Meanwhile, "Xi's leadership experience [after Zhengding] in running Fujian, Zhejiang, and Shanghai, three economically-advanced regions, has prepared him well for pursuing policies to promote the development of the private sector, foreign investment and trade, and the liberalization of China's financial system," wrote Cheng Li of Brookings for the Washington Quarterly in its winter 2012 edition.
The run-up to Xi's ascension as China's next leader has nonetheless been bumpy.
In September, his nearly two-week "disappearance" -- and canceled meetings with Clinton and other foreign officials -- fueled speculation over his health and factional infighting.
In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour, former Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa said Xi had suffered a back injury while swimming.
Even so, the Chinese media's "default mode" of not speaking about its leaders, coupled with the lack of a constitutional basis for the regime's transfer of power, left people wondering, "What's the Plan B if something were to happen?" Lampton said.
Also of note were two reports released by Xinhua on September 28 within three minutes of each other: the Congress' November 8 opening date -- after much speculation it would fall in October -- and the expulsion of Bo Xilai from the Communist Party. Bo now faces criminal prosecution in the wake of a scandal that saw his wife convicted of murder.
Given the turbulent lead-up to the Communist Party Congress, Lampton says he, like other China watchers, will be trying to glean clues as to China's political direction. He says a longer-than-expected Congress could hint at an inability to reach decisions. Also important will be the make-up of the Politburo Standing Committee, what happens to the key portfolios -- and crucially, whether Hu will relinquish his chairmanship of the Central Military Commission to Xi.
"Having two centers -- the predecessor heading the military and the new leader second-in-command -- is not a healthy signal to the world," Lampton said.
The flipside of having a more collective leadership as opposed to a dominant leader like Mao or Deng is that the "system has been set up to prevent a strong leader," Dickson of George Washington University said. All the more reason that the charismatic Bo, who had been tipped for the Standing Committee and is said to have led a ruthless anti-crime campaign in Chongqing, drew some concern before his downfall.
The clean reputation of Xi -- who had become Shanghai's leader after his predecessor, Chen Liangyu, was dismissed over a social security fund scandal -- took a hit in June when Bloomberg reported on the wealth of his extended family.
Although no assets were traced to Xi, his wife or daughter, Bloomberg found that his extended family had business interests in minerals, real estate and mobile-phone equipment, with assets in the hundreds of millions.
Last month the New York Times gave a similar treatment to Premier Wen Jiabao, reporting on the staggering wealth of his relatives -- a review that found assets of at least $2.7 billion.
Xi and the new leaders will have to demonstrate to the public how serious they are in fighting widespread corruption, Lampton said, or face "huge problems."