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Xi Jinping’s inner circle: The mishu cluster II

Cheng Li

Mentor-protégé ties play an important role in elite formation in virtually
all kinds of political systems. But arguably no country gives more
prominent advantage in terms of later political career promotions to those
who have previously served as personal assistants to senior leaders than
China. This phenomenon of having a large number of leaders with such
experience in Chinese officialdom has led to the romanization of the
Chinese term mishu (秘书) to refer to this group. At present, more than
three-quarters of cabinet ministers and provincial governors have served
as mishu. Of the current 25 members of the Politburo, 16 (64 percent)
have served in such roles, and on the seven-member Politburo Standing
Committee, five (71 percent) members have mishu backgrounds.

Xi Jinping himself served as a mishu for the minister of defense for three
years in his late 20s, and this experience helped him tremendously later as
he advanced his career, especially by enhancing his credentials in military
affairs. Xi’s personal assistants, both previous and current, have
constituted a major cluster of his inner circle. Because of their very close
working relationships with Xi, they are often among his most trusted
confidants. This final installment in the series first shows the continuing
large representation of mishu in the current national and provincial
leadership and then reveals the strong bonds between Xi and his mishu as
well as their diversity. It concludes with a brief assessment of Xi’s
consolidation of power in the middle of his first term and his new strategy
for elite recruitment for the 19th Party Congress.

This paper is the fifth in a series for the China Leadership Monitor and can be downloaded below. The first paper in the series can be found here: “Xi Jinping’s Inner Circle: The Shaanxi Gang.” The second can be found here: “Xi Jinping’s Inner Circle: Friends from Xi’s Formative Years,” the third here: “Xi Jinping’s Inner Circle: Political Protégés from the Provinces,” and the fourth here: “Xi Jinping’s inner circle: The mishu cluster I.”

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