“Sometimes if you want to purge a leader, start with his mishu [secretary].” Cheng Li, director of the Brookings Institution’s John L. Thornton China Center, is one of the last true practitioners of “Pekingology”—the careful study of the inner workings of China’s top leadership. Li’s new book, Chinese Politics in the Xi Jinping Era: Reassessing Collective Leadership, explores the intricate connections between Xi Jinping and Xi’s former classmates, close advisors, and political rivals. The political landscape Li describes is far from the monolithic state that Chinese communist leaders project: dueling princeling and Communist Youth League factions, liberal economists challenging conservative thinkers over market reforms, and a tumultuous anticorruption campaign that has rooted out military officials and party bosses alike. All these things, Li argues, produce a balanced system of collective leadership with a staying power beyond what most would expect. Listen to our conversation below to hear what Li’s detailed study tells us about the China that Xi hopes to create.