BEIJING -- In China, where a number of men in their 70s and 80s still play leading political roles, men in their 50s and 60s are considered to be young.

These are the new leaders, not yet in full control but advancing into positions of great influence.

Zhao Ziyang, 69, the acting party chief, has to deal not only with the party elders in their 70s and 80s, but also with this new generation. Some of its members are his allies while others could prove to be rivals.

For the most part, they are technocrats, better educated than their revolutionary mentors but lacking in the prestige and experience of the old guard, many of whom participated in the arduous Long March across China of 1934-35.

Chinese analysts frequently point to four men in the new generation who could significantly help -- or hinder -- Zhao's attempts to consolidate his hold on the party and push ahead with economic reforms.

Three of the four are strong contenders for the country's most powerful decision-making body, the standing committee of the Politburo, the analysts say. The four are:

Li Peng, a Soviet-trained engineer and specialist in nuclear power. Li has spent most of his career working in ministries that emphasize central planning. He is 59 and has impeccable revolutionary credentials. After his father was killed by the Nationalist Chinese, Li was adopted at an early age by the late premier Chou En-lai. This makes him acceptable to traditionalist, or conservative, party elders. Considered a potential rival to Zhao, Li owes little to Zhao, whom he is widely expected to replace as premier.

Despite Li's traditionalist leanings, American businessmen say they can work with him and that they respect his abilities. Diplomats who have played tennis with Li say he enjoys hitting a hard slam.

Hu Qili, a protege of ousted party chief Hu Yaobang (no relation). The younger Hu, 58, distanced himself from his former mentor earlier this year. Nonetheless, he is considered a supporter of more rapid economic reform and has allied himself with Zhao. He is one of the few leaders who can deliver a speech in passable English. Zhao has put him in charge of propaganda, ideological work and political reform. His sport is tennis, which may be one of the few interests he shares with Li Peng.

Qiao Shi, 63, is the mystery man of the rising leaders. He is China's top law-enforcement official, having been in charge of the police and intelligence agencies for the past several years. He has favored instituting a more effective legal system, but his views on other mattters, such as economic reform, are virtually unknown. Elevated to power by Hu Yaobang, Qiao (pronounced Chee-ow) is believed to have moved in a more conservative direction since Hu's fall. He is seen as a possible candidate to head the party's central discipline inspection commission, an advisory body that plays a watchdog role against corruption.

Tian Jiyun, 58, is a genial financial expert close to Zhao Ziyang. He is considered a rival of Li Peng and would certainly be Zhao's choice for the premiership. But some months ago, Tian, a strong advocate of reform, seemed to lose ground to Li. He is regarded as a dark-horse candidate for the standing committee of the Politburo.