John L. Thornton China Center

Li Yuanchao 李源潮

One of China's Top Future Leaders to Watch

Li Yuanchao 

  • Born 1950
  • Director of the CCP Organization Department (2007–present)
  • Politburo member (2007–present)
  • Member of the Secretariat (2007–present)
  • Full member of the Central Committee of the CCP (2007–present)

Personal and Professional Background

Li was born in 1950 in Lianshui County, Jiangsu Province (some unofficial biographers name Changzhou City, Jiangsu Province, as his birthplace, and Lianshui as his ancestral home). He joined the CCP in 1978, having done his “sent-down” work in Dafeng County, Jiangsu Province from 1968 to 1972. Li studied mathematics at Shanghai Normal University (1972–74), taught at the Nanchang Middle School and Luwan District Sparetime Vocational School, both in Shanghai (1974–78), and in the management department at Fudan University (1982–83). He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Fudan University (1982), a master’s degree (obtained through part-time study) in economic management from Peking University (1990), and a doctoral degree (also on a part-time basis) in law from the Central Party School (1998). He pursued mid-career training at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University (2002). After serving as deputy secretary and secretary of the Chinese Communist Youth League in Shanghai in 1983, Li became secretary of the Secretariat of the CCYL Central Committee (1983–93). He served as deputy director of the Information Office of the State Council and of the General Office of Foreign Publicity of the CCP Central Committee (1993–96), and vice minister of the Ministry of Culture (1996–2000). In 2000, he was transferred to Jiangsu Province where he first served as its deputy party secretary (2000–02), and then concurrently as party secretary of Nanjing City (2000–03). Li served as party secretary of Jiangsu Province (2003–07). He was first elected to the Central Committee as an alternate member at the 16th Party Congress (2002).

Family and Patron-Client Ties

A princeling, Li is the son of Li Gancheng, who served as a vice mayor of Shanghai in the early 1960s.[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, Gao Jianjin, is a professor of music at the Institute of Musicology of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. They have one son, Li Haijin, who graduated as an accounting major from Fudan University in 2007 and then worked as a salesperson in the U.S. office for Novartis International, a multinational pharmaceutical company based in Basel, Switzerland. Li Haijin is currently an MBA student at Yale University.

Political Prospects and Policy Preferences

Li is almost certain to obtain a seat in the next Politburo Standing Committee. He could take over any area of leadership responsibility assigned to a member of the PSC. Most likely, he will take over the posts that Xi Jinping currently holds, namely vice president of the PRC, executive member of the Secretariat, and president of the Central Party School. Or Li may instead serve as chairman of the NPC or secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. His unusual combination of identities—a Shanghai-originated leader who has not been associated with the so-called Shanghai Gang, a princeling who advanced his career primarily from the CCYL, and an enthusiastic supporter of Hu-Wen’s macroeconomic control policy who recently ran a fast-growing coastal province—may help him gain broader support in the leadership. Li is one of the few fifth-generation leaders who have called for serious political reforms, inner-party democracy, and tougher measures to deal with official corruption.


[1] For more information about Li Yuanchao’s family background and his early experiences, see Liu Fangyuan 刘方远, The Biography of Li Yuanchao (李源潮传; 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.