From Tania Branigan in the Observer, “Where Next for China as the New Generation of Leaders Take Power?”:
The seventh congress would not take place until 1945, at the Communist rebel base in Yan'an, just before the end of the Japanese occupation and the resumption of war with Chiang's forces.
"It confirmed Mao's absolute authority in the Communist party," said Gao Wenqian, previously a researcher at the Chinese Institute of Central Documents and now a senior policy adviser at New York-based Human Rights in China.
Eleven years later, the eighth congress was a celebration of power; the party now ruled China. More than 1,000 delegates, representing 10 million members, gathered in Beijing. "Mao hoped to become the leader of the world revolution," said Gao. "Then he started the Great Leap Forward."
The disastrous attempt to transform the economy and society overnight resulted in tens of millions of deaths in the Great Famine – and a new willingness to challenge the chairman. "Mao worried that his position was not stable, so the ninth national congress was not held until 1969," said Gao. [...]
Many within its top ranks appear to have feared Bo, who sought to harness mass support in pursuit of his ambitions, as a destabilising figure. These days "the national congress is like a rubber stamp. Before the 18th, all the significant decisions have already been made, such as the personnel arrangements and the policy direction afterwards," said Gao.
Gao, like others, believes three decades of economic reform without political change have led to contradictions and conflicts which are reaching a critical, explosive point. As growth slows, it can no longer disguise the problems.
The Bo Xilai incident gave the party the opportunity to turn over a new leaf, said Gao. "In my opinion, they missed it. From the trial of Wang Lijun to dealing with the Bo case, it has all been black operations ... It has been about the political struggles, trading by different groups in the power transition. The Communist party is 92 years old. It is senile and lethargic. They only want to maintain the present situation, not to make any changes."