Communist Party chief Hu Jintao will preside over China's most significant political meeting in a decade on Thursday when he opens the 18th Party Congress in Beijing, following which he will hand party leadership over to vice president Xi Jinping.
Shrouded in secrecy, the five-yearly gatherings have marked key events in the party's tumultuous 63-year reign over China and remain a source of intrigue.
Here are some congresses that have shaped modern China:
* The party held its first congress in 1921 at secret meetings in and around Shanghai. The conclave formally established the aims and charter of the fledgling party which included a young Mao Zedong.
* The seventh congress convened at the tail end of the Sino-Japanese war in 1945, at the Communists, northern stronghold in Yan'an, a dusty village in northern Shaanxi province. Mao emerged as supreme leader and his "thought" was enshrined as the cornerstone of party ideology.
* In 1969, the ninth congress met at the peak of the Cultural Revolution, a decade of chaos and near-civil war which Mao had unleashed in 1966 to shore up his power base. Mao named army Marshal Lin Biao as his successor and more than 80% of the party s elite Central Committee were fired. Two years later Lin died in a mysterious plane crash in Mongolia after being suspected of plotting Mao's assassination.
* At the 12th congress in 1982 paramount leader Deng Xiaoping proposed "socialism with Chinese characteristics" hastening China's economic reform path away from stodgy centralised planning to freewheeling capitalism.
* Hu Jintao's predecessor and political rival, Jiang Zemin stepped down as party chief at the 16th congress in 2002 but stacked key leadership posts with allies and saw his "Three Represents" theory elevated alongside "Mao Zedong thought" and "Deng Xiaoping theory" as a key tenet of party ideology.
* At the last party congress in 2007, Hu cemented his grip on power by naming his successor, Xi Jinping. He also wrote into the party constitution his "scientific development concept" which promoted more rounded economic development with better respect for the environment and people's lives.