In much of the West, Mikhail Gorbachev is hailed as the farsighted visionary who brought the Cold War to a peaceful conclusion. But for autocratic leaders in other parts of the world, his legacy stands as a cautionary tale of power discarded quickly and, by some estimates, cavalierly, with little or nothing in return.

This lesson has been taken most to heart in China, where Xi Jinping is expected to be anointed to a third term as the country’s top leader during a Communist Party congress announced for October. The dissolution of the Soviet Union — and with it the birth of independent nations and the demise of an all-powerful political party — are precisely the kinds of political shock waves that Xi has committed his career to avoiding.

China’s leaders "would regard everything the final leader of the Communist Party of the USSR did as a textbook of how not to go about business,” said Kerry Brown, a political historian at King’s College London and author of books about Xi’s China.