In a move which came as a surprise to many observers, former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (
Jiang stepped down after a secretive four-day meeting of the Chinese Communist Party's 16th Central Standing Committee meeting.
His retirement paved the way for the so-called "fourth generation" of Chinese leaders to take the helm of the authoritarian giant.
Observers widely interpreted the move as a sign that Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), 61, had at last consolidated his hold on power.
The changing of the guard in Zhongnanhai was remarkable primarily for its peacefulness, as the Chinese Communist Party has a long history of conducting bloody purges during leadership transitions.
Although it was not immediately clear what the change in leadership would mean for the future of cross-strait relations, many analysts had evinced their hope that Hu would prove to be a progressive reformer, as such things are judged in China.
Many analysts in Taiwan thought that the change would offer an opportunity for talks and some form of rapprochement between the rivals on either side of the Taiwan Strait.
Their hopes were dashed when one of Hu's first acts after taking charge of the CMC was to reaffirm Beijing's willingness to use military force against democratic Taiwan, and to expand on China's plans to increase the quality of and modernize the People's Liberation Army.
Hu now holds the key positions controlling the party, the state and the military in China.