China’s Rising Stars

By NICK MILLER | 18.05.2011


  • Who Are the Fifth Generation Leaders?

Hu-JintaoThe Fifth Generation elites are the leaders that will be taking power during the 18th National Party Congress in 2012. The common unifying event within this upcoming political generation was the Cultural Revolution as a majority of these elites were all sent down to the countryside for several years and had their families purged under Mao’s reign regardless of their family’s political standing.  The Fifth Generation leaders are considered one of the worldliest and one of the best educated. The Fourth Generation of leaders like Jiang Zemin had an academic background in engineering or another technocratic field but the fifth generation leaders tend to hold degrees in law, economics, or in the social sciences.

This generation is most typified by the presumed successor to Hu Jintao- Xi Jinping.

This article would like to explore the key power players within China that will be directing China after the 18th Party Congress.  Within this fifth generation of leaders China Watchers have divided the leaders into two major political factions – Princelings (taizidang 太子党) who are leaders that are descendent from powerful Party leaders. The Youth League or Populists (tuanpai 团派) are leaders that have advanced through the Communist Youth League. This faction is strongly connected to Hu Jintao and the majority of its members come from more humble backgrounds compared to the elites within the Princeling faction.














  • Party Officials



Xi Jinping

xi_jinpingXi Jinping is expected to succeed Hu Jintao as General Secretary of the CCP at the 18th Party Congress in 2012. Xi has wide support across both elite factions because his father, Xi Zhongxun, was a revolutionary veteran who helped in the creation of the special economic zones in the 1980s that later became the model for China’s economic transformation. Xi Zhongxun was also a politically controversial leader because of his strong ties to the reformist CPC General Secretary Hu Yaobang, whose death in 1989 helped spark the Tiananmen protests.

As with many other fifth generation leaders during the Cultural Revolution Xi Jinping was sent to the countryside, after which he gained a degree in Chemical Engineering from Tsinghua University in 1979 and a doctorate in Law in 2002. Through Xi’s father’s connections he served as Secretary to Geng Biao in the General Office of the Central Military Commission. One of Xi Jinpings’s chief patrons was Zeng Qinghong, who assisted Xi in his achieving promotions throughout his political career from Party Chief of Zhejiang to the Standing Committee of the Politburo at the 17th Party Congress in 2007. One event that has left China Watchers puzzled was Xi’s promotion from Shanghai directly to the Standing Committee as this kind of jump politically is not a common practice. China Watchers are still working to understand and analyze why Xi had short term in Shanghai was so short.

Xi’s rapid appointments, which lead China Watchers to believe he was being groomed for succession starting during the 17th Party Congress when in addition to being made a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo he was made Executive Secretary of the Secretariat, and President of the Central Party School. Xi was promoted to Vice President of the People’s Republic at the 11th National Party Congress in 2008 and Vice-Chairman of the Party. It was believed during the 4th Plenum of the 17th Party Congress that Xi was going to be awarded the Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission, a position that Hu Jintao once had, but for an unknown reason Xi was not awarded it. While the passing of the position drove speculation within China Watchers that perhaps there was deep divisions within elites over Xi Jinping’s rise Xi was ultimately promoted to the Vice Chairman position during the 5th Plenum of the 17TH Party Congress in 2010.

It needs to be remembered that a Chinese Party official does not need a military post in order to become General Secretary of the CCP. While there was momentary doubt over Xi’s succession Xi was also given the tasks managing the 2008 Olympics, and the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the CCP. All of the indications remain that Xi is secure as the heir apparent to Hu Jintao and will be named General Secretary at the 18th Party Congress.

Most likely Xi will focus on a strong pro-market within China by working towards greater market freedom and working to find ways that would sustain China’s rising GDP growth rate. In addition to be very pro-business Xi will have to deal with the rampant corruption that has been plaguing the CCP moral authority to rule.


Li Keqiang

li_keqiangLi Keqiang is considered to be the front-runner by most China Watchers to succeed Wen Jiabao as Premier. Li Keqiang was born in 1955. His father was a low-level government official. In 1974 Li was sent down to the countryside. After the Cultural Revolution he studied Law at Beijing University, where he became the Secretary of the CCYL Committee, graduating in 1982. In 1994 he received a PhD in economics from Beijing University.

