Chinese President Hu Jintao has opened a Communist Party congress by urging members to fight harder against corruption.
The weeklong congress is expected to appoint a new generation of top leaders.
Hu told the 2,200 delegates gathered in Beijing's Great Hall of the People that the future of both the country and the party are at stake.
"Opposing corruption and building an honest and clean government is a clear stance the party has been adhering to and is an important political issue the people have been paying attention to," Hu said.
"If we fail to handle the issue [of corruption] well, it could prove fatal to the party and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state."
The change of leadership takes place every 10 years in the Chinese Communist Party.
Hu's warning echoed one delivered a decade ago during the previous transition of leadership. In 2002, the party was warned that it was "heading for self-destruction" unless it tackled corruption.
In this transition, Vice President Xi Jinping is widely predicted to replace Hu, first as party leader and later as president in March 2013. First Vice Prime Minister Li Keqiang is expected to become premier.
Hu also told the congress that the party needs to be more democratic.
"Reform of the political structure is an important part of China's overall reform," he said. "We must continue to make both active and prudent efforts to carry out the reform of the political structure and make people's democracy more extensive, fuller in scope, and sounder in practice."
Corruption In The Headlines
The congress, held once every five years, takes place amid growing discontent in China over what is perceived as an increasingly corrupt ruling elite.
The Communist Party has reportedly launched an investigation into a report by "The New York Times" that Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s family has accumulated a hidden fortune of $2.7 billion. The investigation was said to come at Wen’s request.
Bo Xilai, a top regional official who had been seen as a favorite for higher office, was purged recently from the party after his wife was found guilty of killing a British business partner. The wife, who had admitted to the murder, was initially condemned to death before having her sentence commuted.
The Chinese president spoke forcefully on November 8 against using party positions to amass wealth and power.
"No group or individual can have privileges that surpass the constitution and law," Hu said. "We must never let words act in place of the law or [personal] power replace the law, nor will we allow the ignoring of the law for personal benefit."
Hu also told delegates that China, the world's second-largest economy, had to adapt to a changing domestic and global environment.
He urged the Chinese to "aim higher and work harder" in order to double the gross domestic product in the next eight years.
"On the basis of making China's development much more balanced, coordinated, and sustainable, we should double its 2010 gross domestic product and per capita income for both urban and rural residents [by 2020]," he said.
Security was very tight across Beijing, and rights groups said many dissidents were detained or under house arrest for the duration of the congress.
With reporting by AFP, AP, and the BBC