Seeing as I spend a great deal of time thinking, talking, and writing about China, it seems fitting that my first day guest blogging coincides with the National Day of the People’s Republic of China. The celebration got off to an early start with the launch of China’s first space lab module, called Heavenly Palace No. 1 (discussed here on New Yorker correspondent Evan Osnos’s excellent blog). Today, the festivities turned to Beijing where the leaders of the Communist Party of China (CPC) are celebrating 62 years of uninterrupted rule. As election season heats up here in the United States, the DNC and RNC understandably could be envious at the prospect of not having to deal with a multi-party system.
Although CPC rule has been consistent over six decades, the experience of the individual leaders in Zhongnanhai (the headquarters near Tiananmen Square in Beijing) has been much more complicated as they jockey for power behind the scenes. The public face is one of orderly transition on a periodic basis, as seen in the handing of power from the third-generation leaders (led by Jiang Zemin) to fourth-generation leaders in the early 2000s (led by Hu Jintao) and, as currently playing out, to the fifth-generation leaders. As was on display today, in public, the top guys (and they are all still guys) wear the same suits and even have near identical haircuts and hair-dye. Yet much speculation is afoot about the future composition of and hierarchy within the Politburo and, at the pinnacle of power, the Politburo Standing Committee.
Xi Jinping is the overwhelming frontrunner for the top post, with Li Keqiang looking to be in the number two spot. Interestingly, Li was one of the first students to study law at Peking University after schools reopened following the end of the Cultural Revolution. Li was never a practicing lawyer, but even having studied law sets him apart as unusual in China’s leadership. There’s been little indication that Li will be a champion of legal reforms once the leadership transition is complete. Nonetheless, his ascent raises questions whether people with legal backgrounds are poised to take a more conspicuous role in the Party/government.