Metres away from the giant portrait of former paramount leader Mao Zedong that watches over Tiananmen Square, retiree Tang Meiqin marvelled at how much the chairman's latest successor has achieved in the last five years - enough, perhaps, to inspire a similar level of reverence.
"President Xi Jinping has made the country more stable and improved our lives a lot in the last five years," said the 55-year-old.
For one thing, living standards have risen greatly, even for retirees such as Madam Tang. The Chongqing resident's monthly pension was 1,000 yuan when she retired from her blue-collar job in 2013. Today, it is over 3,000 yuan (S$615).
"I was in Japan a few days ago and, before that, Shanghai - something I couldn't imagine doing in the past," Madam Tang said of her overseas holidays. "That's why the 19th party congress is important to me, I want Xi Dada (uncle) to keep at it," she said, using a popular term to describe the President.
Her view was echoed by the many Chinese The Straits Times spoke to ahead of the five-yearly congress of the Chinese Communist Party starting tomorrow. It will decide China's top leadership for the next five years. Many praised Mr Xi's marquee policies, including his anti-corruption drive that, since 2013, has punished more than 1.3 million low-ranking officials and netted over 200 "tigers" - those ranked vice-minister and higher.
"Public administration has become much more effective under Mr Xi," said tour operator Li Long, 45. "In the past, some public servants would rather play with their phones or go for a smoke break than serve you. But that has changed."
Mr Xi has not only crafted a Chinese Dream to return the Middle Kingdom to greatness, but also spelt out well-defined targets to be attained, such as eradicating poverty and solidifying its territoriality over Taiwan and in the South China Sea.
This has boosted the self-confidence of many Chinese, Mr Li said.
Others, such as planning officer Ma Xi, 29, credited Mr Xi's government with helping to spur a technological boom that has propelled China to the forefront in cutting-edge technology such as artificial intelligence and cashless payments.
"I'm from Hangzhou, so the best example is how Jack Ma, Alibaba and Taobao have transformed Chinese people's lives and brought us many conveniences," said Ms Ma, who is not related to Mr Jack Ma, founder of tech giant Alibaba, headquartered in Hangzhou. Taobao is Alibaba's e-commerce platform.
"The rise of these tech firms has been possible because the government's policies towards them have been very supportive," she added.
But Mr Xi, who has demanded ideological adherence, encouraged fervent nationalism and presided over a return to bigger government, is not without detractors. Some find the congress too far removed from ordinary people, while others said the meeting is too politically sensitive for honest comments.
• Additional reporting by Lina Miao