Political Succession and Leadership Issues in China: Implications for U.S. Policy

Report for Congress
Political Succession and Leadership Issues in
China: Implications for U.S. Policy
Updated September 30, 2002
Kerry Dumbaugh
Specialist in Asian Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division

Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress

Political Succession and Leadership Issues in China:
Implications for U.S. Policy
In 2002 and 2003, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) will be making key
leadership changes within the government and the Communist Party. A number of
current senior leaders, including Party Secretary Jiang Zemin, Premier Zhu Rongji,
and National Peoples’ Congress Chairman Li Peng, are scheduled to be stepping
down from their posts, and it is not yet clear who will be assuming these positions
from among the younger generation of leaders – the so-called “fourth generation,”
comprised of those born in the 1940s and early 1950s. It is expected that new leaders
will be ascending to positions at the head of at least two and possibly all three of the
PRC’s three vertical political structures: the Chinese Communist Party; the state
government bureaucracy; and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
During a period likely to last into 2003, the succession process remains very
much in flux. Some who follow Beijing politics have raised questions about how
vigorously China’s current senior leaders will adhere to their self-imposed term
limitations. Party Secretary Jiang Zemin, for instance, is expected to try to keep his
position as head of China’s military on the grounds that the global anti-terrorism
campaign and internal challenges to Chinese rule create a special need now for
consistent leadership. Some reports even have hinted that Jiang and others may be
interested in keeping their Party and government posts as well. Even should this
occur, members of the PRC’s next generation are likely to be moving into other
positions of power and ruling the country for the rest of the decade and beyond.
More so than before, China’s potential leaders differ from predecessor
generations. While they are better educated (all are university graduates), they also
have more diverse backgrounds and experiences than previous leaders, and lack the
kind of unifying formative experience that Mao’s “Long March” contemporaries had.
Having come of age in the political and social chaos of the Cultural Revolution, they
may be more cynical about politics, more disillusioned with the experiences of their
own Party, and thus less committed to or respectful of past ideologies. Some suggest
this may make them more willing to experiment with new or untried methods. On
the other hand, this generation is largely a product of Mao’s isolationist years. Its
members were not educated abroad, as were many members of Mao’s generation, and
as a result they may be more parochial and nationalistic in their views than previous
Current speculation is focusing on a collection of fourth-generation front-
runners, sometimes referred to in the Chinese press as “cross-century successors,” for
key positions. Those potentially moving up include: Hu Jintao (now vice-president),
Wen Jiabao, Wu Bangguo, Li Changchun, Zeng Qinghong, and Luo Gan. As all of
these men are associated with specific current leaders, the ultimate outcome of the
succession process may also provide clues as to which retired leaders remain
influential behind the scenes. This paper provides an overview of the PRC’s current
government and party leadership structure; discusses and assesses pending leadership
changes, the succession process itself, and the implications for U.S. policy; and
provides information about key fourth generation successor candidates.

In troduction ......................................................1
Overview and Background...........................................1
Chinese Communist Party Leadership..............................2
The Politburo and the Politburo Standing Committee..............2
The Secretariat............................................3
The Chinese Government.......................................4
The Military: CCP Central Military Commission.....................5
Power Relationships Among Party, State, and Military................5
The Succession Process and Current Leadership Dynamics .............6
Variables Influencing the Succession Process .......................6
Greater Constraints on Decision-Making.......................8
Generational Differences....................................8
“Factional” Politics........................................8
Corruption ...............................................9
Leaders Who May Step Down in 2002/2003 ........................9
Jiang Zemin.............................................10
Li Peng.................................................11
Zhu Rongji..............................................12
Potential Successors...........................................12
Hu Jintao...............................................12
Wen Jiabao..............................................13
Wu Bangguo............................................14
Li Changchun............................................14
Zeng Qinghong..........................................15
Luo Gan................................................15
Implications for U.S. Policy.........................................15
List of Tables
Table 1. Key Party/Military/State Leaders in China.......................7

Political Succession and Leadership Issues
in China: Implications for U.S. Policy
At the 16th Party Congress beginning November 8, 2002, and at the subsequent
meeting of the National People’s Congress in March 2003, the People’s Republic of
China (PRC) will be making key leadership changes within both the government and
the Communist Party. A number of the PRC’s current senior leaders, including Party
Secretary Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji, are scheduled to be stepping down
from important posts, and it is not yet clear who will be assuming these positions
from among the younger generation of leaders – the so-called “fourth generation,”
comprised of those born in the 1940s and early 1950s. Whoever the successors will
be, members of the PRC’s fourth generation are likely to be ruling the country for the
rest of the decade and beyond. This paper provides an overview of the PRC’s current
government and party leadership structure; discusses and assesses pending leadership
changes, the succession process itself, and the implications for U.S. policy; and
provides information about key fourth generation successor candidates.1
Overview and Background
The political structure of the PRC is comprised of three separate, vertically
integrated systems: the Chinese Communist Party (CCP); the state government
apparatus, which is headed by the State Council; and the People’s Liberation Army
(PLA), whose highest decision making body is the Central Military Commission.
In terms of formal position, China’s current foremost leader, Jiang Zemin, sits at the
top of all three pillars: as Party Secretary he heads the Chinese Communist Party and
presides over the Party Politburo; as President of the country he is the titular head of
the state government; and as Chairman of the Central Military Commission he is
formally the head of the PLA. Practically speaking, the state government apparatus
is run by Premier Zhu Rongji and the Central Military Commission is comprised of
senior PLA leaders who also exercise influence and power within the military along
with Jiang.
Until the 1980s, there was such redundancy among these systems’ structures,
functions, and personnel that they often were indistinguishable. Party and state
structures closely paralleled one another, with party groups the highest decision

