BEIJING (AP) -- China's ruling communists opened a pivotal congress to initiate a power handover to new leaders Thursday with a nod to their revolutionary past and a broad promise of cleaner government while keeping off-stage the main event -- the bargaining over seats in the new leadership.
All the main players were arrayed on the stage in the Great Hall of the People: President Hu Jintao, his successor Xi Jinping and a collection of retired party insiders. A golden hammer and sickle, the Communist Party's symbol, hung on the back wall. Yet in a nearly two-hour opening ceremony, scant mention was made of the transition or that in a week Hu will step down as party chief in favor of Xi in what would be only the second orderly transfer of power in 63 years of communist rule.
The congress is writ small the state of Chinese politics today. It's a largely ceremonial gathering of 2,200-plus delegates who meet while the real deal-making is done behind-the-scenes by the true power-holders. [28 photos total]

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Communist leaders stand before the national anthem during the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Lee Jin-man) #
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Chinese soldiers walk past the Great Hall of the People where the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress is being held in Beijing, China, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Lee Jin-man) #
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A Chinese paramilitary policeman stands guard at a flag raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square before the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress in Beijing, China Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Vincent Yu) #
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A tourist holds a Chinese national flag to pose for photos while paramilitary policemen patrol on Tiananmen Square before the 18th Communist Party Congress is held at the nearby Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Alexander F. Yuan) #
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A paramilitary policeman guards an entrance from Tiananmen Square to the Great Hall of the People, where the 18th Communist Party Congress is held in Beijing, China, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Alexander F. Yuan) #
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Chinese security personnel stand guard outside the Great Hall of the People where the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress is held in Beijing, China Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Vincent Yu) #
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Security personnel march in front of the Great Hall of the People during the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress in Beijing, China Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Vincent Yu) #
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Journalists, firemen, buses, and red flags on Tiananmen are reflected in a glass door of the Great Hall of the People, where opening ceremony of the 18th Communist Party Congress is held, while a soldier dressed as an usher, seen through the glass, keeps watch in Beijing, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Alexander F. Yuan) #
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Chinese Communist Party delegates sit on a bus to leave the Great Hall of the People after opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress, while red flags are reflected in the bus window in Beijing, China, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Alexander F. Yuan) #
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Hostesses for the National Congress walk across a main street after the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress in Beijing Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Vincent Yu) #
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Attendants pose for a picture in front of the Great Hall of the People before the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress held at in Beijing, China Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Vincent Yu) #
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Delegates in ethnic minority costumes walk past a hostess after the end of the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress in Beijing Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Vincent Yu) #
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Chinese delegates in ethnic minority costumes leave the Great Hall of the People after the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress in Beijing, China Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Vincent Yu) #
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A delegate in ethnic minority costume holds a leather document folder marked with the emblem of the Communist Party of China and Chinese letters that read: "Chinese Communist Party 18th National Congress" after attending the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress in Beijing, China, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Vincent Yu) #
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Chinese President Hu Jintao, left, and former Chinese President Jiang Zemin arrive for the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Ng Han Guan) #
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A hostess serves a cup of tea between National People's Congress Chairman Wu Bangguo, right, and Vice President Xi Jinping, left, during the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Lee Jin-man) #
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China's communist leaders bow in silence in remembrance of the late leaders during the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Alexander F. Yuan) #
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Delegates bow in silence in remembrance of the late leaders during the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Lee Jin-man) #
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Chinese Communist Party leaders attend the opening session of 18th Communist Party Congress, while Hu Jintao, no in the picture, Chinese president and current Chinese Communist Party general secretary, reads a work report, whose seat is seen empty in the center of front row, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Alexander F. Yuan) #
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A security member checks the pass of a visitor at the Great Hall of the People during the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress in Beijing, China Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Vincent Yu) #
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A soldier dressed as an usher, front, guards an entrance while an attendant, center, waits to serve Communist Party delegates at the Great Hall of the People, where the 18th Communist Party Congress is held in Beijing, China, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Alexander F. Yuan) #
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A security person sits on a chair to guard in the Great Hall of the People where the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress is being held, in Beijing Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Vincent Yu) #
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Chinese children play near a floral arrangement displaying a Spirit of Beijing slogan, reading "Patriotism, Innovation, Tolerance, and Social Morals" during the 18th Communist Party Congress in Beijing, China, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. Preparing to hand over power after a decade in office, China's President Hu Jintao called Thursday for sterner measures to combat official corruption that has stoked public anger while urging the Communist Party to maintain firm political control. (AP Photo/Andy Wong) (AP / Andy Wong) #
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Tailors work from home as a television shows the live broadcast of Chinese President Hu Jintao speaking at the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress in Shanghai Thursday Nov. 8, 2012. (AP /) #
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People walk past as a TV screen at the Beijing Railway Station, shows a live broadcast of Chinese President Hu Jintao's speech at the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress, in Beijing, China, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Andy Wong) #
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Commuters walk past a TV screen showing a live broadcasting of Chinese President Hu Jintao's remarks at the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress, at a subway station in Beijing, China, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Andy Wong) #
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A Chinese man watches a TV showing a live broadcasting of the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress, at a subway station in Beijing, China, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Andy Wong) #
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A huge screen shows a broadcast of Chinese President Hu Jintao speaking at the opening session of the 18th Communist Party Congress at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (AP / Vincent Yu) #

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