by Zhengxu Wang.

It’s official now. The new Politburo and its Standing Committee are out. Besides Xi Jiping and Li Keqiang, the Standing Committee includes another five men (in their ranking order): Zhang Dejiang, Yu Zhengsheng, Liu Yunshan, Wang Qishan, Zhang Gaoli.

On the surface, this line-up shows seniority is prioritized over other criteria. The five new members are all more senior than those potential selectees who eventually did not make it. Zhang, Yu, and Liu have all served two terms in the Politburo, while Wang has served one term in the Politburo plus one term as a vice premier.

Zhang Gaoli, while having served only one term in the Politburo, has been on the Central Committee as a full member for two terms. The other two contenders, Li Yuanchao and Wang Yang, have only served one term as full members of the Central Committee.

So, at least the Party maintained a consistent rule in making the choice this time. An argument can be made that applying this rule has led to the exclusion of younger, more reformist, and more enterprising officials, such as Li Yuanchao and Wang Yang.

But a deeper examination of this line-up shows that in governing a complex society and economy like China, hard-gained experience and pragmatism will be more critical than campaign fanfares and slogans.

All of the five new members, with the exception of Liu Yunshan, have had long careers in very challenging posts. Zhang Dejiang, for example, served as the Party Secretary of Zhejiang and Guangdong, China’s two economic powerhouse provinces. He has served one term as the vice premier in charge of industrial policy, and was called to take over Chongqing at a time when mismanagement of the municipality could jeopardize the whole succession process of the Party.

Zhang Gaoli ran Shenzhen City for many years. Several officials who ran Shenzhen had fumbled over corruption or other misbehaviour. One previous mayor of Shenzhen was even given a life sentence. But Zhang emerged as capable and clean, without making any serious mistake, and was moved to be in charge of Shandong Province, and then later Tianjin. In Tianjin his record has been well noted, as the city became a new centre of economic boom for the country.

The same could be argued for Wang Qishan and to a lesser extent Yu Zhengsheng. The latter has received very positive assessments by residents in Hubei and Shanghai, where his last two posts have been. In fact, he would have been promoted much earlier had his career not been affected by a family scandal earlier that involved his brother.

By contrast, those who tend to generate loud campaigning messages are often deemed as inexperienced and too ambitious.

Therefore, although the Party’s deliberation and horse-trading seems to discriminate against those openly enterprising and risk taking officials, it does seem to reward those who are more tested, seasoned, and pragmatic managers of state and economic affairs.

Zhengxu Wang is Deputy Director of China Policy Institute.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors


  1. Just a thought, Zhengxu. Perhaps we are trying too hard to apply logic and rules to a system that remains largely indiosyncratic, personalistic, and ad hoc. While all the facts you state about age and terms in office are correct, I wonder if they have created spurious correlations and post hoc ergo propter hoc logic. If we look at the changes in the CMC, we would come to a very different set of conclusions about “following the rules.” The new senior CMC vice chair, Fan Changlong, has not served on the CMC before and made a two-grade jump to his position. He jumped over the equally, if not better, qualified Chang Wanquan. The CMC also broke precedent by 1) not promoting a “political” vice chair and 2) elevating a service commander to vice chairman. They picked a more junior MR political commissar (Zhang Yang) to head the GPD over the controversial, but senior Liu Yuan. In short, considerations other than age, time in grade, and seniority clearly determined the final shape of the CMC. Perhaps trying to put too logical a framework around the PBSC decisions obscures more political considerations. But I’m not sure we’ll ever know for certain. Best, Chris

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