1 In terms of communist Chinese leadership, Mao Zedong is the first generation; Deng
Xiaoping, the second generation; Jiang Zemin and current senior leaders, the third

making entities at every state level. Senior government ministers and PLA leaders
exercised little effective independence from party control.
This situation began to change in the 1980s under the reform coalition led by
Deng Xiaoping. In an attempt to inject more pragmatism, practical experience, and
efficiency into decision making processes, reformers in the 13th Party Congress2 in
1987 instituted political reforms aimed at separating party and state structures and
removing the party from most administrative duties, while allowing the party to
retain its supremacy in defining broad policy goals and making final decisions on
“sensitive” issues.3 As a result of these and other reforms, government ministries now
are more likely to be independent operators, and a cabinet-level minister today
functions more like a Chief Executive Officer over his or her agency — still
answerable ultimately to a board of directors (the party Politburo), but otherwise with
wider latitude in decision making than before. The dominance of economic factors
and a proliferation of research groups and other actors in the political system have
further decentralized decision making and administrative processes.
Despite these changes, some determining factors have remained the same.
Personalities are still of vital importance, with position or title likely to derive from
personal connections rather than the reverse. This means that formal institutions of
power are still less important than informal power arrangements in PRC decision
making. There is still a leadership “core” surrounding a paramount leader. From
1978 until shortly before his death in 1997, the paramount leader was Deng
Xiaoping; today, it is Party Secretary Jiang Zemin, although he is regarded by most
observers as wielding less power over state and party apparatuses than did Deng.
The party is still preeminent — or, as the 1982 Party Constitution puts it, “The
Communist Party of China is the vanguard of the Chinese working class, the faithful
representative of the interests of the people of all nationalities in China, and the force
at the core leading China’s cause of socialism.” Factional politics are still a potent
force in behind-the-scenes maneuvering. And finally, despite the official, formalized
power structure, much about China’s decision making processes remains a mystery
to outsiders.
Chinese Communist Party Leadership
The Politburo and the Politburo Standing Committee. At the top of
the Chinese Communist Party’s political structure is the 21-member party Politburo,
considered the most important formal political institution in China. Although

2 Party Congresses in the PRC are held approximately every 5 years. At these crucial
meetings, the Communist Party makes the Party and government leadership choices and setsth
the country’s policy direction for the next five years. The 16 Party Congress is expected
to be held late in 2002.
3 How an issue becomes “sensitive” in China is not clearly understood. It may be an issue
of vital importance to the Chinese leadership (such as the Taiwan issue) or anything
involving a major country or trading partner (such as Russia) or anything involving U.S.-
China relations. It may also be an issue that the leadership perceives as having an impact
on either the party’s legitimacy or on an individual leader or group of leaders, such as the
Falun Gong spiritual movement.

officially the Politburo in Beijing is the chief political decision making body, its
relatively unwieldy size, its inclusion of members who live in cities other than
Beijing, and its lack of a known formalized meeting schedule all suggest that the full
Politburo is only marginally involved in routine policy decisions. Full involvement
of the Politburo is more likely when the stakes are high — as when considering major
policy shifts, dealing with crises, or when formal legitimization of a particular policy
direction is necessary. It is the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee
who are considered to wield real decision-making power. Of the seven members
currently on the Politburo Standing Committee, only Li Peng was on the Standing
Committee at the time of the Tiananmen Square crackdown of June 4, 1989.
In the past, given the personality-based nature of politics in China, even
Politburo membership or the lack of it was not necessarily the basis of a leader’s
political legitimacy. A key example is Deng Xiaoping, who remained the paramount
leader even after he had resigned all his official positions in 1987. Deng played his
key role in supporting the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown despite being a
member of neither the Politburo Standing Committee nor indeed of the Politburo
itself. Nevertheless, politics in China have changed since the early days of the
Dengist reforms begun in 1978, and even since the Tiananmen Square crackdown of
1989. There is, for instance, no one comparable to Deng in the current PRC political
scene – that is, a paramount leader without portfolio – and most senior leaders of
significant power hold Politburo membership. Despite its continued position at the
apex of Chinese political life, the Politburo and its Standing Committee are not
thought to be able to dictate policy decisions as much as they once did.
Instead, the Chinese political process has become infused with a much greater
number of bureaucratic and non-central government actors than ever before. These
include: a more muscular state sector, including government ministries that are
significantly more responsible for policy implementation than they have been in the
past; provincial and local officials that have more autonomy than before; an
increasing body of official and quasi-official policy research groups and think tanks
that feed proposals directly into the policy process; a collection of state sector,
multinational, and even private business interests that bring more pressure to bear on
policy decisions; a newly vigorous academic and university community; and a more
robust and more diverse media that informs public opinion. In addition, China’s
approximately 3,000-member National People’s Congress (NPC), largely a symbolic
organization for much of its existence, has begun to eschew its rubber-stamp identity
and become somewhat more assertive in recent years.
The Secretariat. Another important vehicle for the Chinese Communist Party
is the Secretariat, officially listed as immediately under the Politburo. The role of the
Secretariat has been inconsistent in communist Chinese history. Originally the
supreme decision-making body (in the 1940s), the Secretariat today is intended to be
subordinate to the Politburo. Under China’s 1982 constitution, the Secretariat is
described as an administrative rather than a decision-making body, and this is still
considered to be its function. Its role is to oversee the implementation of decisions
made by the Politburo.

