Introduction: The 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012 will select a new Politburo and Standing Committee. The members of these two supreme leadership bodies will concurrently occupy the top positions of all other important Party, government, and military organizations. The most important of these institutions is the State Council, China’s cabinet. Not only do its members hold a significant number of seats in the Politburo, but many of the council’s key players—premier, vice premiers, and ministers—work on the front lines of China’s domestic and foreign affairs. While the Party holds the role of ultimate decision-maker, the State Council is the source of many important policy initiatives.
What are the demographic backgrounds, career paths, educational credentials, and factional affiliations of the 35 members of the State Council on the eve of its reshuffling? As Premier Wen and a few other senior government leaders will retire in two or three years, what will the post-Wen State Council look like? Who will be out, in, or up? What are the Chinese public’s main concerns regarding this upcoming governmental change of the guard? What are the most daunting challenges that the new leadership team will confront? This essay aims to shed light on these timely questions.