John L. Thornton China Center

Wang Qishan 王岐山

One of China's Top Future Leaders to Watch

Wang Qishan 

  • Born 1948
  • Vice premier (2008–present)
  • Politburo member (2007–present)
  • Full member of the Central Committee of the CCP (2002–present)

Personal and Professional Background

Wang Qishan was born in 1948 in Tianzhen County, Shanxi Province (some unofficial biographers say he was born in Qingdao City, Shandong Province, and that Tianzhen was his ancestral home). Wang was a sent-down youth at an agricultural commune in Yan’an County, Shaanxi (1969-1971), then was a staff member at the Shaanxi Museum (1971–73 and 1973–79), joining the CCP in 1983. He received an undergraduate education from the history department at the Northwestern University in Xi’an City, Shaanxi Province (1976). Early in his career, Wang worked as a researcher and director at the Institute of Contemporary History of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (1979–82) and then moved to the Rural Policy Research Office of the CCP Central Committee (1982–88). Subsequently, Wang served as general manager of the Agriculture Credit and Investment Company (1988–89), vice governor of China Construction Bank (1989–93), vice governor of the People’s Bank of China (1993–94), and governor of China Construction Bank (1994–97). Wang was transferred to Guangdong Province in 1997 to serve as vice governor. Three years later, in 2000, he was appointed director of the State Council General Office of Economic Reform. Wang then worked as party secretary of Hainan Province (2002–03). At the peak of the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) crisis, Wang was appointed mayor of Beijing (2004–07). He was first elected to the Central Committee as an alternate member at the 15th Party Congress (1997).

Family and Patron-Client Ties

Wang’s father was a professor at Tsinghua University who also worked as an engineer at the Design Institute in the Ministry of Construction.[1] A princeling, Wang Qishan is the son-in-law of Yao Yilin, a former Politburo Standing Committee member and vice premier. Wang is widely considered to be a protégé of both Zhu Rongji and Jiang Zemin. During his work in the financial sector in the 1990s, Wang established his patron/mentor relationship with Zhu, who was in charge of China’s financial affairs at the time. Wang’s patron/mentor ties with Jiang Zemin are partly due to the fact that Wang’s father-in-law, Yao Yilin, was a major supporter of Jiang in the Politburo Standing Committee and partly because Wang has formed a strong personal friendship with Jiang’s son, Jiang Mianheng. Wang’s wife is Yao Mingshan, whom he met in Yan’an in 1969 when both were sent-down youths there. Yao used to work as an official at the China Native Produce & Animal Import and Export Corporation.

Political Prospects and Policy Preferences

Wang is almost certain to obtain a seat in the next Politburo Standing Committee. It is unclear, however, what government position and/or other party post he will concurrently hold. He may serve as executive vice premier of the State Council, and in the case that Li Keqiang moves to be chairman of the NPC, Wang will be a leading candidate for premier. Wang may also serve as chairman of the NPC. His widely known nickname in China is “the chief of the fire brigade.” The Chinese public regard Wang as a leader who is capable and trustworthy during times of emergency or crisis. Based on his previous leadership experiences and policy initiatives, Wang will most likely promote the development of foreign investment and trade, the liberalization of China’s financial system, and tax-revenue reforms, which are crucial for central-local economic relations. Due to his strong ties with major state-owned enterprises, it is unclear whether he will favor state monopoly or promote the private sector.


[1] For more information about Wang’s family background and his early experiences, see Guo Qing 郭清, From Yao Yilin to Wang Qishan (从姚依林到王岐山; Hong Kong: 财大出版社, 2009).

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