The Chinese Government
The second tier of the Chinese political structure, coming under the purview of
the State Council, is the entire Chinese state or governmental apparatus. If one takes
a narrow definition of the State Council, one would be speaking of only those
individuals within the State Council itself. This would include the Premier, Vice
Premiers, State Councillors, Secretary and Deputy Secretaries General, and several
But a broader definition encompassing the entire government apparatus would
include not only the State Council itself, but all of China’s government ministries –
such as the Ministry of Communications, Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic
Cooperation (MOFTEC), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Public Health.
In addition, the State Council includes many special agencies and commissions,
including bureaus such as the General Administration of Customs; the National
Tourism Administration, the State Education Commission; the Hong Kong and
Macao Affairs Office; and the China Welfare Fund for the Handicapped, and a
number of research institutes and think-tanks, such as the China Institute of
Contemporary International Relations and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Despite its effective subordination to the Party, the government apparatus wields
decisive tactical influence over policy by virtue of its role in interpreting,
implementing, and overseeing what central leaders often broadly and somewhat
ambiguously define as Chinese policy goals.4
Since he is both President of the Chinese state as well as Party Secretary, Jiang
Zemin is the formal head of the Chinese state apparatus in addition to heading the
Chinese Communist Party. In practice, however, it is premier Zhu Rongji who
presides over and actively directs the State Council bureaucracies. In March 1998,
China’s central leaders announced their intent to shrink the government bureaucracy,
with one of their goals being to reduce the 40 ministries of the State Council. As a
result of this 4 ½ years of restructuring and reorganization, Premier Zhu announced
in June 2002, the government has cut its bureaucracy by nearly 50% and reduced the
number of central government and provincial employees by 1.5 million.5

4 In a conference paper presented in 1998, one scholar cited the 1982 example of then-Party
Secretary Hu Yaobang’s pronouncement at the 12th Party Congress that China would pursue
“an independent foreign policy” and make decisions based on the merits of various
international issues. It was up to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to interpret that general
pronouncement and turn it into an effective, sustainable policy. Paper by Lu Ning (The
Business Times, Singapore), entitled “Supraministry Coordinating Bodies, State Council
Ministries, and Party Departments,” presented at a conference, “The Making of Chinese
Foreign and Security Policy in the Era of Reform: 1978-2000,” February 27-March 1, 1998.
5 Zhu made this announcement on June 19, 2002, at a meeting of the Central Organization
Committee in Beijing. According to Zhu, other reductions included the abolishment of 11
subordinate ministries of the State Council and 200 departments. An impending new round
of streamlining was also discussed at the meeting. Some observers inferred that vice-
president Hu Jintao’s attendance at the meeting is a further sign of his imminent succession
to President Jiang Zemin. Cheung, Ray. “Bureaucracy sheds 1.5 million jobs,” in South
China Morning Post, June 21, 2002.

The Military: CCP Central Military Commission
The third vertical system in Chinese governance is the People’s Liberation Army
(PLA), whose highest decision making body is the eleven-member Chinese
Communist Party Central Military Commission (CCP CMC), with a status
comparable to the Politburo Standing Committee and the State Council. It is
believed to meet regularly to address routine administrative matters and to formulate
policies. The CCP CMC is chaired by Jiang Zemin — a position as the head of the
PLA which is almost mandatory for the Communist Party Secretary, but which Jiang
may fulfill uneasily (compared to Deng) since he has no military background.6 Jiang
is thus placed in the most senior position at the top of all three vertical systems in
The CCP CMC is in supreme command of military and defense affairs,
including the formulation of military strategy. Symbolizing the Communist Party’s
control of the military, it is significant that the highest military policy-making body
has a Party identity. Although the CCP CMC appears to have a governmental
counterpart in the parallel State Central Military Commission (SCMC) –
theoretically a separate decision making body within the governmental bureaucracy
– in practice, the SCMC is a relatively meaningless entity, since its eleven members
are the same eleven members comprising the CCP CMC. Likewise, the Ministry of
Defense, the principal state bureaucracy for dealing with foreign militaries, is
considered a weaker body that is subordinate to the CCP CMC. Apart from the
policy formulation and decision making roles of the CCP CMC itself, key members
of that body appear also to serve a bridging function between central Communist
Party leaders and the state and military pillars.7
Power Relationships Among Party, State, and Military
While systems of power in China appear distinct and separate, many in China’s
central leadership wear multiple hats, holding positions concurrently in all three
vertical systems. Thus, as suggested by the table below, the influence that the military
has within party or state decision making bodies may be based less on institutional
relationships than on having a senior military leader sitting on the appropriate body,
and vice-versa. This adds to the difficulty of knowing more about the process of
Chinese decision making. In addition, even supreme decision making bodies at the
highest level are hierarchical on an informal level; their members are not necessarily

6 Deng Xiaoping, who did have military experience and who was formerly head of the CCP
CMC, relinquished its chairmanship to Jiang Zemin in 1989, after Jiang’s selection as Party
Secretary following the Tiananmen Square crackdown. It is thought that Deng took this step
to help bolster Jiang’s power base, both within the party and particularly within the military.
7 For instance, one Chinese-language article on military leadership issues in China, in
referring to CCP CMC vice-chairman Zhang Wannian, said he would “mainly be in charge
of the work within the Army and, as member of the secretariat of the CCP Central
Committee, will communicate the Army’s internal affairs to the center and receive relevant
instructions from the latter.” See Kuan Cha-chia, “Beijing Holds Enlarged Meeting of
Central Military Commission...,” Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), December

22, 1997, (FBIS online).