Li developed a strong relationship with Hu Jintao during his time with the Youth League in the 1980s that helped him advance through the CCYL. Before becoming a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo in 2007 Li he was Vice Governor of Henan Province then Governor and Deputy Party Secretary in 1999; in 2002 he was made Party Secretary of Henan Province; in 2004 he was promoted to Liaoning Province.

Li’s provincial leadership has been mired with frequent bad luck. During the first two years of his term as governor in Henan Province major fires broke out in several locations and a HIV contaminated blood transfusions. Some human rights groups assert that Li assisted in a cover up of this problem.

There is a still a strong likelihood that Hu is doing everything in his power to further promote fellow CCYL leaders like Li Keqiang for higher leadership positions. Hu has to play a careful game balancing promotions of rival elite factions Xi and Li because of the risk of infighting could derail a peaceful leadership transition. When Li was promoted to the Standing Committee of the Politburo he was made Executive Vice-Premier under Wen Jiabao. Analysts thought the position would give Li first hand experience on handling the wide number of issues China is currently facing. Li is considered one of the leading politicians authorized to speak on Beijing’s economic policies.

It is unknown if the accidents that occurred when Li was governing Henan Province will hinder his promotion in 2013. The second concern about Li is that he is known to have held strong reformist views in the past. During the Tiananmen Square incident his patron, Hu Qili, was purged because he did not vote to support the decision for martial law but Li escaped punishment. Li could have a connection to Zhang Wang, who was labeled a ‘black hand’ for his involvement as a student leader in the Tiananmen protests. Zhang was sent into exile and currently lives in the United States. No other China Watcher is known to have mentioned Li’s past associations, apart from Cheng Li. It will only be after the succession that China watchers will know whether previous ties to reformist and student leaders were reasons that hindered Li’s chances of succeeding Wen Jiabao.

Li is considered to be one of the top authorities on China’s economy and thanks to his extensive hands on experience under Wen Jiabao Li will likely focus on how to handle the rising inflation and other preventions to ensure the economy does not overheat and experience an recession.

Li Yuanchao

li_yuanchaoLi Yuanchao is the current leader of the Organization Department within the CCP and a member of the Populist Faction allied with Hu Jintao. The Organization Department handles the assignment of party officials to other departments and Li has been using to monitor and crack down on corruption. While Li has been head of the Organization Department he has instituted further rules on the monitoring to ensure election fraud is not occurring for officials and harsh penalties for those found guilty of either voter fraud or bribery.

Li Yuanchao previously was the Deputy Party Secretary of Jiangsu Province in 2000 and Party Secretary in 2002. While he was governing Jiangsu Province Li implemented a variety of political and administrative reforms. Official Chinese news sources has described Li as an ‘unconventional leader’, ‘independent minded’, and known for strong ‘forward thinking’ concerning how China should be governed.

Li focus within his term has Jiangsu Party Secretary on curbing corruption amongst party officials, expanding inter-party democracy from the township level to the provincial level, bringing greater attention to the environmental pollution within China, and increasing the government’s accountability to the people. Li instituted a process of accountability called ‘service-orientated government’, fuwuxing zhengfu, in which the public evaluated government leaders and those who receive the lowest evaluations were either demoted or fired. The reforms he initiated improved Jiangsu standing from the 5th most petitioned province to 23rd in 2006.

Li has been known for drawing attention to bringing greater balance to rising economic and that government needed to enact greater environmental protection in order for China to sustain itself. In 2007 when toxic algae throughout Lake Tai, Li ordered it to be cleaned to the highest standards and ordered the closing of all the factories that were found to be responsible for the pollution. The cleanup caused Nanjing’s GDP to drop 15% for 2007.

After the 18th Party Congress Li’s expertise in how to improve the CCP and the various environmental problems, migrant workers, and corruption will be further consulted and possibly implemented nationwide. Li’s current job as head of the Organizations Department has shown that the elites have faith in his ability to combat corruption and most likely Xi will look to Li to be his enforcer on these issues to ensure the CCP’s authority is not further eroded from public mistrust.




