin utilised the [CCP elite biographical database](https://chinadatalab.ucsd.edu/resources/ccp-elites-database/) to help construct the political network of party members and the various factions that exist within it.

Our greatest challenge was how we would explain how the 200+ central committee works as well as showcasing how the factions within the upper echelons of the party have evolved over time.

The combination of simple, informative text with clear visuals helped us explain the complex nature of the CCP in a simple way.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

China continues to be a superpower on the world stage and explaining and covering the political landscape of the country is of the utmost importance. However, the opaque nature of the party system means that explaining how China chooses its leaders – and Xi’s role within that – is very difficult.

But this story shows that visuals can be used to bring clarity to the subject, and it is a reminder that data-driven visual stories can be found in unusual places.For this we had a database of CCP members over time and a hundred headshots. But with the right editorial and visual approach, it was enough for us to create an informative project.

The fact that over two thirds of readers reached the end, which compares favourably to the average completion rate for an FT long-read, highlights how impactful data-driven and visually rich political reporting can be.

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