of equal status, but hold authority and influence derived from a range of intangible
factors apart from their actual position. These intangible factors include experience,
seniority, personal connections, degree of expertise, and, to some extent, their
association with past “successful” policies, particularly in the economic realm. This
informal power hierarchy is undoubtedly well-known to the respective parties
involved, although it is not always apparent to outside observers.
The Succession Process and Current Leadership Dynamics
Although it is a broad American perception that little or no political
liberalization has taken place in the PRC since 1978, PRC leaders have continued to
make incremental reforms in the country’s Party and government systems. These
reforms have contributed to the building of political institutions and mechanisms that
differ notably from those associated with the days of Chairman Mao. Among other
changes, the PRC leadership has implemented the following:
!“term limits” for top-level positions in the Party and government;
!unofficial retirement age requirements for Party cadres at senior
levels of leadership; regular rotation of provincial and military
!equal representation and voting status for each province on the CCP
Central Committee; multiple-candidate choices for some Party and
governmental seats.8
While these and other political reforms have brought more rationality to the
political process, they have their limitations. They have not, for instance, led to the
establishment of opposition political parties, opened political and policy processes
to broader public debate, or provided predictable and regularized methods for
selecting the next top leaders. Despite the above reforms, then, the process of
political succession in the PRC is still characterized by uncertainty. Decisions on
succession will be made through a combination of internal campaigning, behind-the-
scenes manipulation, negotiation, and compromise among approximately 30 top
senior leaders. These machinations undoubtedly have been ongoing for much of the
period since 2000, and they are likely to continue and intensify as the preparatory
work continues for the 16th Party Congress, expected in late 2002. Only at that point
will most of the results of the process finally be made known.9
Variables Influencing the Succession Process
Following the state of play in PRC succession politics is a tenuous exercise at
best. The interested political scientist must employ a combination of speculation and
tea-leaf reading along with a high tolerance for sifting through the contradictory and

8 Cheng Li, Professor of Government, Hamilton College, “China’s Political Succession:
Four Mis-perceptions in the West,” a paper delivered at the Woodrow Wilson Center,
Washington D.C., February 21, 2001.
9 Many of the decisions, in fact, will be finalized in the summer of 2002 at the leadership’s
annual summer retreat in Beidaihe.

Table 1. Key Party/Military/State Leaders in China
(rank order)
Chinese Communist Party
Po lit buro
Central Military(21 members) bold
Commission (CMC)Key State Ministers = Standing
(11 members)(VP = Vice Premier) Comm., Secretariat
(** = Vice Chairs)(SC= State Councillor)* = alternates (7 members)
Jiang Zemin (Sec)Jiang Zemin (Chair)Jiang Zemin (Pres)
Li Peng
Zhu RongjiZhu Rongji (Premier)
Li Ruihuan
Hu JintaoHu JintaoHu Jintao **Hu Jintao (Vice-Pres.)
Wei JianxingWei Jianxing
Li Lanqing Li Lanqing (VP)
Chi HaotianChi Haotian **Chi Haotian (SC, DefMin)
Ding GuangenDing Guangen
Huang Ju
Jia Qinglin
Jiang Chunyun
Li Changchun
Li Tieying
Luo GanLuo GanLuo Gan (SC)
Qian QichenQian Qichen (VP)
Tian Jiyun
Wen JiabaoWen JiabaoWen Jiabao (VP)
Wu BangguoWu Bangguo (VP)
Wu Guanzheng
Zhang WannianZhang WannianZhang Wannian **
Wu Yi*Wu Yi (SC)
Zeng Qinghong*Zeng Qinghong
Tang Jiaxuan (ForMin)
Cao Gangchuan
Fu Quanyou
Guo Boxiong
Wang Ke
Wang Ruilin
Xu Caihou
Yu Yongbo
Ismail Amat (SC)
Wang Zhongyu (SC)
(Shaded area = non-Politburo members.)

ever-changing press reports on the activities and decisions of current leaders. A
number of variables are likely to continue influencing political succession
arrangements, and awareness of their importance will provide a degree of insight into
the decision making process.
Greater Constraints on Decision-Making. In the past, the Chinese
Communist Party was dominated by an all-powerful single leader, such as Mao or
Deng, with sufficient clout and leverage to work his will on the political process with
little or no constraint. But with the passing of Mao and the other founders of the
Chinese Communist Party, the decentralization of decision-making processes under
Deng Xiaoping, and the greater diversity and complexity that economic reforms and
other changes have brought to the Chinese social and political fabric, no single leader
in China now holds such a predominant position. Chinese leadership in the “third”
generation has been more nearly a collective process, requiring compromise, trade-
offs, and consultation. While political machination and “factional politics” still play
important roles, the diffusion of power that has occurred at the highest levels over the
past decade places increasing constraints on senior leaders and has corresponding
policy implications for succession arrangements.
Generational Differences. Current speculation is focusing on a collection
of fourth-generation front-runners, sometimes referred to in the PRC press as “cross-
century successors,” for key positions. More so than in the past, China’s new
generation of leaders differs from predecessor generations. While they are better
educated (all are university graduates), they also have had more diverse backgrounds
and experiences than previous leaders, and they lack the kind of unifying political
formative experience that Mao’s “Long March” contemporaries had.10 Having come
of age in the political and social chaos of the Cultural Revolution, they may be more
cynical about politics, more disillusioned with the historical experiences of socialism,
and thus less committed to or respectful of past ideologies. They are largely products
of Mao’s isolationist years, and for the most part, none was educated abroad, as were
many members of Mao’s generation. Thus, members of the fourth generation may
be more parochial and nationalistic in their views than previous leaders.
“Factional” Politics. Always a critical part of Chinese political life in the
past, factional politics still plays an important role in succession arrangements. Much
has been made, for instance, of the so-called “Shanghai Faction” of central
government leaders with close connections to or roots in Shanghai. This group is
headed by Jiang Zemin and includes Zeng Qinghong, Jiang’s closest advisor, and
Vice-Premier Wu Bangguo (see biographies at the end of this report). Other than
regional ties, factional identities are defined by university ties, family ties, “mentor-
mentee” relationships, and past institutional affiliations. Conventional wisdom has
it that members of a faction will help each other’s careers, put one another into
positions of power, and conspire to keep other factions from gaining ascendency.
Current leaders who may be stepping down may continue to be able to wield
influence if they can elevate members of their own factions to senior positions of

