Three years on, dreams of a more democratic China have been dashed by the enigmatic and withdrawn Hu. Dissidents have been rounded up and the media and internet subject to ever-increasing restrictions, while the 69 million CCP members have been ordered to brush up on their Marxism-Leninism and the thought of Mao Zedong.
But then Hu had shown his ruthless side in 1989 in Tibet, imposing martial law after supporters of independence had demonstrated in Lhasa. Some 70 were shot dead by police. Hu had spent much of his career in the backwaters of western China, so little was known about him before he came to power.
Born to a family of one-time tea merchants, Hu won a university place in Beijing in 1959 to study hydraulic engineering. By 1964 he had joined the party and met his wife, Liu Yongqing, with whom he has a son and a daughter. In 1968, he was sent to an impoverished region in the north-west, and began his slow, deliberate ascent to ultimate power.
Hu's first overseas visit was to the UK in 2001. He asked that demonstrators be kept him away from him and the police obliged him. But although he makes regular trips abroad, little is known of his personal tastes. He is said to have a photographic memory and to be a decent ballroom dancer, but he has built his career on revealing nothing that potential opponents could use against him.
It is perhaps his fear of being undermined that has ensured that his first three years in power have been so conservative. The Politburo is dominated by the so-called Shanghai Clique, former protégés of Jiang Zemin, Hu's predecessor as President. Hu faces challenges too from a population increasingly dissatisfied with poor education and health care and rampant corruption.
All of which suggests that he will stay on the same course for a while yet.Reuse content