China's Emerging Leaders
By Ariana Eunjung Cha
Washington Post Foreign Service
Six men are thought to be in line for the top jobs in the Chinese government when President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao retire in 2012. While there are no political parties in China, academics loosely divide the leaders into two groups with common backgrounds and similar policy outlooks. One group, known as the "princelings", are family members of influential Communist Party elders and are often associated with promoting the interests of the middle class. The rest are called "tuanpai", after the Communist Youth League that helped them launch their political careers, and are considered more traditional; Many of their decisions are meant to help disenfranchised groups like migrant workers from the countryside and the urban poor.
Bo Xilai, 60
The son of one of China's most famous Communist Party elders, Bo worked his way up from a mayoral posting in the coastal city of Dalian to the governorship of the northeastern province of Liaoning to become the minister of commerce in 2004. Immediately after the Cultural Revolution, during which Bo's family -- like others who were reform-minded -- was persecuted, Bo went to work at a hardware repair factory before entering the prestigious Peking University in 1978. He majored in world history and went on to get his master's degree at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government-affiliated research center. As the minister of commerce, he was known for helping bring record amounts of foreign investment to China. Known for his liberal, reform-minded attitude, Bo is a popular public figure in a country where such popularity is often a disadvantage in a political career.
Wang Qishan, 61
Nicknamed the "fire brigade chief" by the Chinese media, Wang has been put in charge of solving some of China toughest challenges: financial sector reform, the 2008 Olympics, and the SARS epidemic. A former governor of the China Construction Bank and Beijing mayor, Wang now serves as China's vice premier in charge of economic and finance policy and trade.
Wang is the son-in-law of Yao Yilin, former vice premier of China, and a protege of revered Chinese economist Zhu Rongji. Wang's quick rise in the central government is thought to come from his deep understanding in how to deal with financial crises and his academic research background. Starting at the end of the 1970s, Wang was part of a group of young policy advisers known as the "Four Gentlemen", who were consultants to the central government on economic reform issues. As a history expert, Wang was able to provide social context to the policy papers being produced. He is now China's liaison to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for the U.S.-China Strategic & Economic Dialogue.
Xi Jinping, 56
Xi currently serves as China's vice president and is considered to be the most likely to succeed Hu Jintao as president in 2012. The Beijing-born Xi, son of Xi Zhongxun, a founder of the Chinese Communist Party, studied chemical engineering in college. He served as a government official in four different provinces before being appointed Communist Party chief in Shanghai in 2007 and vice president of China in 2008.
Xi is among the most low-profile of the emerging leaders, and before he was elevated to the central government, his wife, folk singer Peng Liyuan, was more well-known than he. In February 2009, Xi, on a trip in Latin America, made some hardline remarks that gave hints to his personality. He defended China's efforts in fighting the global financial crisis and said that "there are a few foreigners, with full bellies, who have nothing better to do than try to point fingers at our country." While some Chinese nationalists were quick to praise him on the country's vast network of Internet bulletin boards, others criticized his less-than-diplomatic choice of words.
Li Keqiang, 54
Li is a vice premier in charge of development and macroeconomic management and is being groomed to be the next premier, succeeding Wen Jiabao. After earning a law degree and his doctorate in economics, Li began his political career through the Communist Youth League, where he worked closely with Hu Jintao and other then-up-and-coming officials. In 1998, at the age of 43, he was appointed acting governor of Henan province -- the youngest ever to receive the post. Li caught the attention of China's senior officials as he transformed the poor inland province into a magnet for investment.
Li Yuanchao, 59
As the head of the Communist Party's organization department, which is in charge of appointments around the country, Li is of the most powerful politicians in China. His father was a local official, and during the Cultural Revolution, Li's family was persecuted, as were others who supported reforms at that time. Li, a mathematician with a doctorate in law, worked at the Chinese Communist Youth League from 1983 through 1990. He has served in only one provincial post: in his home province of Jiangsu, which borders Shanghai. In Jiangsu, he is credited with being one of the first to turn the philosophical goal of a "harmonious society," as outlined by the central government, into policy by evaluating local officials not only by economic achievements, but also social and environmental measures. A close ally of Hu Jintao, Li has been pushing for some democratic-style reforms that increase public accountability for local officials.
Wang Yang, 54
Wang, a native of the inland province of Anhui, had a varied career before entering politics. Wang worked as a food processing factory supervisor, was appointed to be the deputy head of the powerful National Development and Planning Agency, was deputy secretary general of the State Council, and was the party secretary in the southwestern city of Chongqing. Now, he is the party secretary of Guangdong province, the wealthiest in China and home to the bulk of its manufacturing companies. In 2008, Wang sought to transform Guangdong from the world's factory floor to an innovation center, and he began enforcing new labor laws and environmental standards that led to the closure of a large swath of factories. His plan -- nicknamed the "Empty the Cage for the New Birds" -- was a victim of bad timing. The job losses from his campaign, combined with job losses from the economic downturn, have led to large incidents of urban unrest over the past few months.
Wang is considered one of the most innovative of the group of new leaders, but his efforts have not been met with enthusiasm from the central government. Last year, as the global financial crisis began to hit China, Wang said that he felt small-to-medium companies should eventually be eliminated, while Premier Wen Jiabao said he felt it was important to protect them. Earlier this year, he sought to reinstate a weeklong national holiday in May for residents of Guangdong, but was rebuffed by central government authorities who said that provinces did not hold that kind of power.