10 The Long March refers to the Red Army’s year-long, 6,000-mile retreat from Chiang Kai-
shek’s forces in 1934. Starting in Jiangxi Province with about 86,000 men and women, the
army reached its final destination in Yan’an one year later with 4,000 survivors.

power. In the PRC of the twenty-first century, however, some observers stress that
no single faction now can dominate the political process as was the case in the past.
Corruption. Rampant official corruption within Party, state, and military
apparatuses also has implications for leadership succession arrangements. PRC
leaders are under increasing public pressure to crack down on corruption, and senior
officials who are publicly linked to graft, bribery, or other corruption scandals are
unlikely to advance and may be subject to discipline.11 Moreover, official corruption
at lower leadership levels may inflict collateral damage on leaders at more senior
levels. This is thought to be true in the case of senior leader Li Peng, one of whose
protégées, Cheng Kejie, (former Vice Chairman of the National People’s Congress)
was executed for corrupt practices in 2000. Moreover, uncovering and publicizing
corruption may even serve as a tactical tool among factions contending for leadership
Leaders Who May Step Down in 2002/2003
Party Secretary Jiang Zemin, Vice-Premier Li Peng, and Premier Zhu Rongji
– the top three in the PRC leadership – are all slated to step down in 2002 and 2003,
respectively, from their current positions. Their departure would be in keeping with
relatively recent internal “term limitations” the PRC leadership has set out for itself:th
an agreement apparently made at the 15 Party Congress in 1997 that leaders should
step down after reaching age 70 (a policy pushed at the time by Jiang Zemin); and an
internal dictum reputed to have been put forward by Deng Xiaoping in the early
1980s that no senior leader should serve more than two terms in his position.12 In
addition, the PRC’s Constitution specifies that senior state officials (as opposed to
Party officials) shall serve no more than two consecutive terms.13 Not only are
China’s three senior leaders slated to step down from their present offices, they are
also thought to be relinquishing their positions on the seven-member Politburo
Standing Committee and on the Politburo itself.
Observers of political developments in China watch Politburo membership
closely for clues as to who may be ascendant to senior leadership positions in the
future. There is much – and varied – speculation about who among current leaders
may be rising and who may not. According to a special news report from Hong Kong
in April 2001, for instance, the Politburo Standing Committee at that time approved
a list of new Politburo Standing Committee members that had been put forward byth
a special committee of senior leaders charged with making plans for the 16 Party

11 According to a Hong Kong news report, the CCP Central Commission for Discipline
Inspection early in 2001 was investigating 21 senior officials for corruption. (Hong Kong
Kuang Chiao Ching in Chinese, March 16, 2001, translated in FBIS online.)
12 Although Zhu Rongji will have served only one five-year term as Premier by 2003, he has
passed the unofficial age limit for continuance in power. Periodically, he has reaffirmed
publicly his commitment to step down after just one term.
13 Constitution of the People’s Republic of China – 1992. Article 79 specifies term limits
for the state President and Vice-president. Article 66 specifies similar limits for the
Chairman of the National People’s Congress.

Congress.14 According to the April 2001 report, the new list indicated that Jiang
Zemin, Zhu Rongji, Li Peng, and Li Ruihuan would all be stepping down from the
Politburo, the Standing Committee, and their leadership positions at the next Party
Congress, leaving only Hu Jintao, Wei Jianxing, and Li Lanqing remaining. The four
new Standing Committee members listed as replacements were Wen Jiabao, Luo
Gan, Wu Bangguo – all three already Politburo members – and Zeng Qinghong,
currently a Politburo alternate. The Politburo’s apparent approval of the new
leadership list led some to conclude that succession arrangements were proceeding
smoothly and without much controversy from within the Party.
News reports in the summer of 2002, however, suggested that leadership
negotiations not only were continuing but were becoming increasingly difficult.
Many western observers speculated that Jiang was maneuvering to stay on as head
of the Central Military Commission and was attempting to secure the support of
senior military officials for this.15 Others believed that Jiang was even trying to serve
one more term as Party Secretary, although his aspirations to do so do not appear to
be supported by other Politburo Standing Committee members.16
Some have suggested that senior leaders may try to resolve their succession
differences by agreeing to switch jobs in a political game of musical chairs.17 They
say that senior leaders may, for instance, argue that China has a special need now for
consistent leadership given the present difficulties in U.S.-China relations and
perceived domestic challenges such as the Falun Gong, relations with Taiwan, and
WTO accession. There has also been speculation that senior leaders may be
exploring the notion of trying to temporarily extend their current terms for one year
or possibly more.18
Jiang Zemin. Currently holding the senior positions in China’s three political
tiers – as Party Secretary, State President, and CMC Chairman – Jiang is serving his
second term in all three positions. Born in 1926, Jiang studied engineering at
Shanghai Jiaotong University, and later trained in the Soviet Union for a brief period.
In 1989, at the time of the Tiananmen demonstrations, Jiang was serving as Secretary

