John L. Thornton China Center

Zhang Gaoli 张高丽

One of China's Top Future Leaders to Watch

Zhang Gaoli 

  • Born 1946
  • Tianjin party secretary (2007–present)
  • Politburo member (2007–present)
  • Full member of the Central Committee of the CCP (2002–present)

Personal and Professional Background

Zhang Gaoli was born in 1946 in Jinjiang City, Fujian Province. He joined the CCP in 1973. Zhang received an undergraduate education in statistics from the Department of Economics of Xiamen University (1965–1970) and pursued mid-career studies at the Central Party School (1990). He spent his early career in the oil industry, working as a porter, personal secretary (mishu), head of the planning department, and deputy general manager, additionally holding various party secretarial positions, all in the Maoming Petroleum Company in Guangdong Province (1970–1985). In 1985, Zhang was appointed chairman of the Economic Commission of Guangdong Province (1985–88). Three years later, he became vice governor of Guangdong Province (1988–1997). Zhang served as party secretary of Shenzhen City (1997–2001). In November 2001, he was transferred to Shandong Province, where he served first as governor (2001–02) and then as party secretary (2002–07). Zhang was first elected to the Central Committee as an alternate member at the 15th Party Congress (1997).

Family and Patron-Client Ties

Zhang is widely considered to be a protégé of Jiang Zemin and Zeng Qinghong. When Zhang was party chief in Shenzhen, he turned this frontier city of China’s economic reform into Jiang’s showcase for the new phase of China’s development, known as the “three represents.”[1] Both Zeng and Zhang advanced the early stages of their careers within the oil industry. Some analysts believe that Zhang’s rise to the top provincial position can be attributed to Zeng’s favoritism. When Zeng was in charge of the powerful Organization Department of the CCP Central Committee in 2001, he helped Zhang get the post of governor of Shandong, and one year later, party secretary of Shandong. Zhang married a classmate from Xiamen University, and they have one daughter, who is married to the son of Lee Yin Yee, a wealthy businessman who serves as chairman of Xinyi Glass Holdings Limited in Hong Kong.

Political Prospects and Policy Preferences

Zhang has extensive leadership experience in economically advanced regions (Shenzhen, Shandong, and Tianjin), and if Wang Qishan is not given the post of executive vice premier, Zhang will most likely seek that position so that he can secure a concurrent seat on the Politburo Standing Committee. Zhang could also serve as chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). He has taken a low-profile approach in his career advancement and it is therefore unclear what his hot-button issues will be when/if he obtains membership on the next Politburo Standing Committee.[2] In general, Zhang has been known for his pro-market economic policy orientation, especially evident in his leadership tenure in Shenzhen.


[1] The idea of three represents, initiated by Jiang Zemin in 2000, was an ideological justification for the priority given to the private sector in China’s economic development and for allowing entrepreneurs to be members of the communist party.

[2] For more discussion about Zhang’s low-profile approach, see Robert Lawrence Kuhn, How China’s Leaders Think (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2010), pp. 229–231.

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