By now just about every China observer knows that the Chinese leadership will undergo a major generational change at the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in the fall of 2012. Knowledge of the leadership transition’s actual procedures and mechanisms, especially the concrete steps and important variables that may shape its outcomes, is less widespread. A better understanding of the inner workings of the system—the rules (both old and new) of the game of Chinese elite politics—is necessary to arrive at a well-grounded assessment of the upcoming leadership change in China.
This essay describes the Chinese leadership’s ongoing preparation for the transition on both the personnel and ideological fronts. It aims to address two specific and crucial questions: According to which steps will the delegates to the Congress and the members of the new Central Committee be chosen? Through which channels will the party’s ideological platform for the congress be formulated?