14 Hsiao Peng, “Four New Politburo Standing Committee Members to Replace Four Old
Ones,” in Hong Kong Sing Tao Jih Pao, in Chinese, translated in FBIS, April 19, 2001.
15 Hsia Wen-szu, “Struggle between Jiang Zemin, Li Peng, Zhu Rongji at Beidaihe meeting
viewed,” Hong Kong Kai Fang, in Chinese, September 5, 2000, translated in FBIS online.
16 Lam, Willy Wo-Lap, “Beijing debates how long Jiang’s power should last,” South China
Morning Post, February 16, 2000, p. 19.
17 Interview with Dr. Carol Hamrin, George Mason University, March 8, 2001.
18 The uncertainties in predicting China’s political succession arrangements are reflected in
news report headlines over a two-week period in September 2002: “China’s Jiang Is Likely
To Retain Top Spots, Impeding Power Shift,” in Wall Street Journal, September 4; “China’s
Leader Won’t Hold On, Anonymous Author Says,” in New York Times, September 5;
“China – The Succession – Jiang Finds It Hard To Let Go,” in Far Eastern Economic
Review, September 12; “Jiang To Keep A Decisive Role In China, Lee Kuan Yew Says,”
in International Herald Tribune, September 17; “Jiang Poised For Historic Retirement,”
Reuters, September 18.

of the Shanghai Communist Party municipal committee. His low-key handling of
similar democracy demonstrations at the time in Shanghai was widely praised at the
time, and catapulted him to senior national leadership positions. He was elected
General Party Secretary in June 1989, and elected chairman of the CMC in
November 1989. His connections with Shanghai, and his patronage of others with
that connection, has led to his being dubbed the leader of the “Shanghai Faction.”
By modern Chinese standards, Jiang has served a long time in his leadership
roles. The jury is out as to his future after the 16th Party Congress. Some reports
suggest that he may be trying to retain at least one of his positions – as CMC
chairman, is most often suggested – while others claim he will be stepping down
from all of his positions including the Politburo Standing Committee.19 According
to one school of thought, Jiang would like to emulate Deng Xiaoping and remain
predominantly influential as a retired elder senior statesman. This would be
facilitated if Jiang could be assured that several of his protegees would be elevated
to senior levels – and in fact, a number of the fourth generation front-runners have
strong Jiang connections.
But speculation about Jiang’s continuing influence illustrates the difficulties in
predicting the future course of PRC leadership decisions. He has had trouble
promoting his most trusted advisor and protegee, Zeng Qinghong, to the Politburo
Standing Committee – a necessary step if Zeng is to advance in the leadership. Some
news reports late in 2000 speculated that this represented a serious political setback
to Jiang and a challenge to his Party control.20 More recently, Zeng’s name has been
put forward on some lists of potential new Politburo members, but not consistently,
suggesting that Jiang still has not solved whatever problem he has with other
Standing Committee members. In another uncertainty, some have suggested that
Jiang has staked his personal prestige on successfully stamping out the Falun Gong
spiritual movement – a policy that some feel is not widely supported by other senior
leaders – and that failure to do so may adversely affect him in some way.
Another factor in Jiang’s political maneuvering may be his desire to ensure his
historical legacy by having the Party formally adopt in its charter his own political
theories, putting him in the same league as his predecessors, Mao Zedong and Deng
Xiaoping. Jiang’s political contribution, dubbed the “Three Represents,” is that the
Chinese Communist Party represents not only the “fundamental interests of all the
people,” but also “advanced culture” and “advanced productive forces”– in other
words, capitalists. This would be a fundamental departure from past Party theories.
Li Peng. Born in 1929, Li Peng is the senior leader most strongly identified
with the Tiananmen Square crackdown of June 1989. In addition to his being the

19 While there is much speculation that Jiang would like to remain CMC Chairman, some
specialists believe this an impossibility unless he also remains a PSC member.
20 According to an October 2000 report in an English-language Hong Kong newspaper, The
South China Morning Post, five of the seven Politburo Standing Committee members
expressed reservations about promoting Zeng. A Chinese language report of December 6,
2000, in the Hong Kong Economic Journal, speculated that the failure to promote Zeng
meant that Jiang was losing a measure of control over the Politburo.

only current Standing Committee member serving in that same capacity at the time,
he was the Chinese official who announced the declaration of martial law on May 19,
1989, prior to the crackdown itself. He served as Premier for two five-year terms
beginning in 1988 under Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, then continuing under
Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin in 1989. Li studied in the Soviet Union and is
considered politically and economically conservative. His field is hydroelectric
engineering, and he has served in a series of government positions involving the
electric power industry. In 1998, he was elected to a five-year term as chairman of
the National People’s Congress, a position he still holds.
Although clearly a survivor and a force to be reckoned with, Li has never been
among the most beloved of Chinese leaders, and he has had trouble in recent years.
As an electric power specialist, he served his entire professional life in the power
industry. He is considered to be the principal proponent of the controversial Three
Gorges Dam project, and is thus vulnerable to increasing criticisms about that
project’s association with corruption, quality control problems, and unpopular
massive population relocation program. In addition, some of his protegees and
associates have been linked to corruption scandals – most notably, the former vice-
chairman of the National People’s Congress, Cheng Kejie, who was executed in 2000
for corrupt practices. His difficulties have implications for those associated with him
who may hope to ascend to more senior positions.
Zhu Rongji. Born in 1928, Premier Zhu Rongji is an electrical engineering
graduate of Qinghua University. As mayor of Shanghai beginning in 1987, Zhu for
several years worked closely with Jiang Zemin before the latter’s transfer to Beijing
in 1989. Zhu is closely associated with pragmatic macroeconomic programs. When
he was Vice-premier of the State Council in the early 190s, Zhu was credited with
bringing rampant inflation under control. He became Premier and thus technical
head of the government in 1998, and has the reputation of being a strict taskmaster
intolerant of what one biography referred to as a “dilatory work style.” In addition
to efforts to downsize and improve the efficiency of the state bureaucratic structure,
Zhu’s principle cares as Premier have been his attempts to reform China’s ailing
state-owned-enterprises, bring China into the World Trade Organization, and
improve China’s fragile banking system.
Potential Successors
Within the fourth generation, a number of younger leaders in particular have
often been mentioned as leading contenders for the top leadership positions. All are
already serving in powerful positions, with most currently members of the Politburo,
and they are likely to stay on the scene in important capacities regardless of the
eventual decisions made about top leadership posts.
Hu Jintao. Vice-President Hu Jintao is widely considered the likely candidate
to succeed Jiang Zemin – both as Party Secretary in 2002, and as President of the
country in 2003. The 59-year old Hu is the only person in the Chinese leadership,
other than Jiang himself, who currently holds senior positions on all three key
decision-making bodies at the Party, state, and military levels. Other than Jiang, Hu
is the only other civilian leader on the Central Military Commission. (See Table 1.)

