China’s New Rulers: The Path to Power

Following are the members of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee, whose election is expected in November 2002, listed by their rank according to protocol, with their main Party and future state positions. Ages are given as of November 2002; the positions listed are in addition to the policy-making duties of PBSC membership.

Hu Jintao, 59; Party General Secretary; State President; Central Military Commission Chairman. He is described as the “Core” of the Fourth Generation.

Li Ruihuan, 68; National People’s Congress Chairman

Wen Jiabao, 60; Premier of the State Council

Wu Bangguo, 61; Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference Chairman

Luo Gan, 67; Secretary, Central Disciplinary Inspection Commission

Zeng Qinghong, 63; Secretary, Party Secretariat

Li Changchun, 58; Executive Vice Premier (a likely choice still under consideration)


China’s new leaders will soon be presented to the world. Beginning in November the men who have governed China since the 1989 Tiananmen events, led by Jiang Zemin, will make way for a new group of rulers, whom Chinese refer to as the Fourth Generation. (Mao’s generation was the first; Deng Xiaoping’s the second; Jiang’s the third.) They will be members of the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) of the Chinese Communist Party—the leaders who exercise supreme power in China. Most of the details of the lineup we report here have been in place for over a year and, when this article went to press, had survived last-minute negotiations at the Communist Party’s annual summer meeting at the beach resort of Beidaihe. Appointments to military and government posts will not be final until March 2003, when the National People’s Congress meets to formalize them, but are also unlikely to change unless there is a military or social crisis. The transition ends a relatively quiet yet intensely fought battle over succession and suggests that the Chinese Communist Party has the ability to renew itself at the top. The next generation may, however, take China in surprising new directions.

Following their formal election at a Central Committee meeting of the ruling Chinese Communist Party in mid-November, after the sixteenth Party Congress, the members of the new PBSC will, by tradition, appear briefly to be photographed by the domestic and international press. If past precedent is followed, they will walk into a carpeted room in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People in their order of rank within the Standing Committee. They will smile for the cameras, and quickly leave without answering questions. In this way the results of a long struggle for power in the world’s most populous country will be shown to the public, and immediately disappear. If things go as they wish, for the remainder of their term in office this group of men will remain as mysterious as they are now.

First to walk before the cameras will be Hu Jintao, age fifty-nine, a man with glossy hair and a characteristically deferential smile, who has been chosen as general secretary, the Party’s highest office. A one-time hydropower engineer, Hu long ago became…

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