The first surprise was the absence of green army uniforms. The seat vacated by the dumping of ageing general Liu Huaqing was turned over to a civilian.
Leading the pack was a very contented-looking President Jiang Zemin, for whom the 15th Communist Party Congress has been a personal triumph. Behind him a smiling Li Peng, who has kept his second-ranking position and looks set to head the parliament when he steps down as prime minister.
China's new Number 3 followed, the perennially glum Zhu Rongji, who is almost certainly to be the next prime minister. Mr Zhu is the man who tamed China's rampant inflation and will now be in charge of implementing Mr Jiang's blueprint for reform of state-owned enterprises.
Li Ruihuan and Hu Jintao, both party stalwarts, kept their seats. So all eyes were on who would fill the vacant slots left by Mr Liu and Qiao Shi, the spectacularly ousted adversaries of Mr Jiang. Step forward the newcomers: Wei Jianxing, anti-corruption supremo, and Li Lanqing, a reform- minded vice-prime minister.
Mr Jiang has emerged from the conference in a far more powerful position than many predicted when the patriarch, Deng Xiaoping, died in February. Although he had to make some compromises, he has elevated many of his preferred candidates to more influential posts.
Next year's retirement of Mr Qiao as head of the National People's Congress to make way for Mr Li is widely seen as a step backwards for gradual political reform in China. Mr Qiao had argued forcibly for a stronger role for China's largely rubber-stamp parliament, and the importance of establishing the "rule of law". Mr Li, a political hardliner, is not cast in quite the same mould.Reuse content