Ask members of China’s elite—from senior officials to academics at leading universities, well-known commentators or bosses at big companies—to explain the beliefs of the country’s leader, Xi Jinping, and their replies are surprisingly unhelpful. Even simple questions elicit waffly answers. Take an ongoing campaign to clip the wings of some of China’s largest firms, notably technology giants. The authorities have variously accused such businesses of seeking excessive profits, harming national security with a cavalier approach to data, abusing workers, bullying smaller firms or exploiting young consumers with addictive video games and online fan clubs. Is Mr Xi revealing himself as an ideologue, bent on re-imposing Communist Party control over the economy at the expense of growth? Or is he more pragmatic than that: a nationalist strongman who is helping to make China stable at home and mighty abroad? There is chatter among the country’s grandees, but no consensus.