How Xi Rewrote China’s Rulebook to Build the Party Around Himself
Entry type: Single project
Country/area: United States
Publishing organisation: Bloomberg News
Organisation size: Big
Publication date: 2022-10-11
Authors: By Yasufumi Saito, Spe Chen and Brendan Scott
With assistance from: Adrian Leung, Jing Li, Hayley Wong, Sarah Zheng, Kari Soo Lindberg and Pei Li
Edited by: Daniel Ten Kate, Jenni Marsh and Jane Pong
Photography: Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images, Justin Chin/Bloomberg, Qilai Shen/Bloomberg, Andrea Verdelli/AFP/Getty Images, Pang Xinglei/Xinhua/Getty Images, Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
Yasufumi Saito is a data journalist in Hong Kong. Spe Chen is a data visualization journalist in Taipei. Brendan Scott is a politics journalist in Singapore.
A Bloomberg News analysis of appointments to the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee since 1992 — almost 1,300 in total — shows how President Xi Jinping has consolidated his own power while stacking the body with loyalists.
The analysis and findings are some of the most comprehensive reporting done in illuminating the efforts Xi Jinping has undertaken to restructure the Communist Party and augment his own authority. The project was published ahead of the twice-a-decade National Party Congress, generating conversations and discussions amongst China watchers and on social media.
To build this database of top Chinese politicians, Bloomberg reporters combined, cross checked and fact checked data across multiple databases, state-run media reports, and other sources.
With this exclusive database, we used R and Python to analyze the data and to detect pattern changes. To explain our findings to readers, we produced interactive graphics to show how different Xi compared to his predecessors and how he has promoted loyalists to key positions and built the party around himself.
To show how the composition of this elite group has changed, we used Svelte Scroller and Svelte’s reactive canvas rendering capability in another scrolling section to walk readers through the history. These techniques allow us to show hundreds of animated dots smoothly even when readers scroll fast.
The story also explores the career paths of the party’s political superstars. We used the visual metaphor of the career ladder to show how they climb the ranks. After preprocessing data with R, we uploaded it to Observable notebook to generate the skeleton of the ladder charts with D3.js. We then downloaded charts as SVGs and styled them in Illustrator. This workflow allows us to quickly create diagrams when new appointments are added to our database, while also allowing flexibility to accommodate individual annotations showing their unique ties with Xi.
Context about the project:
With China’s Party Congress approaching and China Watchers talking about Xi Jinping’s potential third term, Bloomberg reporters wanted to explain, through data and hard evidence, how Xi has been rewriting the Party’s rulebook and rebuilding this party universe with his loyalists during his 10 years in power.
But there was no single database that gave us complete career milestones and personal information for all members of the Center Committee of the Chinese Communist Party since 1992. So Bloomberg News compiled its own exclusive database with ages and career information for the party’s top leaders.
Xi is known for not shying away from promoting his longtime friends and ex-colleagues to important roles. So we cross-checked multiple sources and compiled a spreadsheet detailing how Xi and his loyalists’ paths overlapped in each year since 1969. We present this information in the ladder charts to help readers contextualize top politicians’ career progressions.
What can other journalists learn from this project?
The key to this project’s success is simple: it is the dedication to factual reporting. It’s not about scripting data or getting information in creative ways. It is a group of reporters going through databases, documents and media reports manually, collecting information in a spreadsheet and fact checking. It is the patient legwork of investigative journalism.
For journalists who cover countries that don’t have great data transparency, building your own database from various sources, akin to what we did in this project, creates lots of opportunities and leads to various stories. Bloomberg reporters generated multiple story ideas from the same database. It allowed us to extract historical context faster than other newsrooms when new members of the Central Committee were appointed. It also inspired us to look at the same dataset from different perspectives.
We also hope how we told a serious political story with engaging visual formats and design could inspire other colleagues and journalists to be more ambitious and creative when they approach similar topics.