Liu: China’s New Communist Bosses

After five years of factional horse-trading and political gossip, China's communist party today publicly unveiled its new top leadership. Party boss Hu Jintao is slated to stay put for another five years, but key personnel shifts took place at lower levels, and the new lineup kicks off a protracted succession process in a party bureaucracy in which rising stars are selected rather than elected. Some analysts thought Hu and his political ally Prime Minister Wen Jiabao had consolidated power decisively in recent years—but that assumption overestimated Hu's clout. After grooming a key protégé as heir apparent, today it became official that Hu has accepted a different up-and-coming cadre in that key slot.

Wait, before we go further: are your eyes glazing over at the prospect of a string of obscure Chinese names that you'll never pronounce, much less remember? OK, let's make this easier. If you can't remember those tongue-twisting names, you can at least understand something about Beijing's leadership maneuvering by looking at Chinese politics by the numbers:

68 That's the expected retirement age of Chinese officials, and the party seems to be taking it more and more seriously. No member of the new 204-member Central Committee is older than 67. And in the new nine-man Politburo Standing Committee a key player, Vice President Zeng Qinghong, stepped down after reaching that retirement threshold. Seen as a behind-the-scenes kingmaker, political hatchet man and the most powerful leader to retire, Zeng was once perceived as Hu's political rival and a supporter of the so-called "Shanghai faction" led by Hu's predecessor, Jiang Zemin. Still, Zeng's retirement doesn't mean that Hu has won a great political victory.

54 and 52 Respectively, the ages of Shanghai party secretary Xi Jinping and Liaoning party secretary Li Keqiang. Their being "relatively young" was how party boss Hu introduced these two new faces in the Politburo Standing Committee. But what Hu really meant was this: "I'm planning for these two youngsters to take over China's top jobs (assuming they don't mess up) when Prime Minister Wen and I retire five years from now." Li, who's identified with the Communist Youth League that was Hu's springboard to power, was long thought to be Hu's choice to succeed him as party chief. But today it was officially confirmed that Xi—seen as factionally "neutral"—outranks Li in the new lineup. That means Xi is on a trajectory to become party boss in 2012. Li, meanwhile, is now slated to become prime minister—but his candidacy for the top party slot could be revived in the future, if Xi were to stumble politically. (In China the top party slot is more powerful than the prime-ministership.)

9 That's the number of members on the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), the most powerful policymaking body in China. It's the same number as the preceding PSC, despite the fact that Hu had hoped to reduce the size of the unwieldy body to seven. The fact that it's nine, not seven, means Hu didn't have the political clout to orchestrate the leadership lineup that he initially wanted.

8 The number of men in the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee who wore dark charcoal Western suits, white shirts, and predominantly red ties as they walked onto a dais today to stand stiffly before an audience of domestic and foreign media. The only sartorial maverick was National People's Congress's Wu Bangguo, who was dressed in a dark charcoal suit, white shirt, and a mostly navy tie with bits of red.

9,378 The number of cadres investigated and punished for violating party discipline between 2003 and 2006, according to Ouyang Song, deputy head of the party's powerful organization department, in a report to the party congress last week. High-level cases of corruption have ensnared a growing number of senior party members in recent years, including former Shanghai party secretary Chen Liangyu, who was sacked for financial abuses involving the city's pension fund. Top party leaders acknowledge that crooked cadres undermine public confidence in the regime—and if left unchecked could threaten the party's very future.

70 Million-Plus The current number of Chinese communist party members. In recent years the party has reached out to private entrepreneurs, once considered anathema to the communist cause, to increase its relevance to grass-roots Chinese. One of the delegates at Beijing's just-concluded 17th party congress was a wealthy young woman entrepreneur who told media she saw "no contradiction" in the fact that she was a party cadre who drove a Rolls-Royce.

One The number of times since 1949 that China's leadership succession has proceeded pretty much according to plan. For most of the party's post-1949 history, being heir apparent was a high-risk occupation. Designated successors have succumbed to purges, death while under house arrest, a mysterious plane crash, or being elbowed aside in factional conflict. Only Hu's own rise to the party's top job went more or less according to script. Now it remains to be seen whether the post-Hu succession will be as smooth.

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