China is set to experience a major leadership turnover at the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 2012. Current top leaders, including President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao, and Chairman of the National People’s Congress Wu Bangguo, are all expected to retire. The Politburo and its Standing Committee will be repopulated with a large number of new faces. Who are the most promising candidates for these supreme leadership bodies? What are the main characteristics and principal criteria for the advancement of these newcomers? Can one intelligently forecast the possible leadership lineup and factional distribution of power? To what extent will this new generation of leaders change the way Chinese politics operates?
This essay aims to shed light on these questions and others by studying the 62 provincial chiefs—Party secretaries and governors—of China’s 31 province-level administrative entities. There is little doubt that today’s provincial chiefs will be among tomorrow’s national decision-makers. One can reasonably expect that a subset of these leaders will rule the world’s most populous country for most of this decade and beyond.