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China unveils its next generation of leaders

Meet the men at the helm of Chinese politics.

On Thursday, China unveiled the next generation of leaders who will make up its seven-member Politburo Standing Committee – the powerful body that effectively runs the country.

The line-up was ostensibly elected by more than 2,000 delegates of the Communist Party Congress, though the men were essentially hand-picked well in advance by a small contingent of Party elders.


Xi Jingping (age 59):

Xi will head the Politburo after being elected today as the Chinese Communist Party’s new leader and the commander-in-chief of the Chinese Military. The 59-year-old is expected to be named president in March, replacing the incumbent Hu Jintao.

Xi is one of the Politburo’s four “princelings”. A privileged son born to a former party leader, Xi was condemned  countryside impoverishment after his father was purged from the party during the tumultuous Cultural Revolution.

Upon its end, Xi studied engineering at Tsinghua university before landing his first job assisting a top Chinese general. From there, he rose through the ranks to briefly govern Shanghai.

Since 2007, Xi served as vice president, but his discreet, soft-spoken nature has revealed little in the way of how he plans to handle both China’s economy and the prospect of reform.

Trivia shot: He is married to the popular folk singer Peng Liyuan, who has ironically enjoyed more of the spotlight than her husband throughout the bulk of their marriage. His daughter studies under a pseudonym at Harvard University.


Li Keqiang (age 57):

Initially earmarked for the presidency, Li Keqiang will succeed Wen Jiabao as the Communist Party’s Premier in March, a position that will see him take the reigns of China’s mammoth economy.

Born into more humble surroundings, Li’s career has seen him rise from manual labour in Anhui Province to the elite ranks of Chinese Politics. Along the way, he earned a PhD in economics and developed an impressive command of the English language, rendering him one of the few fluent party leaders.

Rumoured to be a cautious reformer, his modest roots have earned him a reputation for being sympathetic towards China’s lower classes, but his ultimate attitude towards reform is not fully known.

A former understudy to Hu Jintao, Li became China’s youngest ever governor after taking the helm in Henan province in 1999.

Trivia shot: Allegedly, Li read Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” before he left primary school. According to a leaked US cable, his hobbies include walking and Oklahoma (seriously). 


Liu Yunshan (Age 65): 

The conservative Liu heads the Party’s notorious propaganda department, which is responsible for the country’s internet and media censorship.

A former reporter for Xinhua – a state news agency –  the 65-year-old is thought to have been behind the country’s “Great Firewall”, which places significant constraints on China’s 500 million internet users.

Trivia shot: Liu ran the campaign that forced Google’s exit from China in 2010.


Zhang Dejiang (Age 65):

Zhang will serve as the vice premier in charge of energy and telecommunications.

With a reputation for being a conservative “trouble-shooter”, Zhang was drafted in to serve as party chief of Chongqing to replace the disgraced Bo Xilai – a former front-runner for the Politburo who slid into ignominy after his wife was accused of murdering a British businessman earlier this year. 

The son of Chinese major-general, Zhang has been a member of the expanded Politburo for over a decade, taking two years out to study economics in North Korea.

Trivia shot: As party secretary in Guangdong, Zhang came under considerable fire in 2002, after failing to respond adequately to a vicious outbreak of SARS.

Wang Qishan (Age 64):

A famed economist, Wang has been curiously named the head of the Party's Commission for Discipline Inspection.

Revered for his financial and economic nouse, Wang become one of China’s most distinguished politicians after unravelling a multi-billion dollar banking crisis in Guangdong and successfully dealing with the SARS epidemic whilst serving as mayor of Beijing.

Popular amongst Western leaders, former US treasury secretary Henry Paulson once described the dynamic reformer as “decisive and inquisitive, with a wicked sense of humour”.

The son of a top party official, Wang is one of the four "princelings" in China’s top brass.

Trivia shot: As mayor of Beijing, Wang took a central role in the organisation of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.


Zhang Gaoli (Age 65):

As a financial reformer and an advocate of greater foreign investment, the current party chief of Tianjin has turned the northeast port into a shipping powerhouse since his appointment.

After training as a statistician, Zhang worked in the oil industry throughout the majority of the 1970s and 1980s, before taking the top post in the industrial city of Shenzhen; a city famed for its wealth and technological advancement.

Trivia shot: After being sent to clean up Tianjin, Zhang’s arrival in the city hit an early snag as a top adviser to the city’s lawmaking body committed suicide.


Yu Zhengsheng (Age 67) :

Chosen to lead the Chinese People’s Consultative Conference, Yu Zhengsheng is one of the Politburo’s more low key members.

A trained engineer and a former construction minister, Yu eventually rose through the ranks to become the party boss of Shanghai – China’s financial centre and its most cosmopolitan city.

Another “princeling”, Yu was raised by a journalist mother after the death of his father at age 12.

Trivia Shot: After an forging an impeccable early pedigree within the party, Lu drastically fell out of favour in the mid-1980s when his brother – an intelligence official – defected to the United States. His close affiliation with the son of former Chinese leader – Deng Xiaoping – narrowly spared his place in the party.

Alex Ward is a London-based freelance journalist who has previously worked for the Times & the Press Association. Twitter: @alexward3000