A Princeling of the People

Melinda Liu – Newsweek

Copyright Newsweek
Not long ago, China’s Communist party would never have picked Xi Jinping as its next boss. For one thing, he’s a “princeling”—a derogatory term for the offspring of party leaders, who are resented by many Chinese because they’re thought to benefit from guanxi (personal connections) and to put on airs. For another thing, Xi is known for his free-market prowess, not necessarily his ideological purity. Accordingly, when his name first appeared in Party Congress ballots in 1992 and 1997 as a candidate for the Central Committee, Xi got low marks. But over time, his carefully cultivated down-home image began to win over top leaders. They were impressed by Xi’s agriculture background (he spent part of his teens on a farm) and the way he shunned Western suits and private cars for windbreakers and riding the bus. Xi seemed competent as well, with a solid record in every region he’d overseen. So by the time senior leaders held a secret poll shortly before this month’s 17th Party Congress, Xi, according to Li Datong, a former editor turned political commentator, “got the highest vote.”
As a result, Xi has now emerged as front runner to become China’s most powerful man. His coming out last week startled many analysts. For some time they’d thought party boss and President Hu Jintao was grooming Li Keqiang to take over when he retired in 2012. Li, like Hu, came out of the clubby Communist Youth League system. But it turns out party elites didn’t want Hu 2.0 as heir apparent. When leaders reshuffled the personnel deck last week, last-minute horse trading reportedly grew intense. Hu managed to get Li on to the nine-man leadership committee and to push out a key rival, Vice President Zeng Qinghong. But Hu had to give up something in return—his pick for the top slot. Thus Xi, 54, joined the party’s lineup one rank above Li, 52. Now, if all goes according to script, Xi will become party boss in five years, while Li will succeed Wen Jiabao as prime minister.
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