While little is known about Hu Jintao in the West, he has been on a leadership
track for over a decade. An engineering graduate of Qinghua University, he has a
background with the Communist Youth League (an important credential), and has
served twice as Provincial Party Secretary for difficult postings: beginning in 1985
in Guizhou Province, one of China’s poorest; and beginning in 1988, at age 46, for
the Tibet Autonomous Region following the outbreak of Tibetan protests against
Chinese rule. In the latter posting, according to his official profile, he “implemented
a tough policy to suppress the Tibet independence movement....”21 In 1993, Hu
replaced Qiao Shi as president of the Central Party School. He became Vice-
President of the PRC in 1998.
Historically it has been dangerous in China to be a designated successor-in-
waiting. Few men in this position in PRC history have attained the top spot without
incident.22 While it appears that current senior leaders broadly support Hu in his
position as imminent successor to Jiang Zemin, some articles and commentators have
suggested that Jiang himself would much prefer maneuvering his own protégé, Zeng
Qinghong, into the top Party spot.23 Knowledgeable observers in China suggest that
Hu’s safest course may be to keep a low profile and avoid making “mistakes” prior
to the 16th Party Congress.24 This may be one reason that Hu has been nearly
invisible during the crises in U.S.-China relations in recent years. But others suggest
that Hu’s minimal appearances on China’s foreign policy stage may not be so much
a defensive tactic as a hint that he may be a relative political lightweight. Among his
limited official overseas travel has been his sole visit to the United States, made in
April-May 2002. Hu met with a wide range of senior U.S. officials during his visit
and, by most accounts, made a good impression, although no policy initiatives were
announced or expected.
Wen Jiabao. In addition to his state position as Vice-Premier, Wen Jiabao,
age 59, is a member of the Party Politburo and the Party Secretariat. Although not

21 Hong Kong Ming Pao, in Chinese, translated in FBIS, March 18, 1998.
22 In 1959, Liu Shaoqi, was named Mao’s replacement as state President, but was later
arrested, vilified, and died in disgrace in 1969; at the Party congress in 1969, Lin Biao was
declared Mao’s successor, only to be accused in 1971 of plotting to assassinate Mao; Lin
died in a plane crash fleeing China. In 1976, Hua Guofeng became supreme leader, having
allegedly been chosen by Mao on his deathbed; several years later, he was effectively
deposed by Deng Xiaoping. In 1981, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, dual successors chosen
by Deng Xiaoping, became Party Secretary and Premier, respectively. Hu was ousted in
1987, charged with mishandling student demonstrations; Zhao, who became Party Secretary
upon Hu’s ouster (Zhao was replaced as Premier by Li Peng) fell from power during the
Tiananmen crackdown of 1989 and was replaced by Jiang Zemin..
23 “Unattributed ‘special report’ says power struggle relating to 16th CCP Party Congress
(2002) personnel issues a main theme of Beidaihe mtng,” Tokyo Sentaku, in Japanese,
translated in FBIS, August 1, 2000, pp. 6-9.
24 In the lead-up to a change of leadership in the PRC, many things can become “mistakes.”
A “mistake” might be: not taking a correct line on an issue of political consequence; creating
an impression of failure to fulfill the responsibilities of one’s current job; being associated
with a controversial position or individual; or anything else that might lend itself to
manipulation by one’s political competitors.

currently on the Politburo Standing Committee, his name has consistently been
reported to be on various circulating lists of potential new members for 2002.25 If he
achieves this, he is thought to be a leading candidate in contention for the position
of Premier to replace Zhu Rongji in 2003. His responsibilities in government, which
include agriculture and finance, would make him particularly qualified for this
Wen is a graduate of the Beijing Institute of Geology and did post-graduate
work at that institute. According to a profile of him in Hong Kong Hsin Pao (Hong
Kong Economic Journal), Wen was a director of the General Office of the CCP
Central Committee in 1989, working under then Party Secretary Zhao Ziyang, at the
time of the Tiananmen crackdown of 1989.26 His reported advocacy of a “peaceful
approach” to the Tiananmen student movement at the time led to some reports that
he may have been politically marginalized early in the 1990s, and to the suggestion
that Jiang Zemin may distrust his ideological credentials. But his continued
ascension in the PRC leadership since then has pegged him as a political survivor
with what have been called exceptional “factional skills.”
Wu Bangguo. Age 59, Wu Bangguo graduated from the radio-electronics
department of Qinghua University. Part of the so-called “Shanghai Faction,”he
worked with Jiang Zemin in Shanghai during the 1980s, and he became a Politburo
member in 1992. Some early Hong Kong news reports pegged Wu as the front-
runner to replace Zhu Rongji as Premier in 2003, but no similar reports have been
noted in the past two years.27 Instead, more recent news coverage about possible
Politburo Standing Committee deliberations suggests that some may doubt Wu’s
experience for the job. Wu’s name was included as one of the four new potentialth
Standing Committee members in the April 2001 report about the 16 Party Congress
preparatory committee’s deliberations, and he is included on two of the four more28
recent lists of candidates released in November 2001. His elevation to the
Standing Committee could place him in contention for a top leadership spot.
Li Changchun. Age 57, Li Changchun is the Secretary of the Guangdong
Provincial Communist Party Committee and is described as being among those close
to Jiang Zemin. Early on in the succession process, Li was occasionally named as a
potential successor to Jiang in the position of Party Secretary. Since then, his star
seems to have faded, and his name was not included on the list of new potential
members of the Politburo Standing Committee – an essential step for a more senior
leadership role.29 Some have suggested that Li’s advancement has been opposed by
some senior leaders on the grounds that he did not sufficiently boost Guangdong’s
economy during his tenure. In addition, Li is one of those whose fortunes may have
been tainted through his alleged association with corruption scandals. In particular,

