Editor's note: CNN has launched the Meanwhile in China newsletter, a three-times-a-week update exploring what you need to know about the country's rise and how it impacts the world. Sign up here.
The Chinese Communist Party is about to turn 100 but Xi will be the real star
One hundred years ago this July, in a small brick house in Shanghai's former French Concession, Mao Zedong and around a dozen other delegates gathered together in secret to form a new political party.
Much has changed since 1921, but the Chinese Communist Party, which today boasts more than 95 million members, equivalent to almost 7% of China's entire population, has remained an ever present fixture -- even as communist parties elsewhere collapse or fade from view.
But while the party has proven itself willing to adapt and change at crucial moments to ensure its survival (by way of comparison, the ruling party of the Soviet Union lasted 93 years before the collapse of the communist regime in 1991), it remains keenly aware of the risks it faces, from a slowing economy, an aging population and a shrinking workforce, to an increasingly united West that is determined to counter its rise.
Viewed in this context, its centenary, which will be marked officially on July 1, is an opportunity for the party to reaffirm its credentials, while ensuring loyalty.
"How do you prove that you are the legitimate government of China? You do so by putting on an enormous show to remind people of what you've given them. You've lifted them out of poverty, given them economic growth and restored China to a central place in the world," Graeme Smith of the Australian National University told CNN in the run up to Thursday's anniversary.
Indeed, for weeks state media has been saturated with images extolling the virtues of the party and its numerous successes. Much of the capital, meanwhile, has come under heightened security, for what is expected to be a large-scale celebration of the party's history, replete with fireworks and a speech from China's top leader Xi Jinping.
It's likely that large parts of the day's events will focus on Xi, arguably the country's most powerful leader since Mao, and his vision for the country.
Under Xi, the party has consolidated its hold on key sectors and industries, while tightening its grip on daily life. As Xi himself said at the 17th Party Congress in 2017, "In the east, west, south, and north, the party leads everything."
But while the party has much to celebrate, particularly China's growth from one of the poorest nations in the world into an economy on the brink of overtaking the US, it has also been responsible for some of darkest chapters of the last century, including the brutal repression of student protestors in Tiananmen Square, the decade of mayhem under former Chairman Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution, and the millions who starved to death as a result of disastrous CCP economic policy decisions.
Such incidents are unlikely to feature in Thursday's trip down memory lane, having long been played down or simply censored outright within China. But that doesn't mean they will be forgotten.
Whether the party likes it or not, its 100th anniversary will also provide an opportunity for the world to reflect on an organization whose power and reach now extends far beyond its own borders.
The party's influence inside global organizations, including the United Nations, the World Bank and the World Health Organization, is growing and many Western nations are heavily reliant on China for their economic growth.
Of course, it's far from certain that the Communist Party will continue on its current upward trajectory. But for better or worse, whatever the party does -- and however long it lasts -- its impact is likely to be felt across the world.
In Hong Kong, a number of iconic trams and double-decker buses have been plastered with striking red ads celebrating the Chinese Communist Party's centenary -- as well as the 24th anniversary of the city's return to China -- on July 1. Ahead of the big day, the Hong Kong government has doubled down on efforts to suppress public dissent. The city's largest and loudest pro-democracy newspaper was shuttered last week. And for the second year in a row, police have banned an annual mass pro-democracy march, ostensibly for Covid-19 reasons. Pro-Beijing groups, however, have been allowed to go ahead with planned celebrations involving hundreds of people.
China is in the middle of a huge power crunch as extreme weather, surging demand for energy and strict limits on coal usage deliver a triple blow to the nation's electricity grid. It's a problem that could last for months, straining the country's economic recovery and weighing on global trade.
Nearly a dozen Chinese provinces have said they are facing a power crunch in recent weeks, including some of the country's most important engines for economic growth, such as Guangdong province. Orders for power rationing have forced companies across Guangdong to shut down for a fe