by Rachel Ogbu
On November 15, China introduced to the world a powerful clique that will rule China. Headed by Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and longtime presumed heir of outgoing leader Hu Jintao, the new 7 man Politburo Standing Committee was unveiled at the Communist-era Great Hall of the People.
The other new men in charge also included Li Keqiang, Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Liu Yunshan, Wang Qishan and Zhang Gaoli.
According to reports, the selection of the Standing Committee was conducted by a Communist Party Central Committee with 205 members, itself chosen by the 2,000 or so delegates to the 18th Party Congress (representing 82.6 million Chinese Communist Party members) that wrapped up its week-long summit on November 14.
In reality, the Standing Committee’s composition was more likely the result of intense back room negotiations between forces loyal to Hu and his predecessor Jiang Zemin, among myriad other factions that belie the unified reputation of the party that has ruled China for 63 years.
Xi Jinping, 59, is a bit more colorful than his predecessor Hu Jintao, though it would be hard to not be. Xi’s wife is a popular singer and their daughter studies at Harvard. His father was a vice premier in the early days of the People’s Republic, making him a “princeling”—a descendant of Communist Party elite. When his father was purged by Mao in 1962, Xi was sent to work on a farm for seven years and lived in cave homes. As party boss in southeastern Fujian province he promoted growth and economic reform. He made lasting friendships during a 1985 trip to Iowa, where he returned to last year. And he’s denounced critics of China, a clue he will push a tough foreign policy. He disappeared for two weeks this fall, apparently due to a back injury but with no public explanation. But little is known about what if any new policies Xi hopes to pursue. Despite his more interesting biography, Xi is just as much a cipher as his predecessor.
One of only two Standing Committee members to come from outgoing leader Hu’s Communist Youth League faction, Li, 57, grew up in impoverished Anhui province, far away from the halls of power in Beijing. As China’s new premier, he will be in charge of running China’s civilian government, a position previously filled by Wen Jiabao, who cultivated a populist, grandfatherly image even as his family accumulated great wealth, according to an investigation by the New York Times. Li has also shown a grassroots touch; in recent years he has been associated with programs aimed at the millions of Chinese left behind in the economic boom, like housing programs and health care. A rare English speaker, he’s considered an economic reformer. Yet during his tenure as party chief of China’s central Henan province, he presided over a shameful episode in which farmers who sold blood contracted HIV and were insome cases left to die without any government support.
Wang Qishan, 64, is known as a troubleshooter, helping transform China’s state-dominated economy a decade ago, taking charge of the Beijing city government after a cover-up of the local spread of SARS was uncovered in 2003 and organizing China’s response to the global financial crisis after being made vice premier in 2008. He is considered strongly pro-reform, though he has thus far only pushed for economic, not political, changes. This summer he was discussed as possibly leapfrogging Li Keqiang to take the premier seat being vacated by Wen Jiabao, but as the new anticorruption chief, his influence over the Chinese economy will be greatly diminished.
Head of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Propaganda Department Liu Yunshan
A former reporter in Inner Mongolia, Liu, 65, rose through the ranks of the Communist Youth League, the power base of outgoing president Hu, and will take over the standing committee’s propaganda portfolio. As director of the Communist Party’s propaganda department for the past decade, Liu saw that Chinese media remains closely restricted even as the growth of the Internet has seen an explosion in the means by which ordinary Chinese citizens access, spread and react to information.
The Shanghai Party chief seems like a typical princeling—his father was a former mayor of the megalopolis Tianjin, near Beijing, who also happened to be the first husband of Jiang Qing, otherwise known as Madame Mao—except for one family quirk. In 1985, his brother, a high-ranking intelligence agent, defected to the United States. Surviving such scandal, not to mention the inconvenient fact that his forbears included imperial bureaucrats in the Qing dynasty and bigwigs in the Communists’ nemesis Kuomintang, is a sign of Yu’s political dexterity. But Yu’s age—67—means he will almost assuredly not last more than one five-year term before sliding into retirement.
As expected from a man who studied economics at Kim Il Sung University in North Korea, Zhang, 66, is considered a hardliner with deep affection for China’s often inefficient state enterprises. The political prospects of the son of a former PLA major general brightened earlier this year when he was tapped to replace disgraced politician Bo Xilai as party chief of Chongqing, the sprawling megalopolis in Western China. In a prior incarnation, Zhang presided over Guangdong province when the southern region was grappling with a deadly outbreak of the SARS virus. His response? Gagging the media and hiding the extent of the health scare.
The party chief of Tianjin, the massive port city near Beijing that has ambitions to become one of China’s economic centers, Zhang, 65, served as a Party official in other fast-developing centers of China, including boomtown Shenzhen near Hong Kong. Aligned with Jiang Zemin, the college economics graduate is a particularly low-profile member of the new Standing Committee. But one thing’s clear: the double-digit growth rates he has overseen in Tianjin depended as much on cheap credit and a state-directed infrastructure binge as on any grand vision for the future.
It is believed that these men were selected based on their ability to hide their personal quirks under a cloak of Communist secrecy. The new Standing Committee is jammed with princelings, the offspring of Communist Party elders who grew up accustomed to the privileges of power, despite some tumultuous years during the Cultural Revolution when the tide turned against these coddled scions.
Now the world sits back to watch where these men will take China to.