Bo Xilai

bo_xilaiBo Xilai is the son of Bo Yibo, one of the Eight Immortals of the CCP, and is the current Party Secretary of Chongqing province.  In 2007 he was named a member of the Politburo. Bo attracted international news attention for his fight purging of CCP officials that had connections with organized crime in June of 2009. During the crackdown against organized crime Bo succeeded in bringing down Li Qiang and Wen Qiang both major criminal kingpins. Bo’s campaigns were praised by some Chinese officials for helping further secure the people’s support of the Party by brashly tackling the problem of corruption.

By the time campaign was finished over 3,000 people, 63 organized crime families were reigned in, and numerous government official positions were vacated. Bo cited Hu Jintao’s call for a harmonious society and to fight against organized crime was what spurned him to start the campaign. Bo Xilai’s political future after this public crackdown is unknown. The crackdown has been an embarrassment to Bo’s predecessors and that could impact his chances of advancing further within Politburo.

With Bo’s future uncertain in terms of advancement it is known that his curbing of corruption publically has won him support from the people.  Xi could pair him with Li Yuanchao for further targeted strikes against various regions that are prone to corruption and mafia influence.







Wang Qishan

wang_qishanWang Qishan is the Vice-Premier under Wen Jiabao handling economic, energy, and financial affairs. Before becoming Vice-Premier Wang served as Governor of the China Construction Bank from 1994-1997 and Mayor of Beijing 2004-2007. One of his other notable appointments was to serve as the representative for China in the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in 2009.

Wang is seen by his Western peers as one of the most knowledgeable in understanding world markets and responsible for helping stabilize the Chinese economy from the Great Recession. Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson credits Wang’s management over bankruptcy restructuring as one of the reasons that China’s economic growth did not falter during the late 1990s.  If Li Keqiang is not picked to succeed Wen Jiabao Wang Qishan could be seen as a good candidate to succeed given his success in managing China’s economy during the Great Recession.

These are just a few of key leaders within the fifth generation of elites that will be coming into power next year.  They all have strong qualifications to make excellent leaders to shepherd China through its economic rise.  In determining the success of China’s next generation of leaders one has to look at how successful the policies these leaders implemented to use guide for future success. While Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang are slated by most China experts to succeed Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao China Watchers will have to monitor how Xi and Li will expand or divert from Hu’s previous policies of creating a harmonious society while managing rampant economic inequality and endemic corruption within the CCP. While there are other dark horse candidates for the top positions, such as Li Yuanchao or Wang Wishan, their previous experience in their high-ranking positions will allow them to rise to further prominence to guide China through a tumultuous future.

Most likely after the 18th Party Congress Wang will likely work with Li Keqiang to handle managing China’s economy with a focus being on curbing inflation, the shift to a more domestically driven market instead the previous export model, and how to maintain economic growth in terms of an aging population and rising environmental concerns.

  • Conclusion:

Accurately predicting where CCP officials are promoted, demoted, or purged is difficult, as the Chinese political system remains closed to outsiders. China Watchers must rely upon the little information that is made public and examine the success and failures of the various programs the elites have initiated in order to gauge whether they could be promoted.  There are still various unforeseen events (corruption allegations, illness, etc) that could change this list of the leadership of the fifth generation and this group of elites devotion to Marxist orthodox ideology is not as strong as what was seen during the Mao era. I doubt there will be massive shifts in political reform while Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang rule the Party. It is still unknown what the impact of intra-party democracy will have on bringing further electoral changes to the CCP. It will be only after the 18th Party Congress in 2012 will China Watchers be able to understand the impact of political reforms and whether there was extensive infighting between the political factions on who will succeed Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao.


Nicholas J.S. Miller graduated in 2010 from Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia with a concentration in International Relations.


© Copyright 2011 by CESRAN

This material is available for republication as long as reprints include verbatim copy of the article in its entirety, respecting its integrity. Reprints must cite the author and CESRAN as the original source including a “live link” to the article. Thank you!

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