John L. Thornton China Center

Li Keqiang 李克强

One of China's Top Future Leaders to Watch

Li Keqiang 

  • Born 1955
  • Executive vice premier (2008–present)
  • Politburo Standing Committee member (2007–present)
  • Full member of the Central Committee of the CCP (1997–present)

Personal and Professional Background

Li Keqiang was born in 1955 in Dingyuan County, Anhui Province. Li joined the CCP in 1976. He was a sent-down youth at an agricultural commune in Anhui’s Fengyang County from 1974 to 1976, and served as party secretary in a Production Brigade in the county (1976–78). Li received both a bachelor’s degree in law (1982) and a doctoral degree in economics (1994, on a part-time basis) from Peking University. He advanced his early career mainly through the Chinese Communist Youth League (CCYL), serving as secretary of the CCYL Committee at Peking University (1982–83), alternate member (1983–85), secretary (1985–93), and first secretary (1993–98) of the Secretariat of the CCYL Central Committee. In 1998, Li was transferred to Henan Province, where he served as deputy party secretary and governor (1998–2004). He then served as party secretary of Liaoning Province (2004–07).

Family and Patron-Client Ties

Li comes from a mid-level official family—his father was a county-level local cadre in Fengyang County, Anhui Province.[1] Li is widely considered to be a protégé of Hu Jintao, whom he met at the CCYL Central Committee in the early 1980s. Li’s wife, Cheng Hong, is currently a professor of English language and literature at Capital University of Economics and Business in Beijing. The couple have one daughter, who graduated from Peking University and currently studies in the United States, according to some unverified sources.

Political Prospects and Policy Preferences

Li is in line to succeed Wen Jiabao as premier of the State Council at the 12th National People’s Congress, which will be held in March 2013. But some critics believe that Li lacks former premier Zhu Rongji’s political courage and Wen Jiabao’s charisma (and also Wen’s quick sense of how to respond to crises). As the country needs a strong premier like Zhu Rongji to effectively control localities and vested corporate interest groups, there is a slight possibility that Li will have to take the chairmanship of the National People’s Congress (currently the No. 2 top position in the power hierarchy in the country) and leave the premiership to a “tough” leader such as Wang Qishan. One should not overlook Li’s strengths, however. For example, in the current 371-member (including alternates) Central Committee of the CCP, a total of 86 (23 percent) used to work closely with Li Keqiang in the CCYL leadership. Based on his previous work and the populist policy agenda he shares with his mentor Hu Jintao, Li’s hot-button policy issues will include increasing employment, offering more affordable housing, providing basic health care, balancing regional development, and promoting innovation in clean energy technology.


[1] For more information about Li Keqiang’s family background and his early experiences, see Hong Qing 洪清, He will be China’s Top Manager: The Biography of Li Keqiang (他将是中国大管家—李克强传; New York: Mirror Books, 2010).

Editor's Note: The profile above was prepared by the China Center's Cheng Li and originally appeared in the China Leadership Monitor.