25 Hsiao Peng, April 19, 2001.
26 Hong Kong Hsin Pao, in Chinese, translated in FBIS, August 30, 2000.
27 Lam, Willy Wo-lap, “‘Dark Horse’ on Fast Track to Top,” Hong Kong South China
Morning Post, in English, March 17, 1999, p. 23.
28 Hsiao Peng, April 19, 2001; Hong Kong Cheng Ming, December 1, 2001.
29 Ibid.

according to one news report, this includes scandals involving the vice mayor of
Shenyang City in Liaoning Province, who is described as having “connections” to Li
Changchun and as being a member of Li’s faction.30
Zeng Qinghong. Zeng Qinghong is Jiang Zemin’s principle protegee and,
according to reports, is the only person Jiang brought with him to Beijing when he
left Shanghai to assume the position of Party Secretary in 1989. As key adviser to
Jiang and the head of the Central Committee Organization Department (similar to a
Ministry of Personnel), Zeng is viewed as being a potential rival to Hu Jintao for
control of the Communist Party. On the other hand, Jiang Zemin has not yet
succeeded in getting his protegee promoted from his current position as an alternate
on the Party Politburo to the Politburo Standing Committee or even to full Politburo
membership – a critical step if he is to advance in future leadership decisions. Some
press reports have suggested that Zeng, with Jiang’s support, is maneuvering behind
the scenes to limit Hu’s power. But to date, his failure to reach the Politburo
suggests that there remains significant opposition to his advancement from senior
levels in the Chinese political system.
Luo Gan. The only protégée of Li Peng considered to have a chance at
elevation to the Standing Committee, Politburo member Luo Gan currently serves as
chairman of the Central Committee for the Comprehensive Management of Public
Order. As such, he is chiefly responsible for the implementation of the latest “Strike
Hard” anti-crime campaign, announced in April 2001.
According to an official biography, Luo Gan is one of the only potential
successors who studied abroad – in Leipzig, East Germany. A native of Shandong
Province, he has held posts as provincial Party Secretary in Henan Province, vice
president of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, Minister of Labor, and
secretary general of the State Council General Office – holding the latter position for
10 years. Over the past year, he has been mentioned as a potential candidate for
promotion to the Politburo Standing Committee on both the April 2001 list and in all
four of the November 2001 alternate lists.31
Implications for U.S. Policy
A new generation of PRC leaders, whether those individuals profiled here or
others, presents a new set of challenges for U.S. policymakers and suggests two
possible policy scenarios. Well-educated and by all accounts politically astute,
China’s fourth generation is a product of Mao’s insular, isolationist years. They have
also matured politically at a time, during the 1990s, of continued Sino-U.S.
difficulties over Taiwan, trade, human rights, and other contentious issues. Thus,
Washington policymakers may have to deal with a Beijing government that is more

30 Hiroki Fujita, “Jiang Zemin groping for ‘Deng Xiaoping-type rule by cloistered
emperor,’” – power struggle intensifying with approach of the Party Congress in the Fall
next year,” Tokyo Foresight in Japanese March 1, 2001, pp. 32-33. Translated in FBIS
online, JPP20010320000056.
31 Hsiao Peng, Ibid, April 2001.

nationalistic in its views of how to solve China’s problems. New PRC leaders may
be less likely to look to the West for political or economic models, and so less
interested in seeking out or valuing U.S. contact and cooperation than their
predecessors in Beijing. Yet they may be politically disillusioned as well with their
own tumultuous experiences with socialism. As a result, they may be more willing
to experiment with untried ideologies or methods, making it more difficult for
American policymakers to predict the future course of Chinese policy. Over the near
term, communication and understanding may become more problematic between
American policy-makers who stress values and moral issues and China’s fourth-
generation culture of non-ideological technocrats and problem-solvers. In
combination, these potential circumstances may make U.S.-China relations even
more problematic, convincing elements on both sides that the United States and
China share few common interests and that the other is not to be trusted.
On the other hand, ideologues in the American political process appear to have
been temporarily marginalized by the more pragmatic U.S. political demands of the
global anti-terrorism campaign. Geopolitical realists in the Bush Administration
therefore may find some communion with the pragmatic problem-solvers that make
up much of China’s fourth generation leadership contenders. When combined with
the events of September 11 and with new American policy priorities, China’s
impending transition to a new generation of leaders could strengthen the hand of
those in the American policy process who have argued that the “engagement” policy
of the past ten years is a productive and appropriate approach toward the PRC. In
such an environment, it would seem difficult for the Bush Administration any time
soon to resurrect the “strategic competitor” approach toward China that it articulated
when it first assumed office. Washington may see China’s leadership transition
period as an opportunity to move the relationship forward into more positive
territory. In addition, U.S. officials may be persuaded to maintain a low profile partly
to minimize chances that the United States itself could become a factor in China’s
political succession, since it is widely thought that no PRC official who hopes to
benefit in the succession process can be seen as being “soft” in dealing with
Washington during difficult times.