John L. Thornton China Center

Zhang Chunxian 张春贤

One of China's Top Future Leaders to Watch

  • Born 1953
  • Xinjiang (Uygur) Autonomous Region party secretary (2010-present)
  • Xinjiang Military Region Party Committee First party secretary (2010-present)
  • Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps first political commissar (2010-present)
  • Full member of the CCP Central Committee (2002-present)
  • Deputy head of Central Coordinating Group for Xinjiang Affairs (2011-present)

Personal and Professional Background

Zhang Chunxian was born in 1953 in Yuzhou City, Henan Province. Zhang joined the CCP in 1973. He received his undergraduate education from the Northeastern Heavy Machinery Institute (now Yanshan University) in Qiqihar, Heilongjiang Province (1976-80); attended a three-month mid-career program at the Central Party School in Beijing (2000); and graduated with a master’s degree (on a part-time basis) in Management and Engineering from the Harbin Institute of Technology in Harbin City, Heilongjiang Province (1998-2002). He holds the title of senior engineer. Early in his career, Zhang was a soldier in a signal corps of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) based in Guangzhou Military Region (1970-75), and a grassroots party official in a people’s commune in his native county (1975-76). In the 1980s, Zhang worked in the Ministry of Machinery and Electronic Industry, where he served as a technician, an engineer, and an official in the Organization Department and party secretary and vice president in the No. 10 Design Research Institute. He served as deputy director of the Industrial Machinery Supervision Bureau in the ministry (1991-92), deputy manager of China National Packaging Corporation (1992-93), party secretary and general manager of China National Packaging Corporation (1993-95), assistant to the governor of Yunnan Province (1995-97), vice minister of the Ministry of Communications (1998-2002), and minister of communications (2002-05). A full member of the Central Committee of the CCP since 2002, Zhang served as party secretary and Provincial People’s Congress (PPC) chairman of Hunan Province (2006-10). Since April 2010, Zhang has served as party secretary of Xinjiang (Uygur) Autonomous Region and first political commissar of Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps and first party secretary of the Xinjiang Military Region Party Committee. Since May 2011, Zhang has served as deputy head of the Central Coordinating Group for Xinjiang Affairs.

Family and Patron-Client Ties

Zhang is widely considered a protégé of Jiang Zemin, but it is unclear where and when Zhang established his patron-mentor relationship with Jiang. It most likely occurred during the early 1980s, when both worked in the machinery and electronics industry. Zhang has been married twice. According to an unverified source, his ex-wife Tang Xian’e was a medical doctor and they divorced in 2002.[1] Zhang married his second and current wife, Li Xiuping, in 2005. Li is a household name in the country, as she has been an anchorperson on the primary CCTV news program since 1989.[2] Li was also previously married and divorced sometime during 2003-2004. Zhang has only one child (a daughter) from his previous marriage. His daughter was in a Ph.D. program (unclear whether in China or overseas) in 2011.

Political Prospects and Policy Preferences

Zhang has often been regarded as a capable leader who can get things done. During his tenure as minister of communications in 2002-2005, he made significant contributions to the rapid growth of China’s sea transportation and highways. While he was Hunan party secretary, this previously underdeveloped province became one of the top ten of the country’s 31 provincial-level administrations in terms of GDP growth. Even more impressively, in 2009 the province was ranked No. 1 in the country in attracting foreign direct investment. An official with a reputation for being media savvy, Zhang has been among the most accessible leaders at the annual NPC meetings over the past decade.[3] Zhang is also one of the very few provincial/ministerial-level leaders who have pledged to make records of his individual and family total assets available to the public.[4] Zhang’s so-called “flexible iron-fisted rule” in Xinjiang, which stands in contrast to his predecessor’s “pure iron-fisted rule,” seems to resonate well with both the CCP leadership and the Chinese public.[5] Zhang possesses broad leadership experience in the central government (in the Ministry of Communications and the Ministry of Machinery and Electronics Industry), in top provincial posts (Xinjiang and Hunan), and in running a major state-owned enterprise (the China National Packaging Corporation). This combination of different leadership experiences has prepared him very well for further promotion. He may prove to be a dark horse within the top leadership in the months and years to come. Like Wang Lequan--his predecessor in Xinjiang, who has served on the Politburo--Zhang will likely obtain a seat in the 2012 Politburo. If he leaves Xinjiang, he may serve as vice premier or state councillor or take a top position in a major province or city while concurrently holding a seat in the Politburo. Anti-corruption and political transparency may be pet issues for Zhang when he moves into the national leadership.


[1] According to another unverified source, however, the name of Zhang’s first wife is Yang Genghua.

[2] “Anchor Li Xiuping marries Hunan Province Party Secretary Zhang Chunxian” (主播李修平嫁湖南省委书记张春贤). Shandong TV Net, April 10, 2006,

[3] Nan Lei 南雷, Jockeying for Power at the 18th Party Congress (逐鹿十八大;Hong Kong: Art & Culture Press, 2010), pp. 547-553.

[4] “Zhang Chunxian: All Assets Can Be Open to Public Scrutiny” (张春贤:可率先公布所有财产). Newsnet, March 9, 2011,

[5] For more discussion of Zhang’s “flexible iron-fisted rule in Xinjiang” (柔性铁腕治疆), see “Zhang Chunxian: Combining Both Hard and Soft Approaches” (刚柔张春贤), Caijing Magazine Net, August 14, 2011,

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