The Key Players in China's Power Transition: Inside the 'Gang of Seven'

Xi Jinping and Li Kegiang will be elected president and premier at the upcoming Communist Party Congress. But the rest of the Politburo Standing Committee is up for grabs.

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Paramilitary policemen raise a giant flag of the Communist Party of China as they attend an oath-taking rally to ensure the safety of the upcoming 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, at a military base in Hangzhou (Reuters)

China's once-in-a-decade leadership transition is set to begin this week at the 18th Communist Party Congress.The result is a foregone conclusion: news outlets have known for months that Xi Jinping is to succeed Hu Jintao as president of China, while Li Keqiang will be taking the reins from Wen Jiabao as premier. The predetermined outcome has become something of a joke on Chinese social media. Television host Li Jiajia ( @李佳佳Audrey) wrote sarcastically on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, "Only two days before November 6, and Americans still don't know who their next president will be. So weak!" 

Chinese social media users reacting to Li's tweet also jokingly touted their country's "superior system." @绿色之疯 wrote on Weibo, "Ha ha, the whole world knows who our new leaders will be. That's what I call open and transparent." 

But in fact, there are things about the power handoff the world does not know. Xi and Li may soon become the most powerful men in China, but they are only two people on a seven-member body known as the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC). Foreign and overseas Chinese media outlets have worked themselves into a frenzy speculating about the composition of China's highest governing organization. No two lists of possible line-ups look exactly the same. In the past week, the Financial Times and South China Morning Post released conflicting projections, both citing inside information from well-placed sources. What we have here is a good, old-fashioned power struggle.

While Xi and Li will soon sit pretty on their thrones, the game of musical chairs continues for the rest of the seats on the Standing Committee. Newspaper profiles often try to assign each of the remaining candidates a label, such as conservative, right reformist, "princeling" (family members of Communist revolutionaries), tuanpai (Hu Jintao's clique) or members of the Shanghai clique (Jiang Zemin's posse). But most of the current crop of PSC candidates are not so easy to define -- their personal backgrounds and experiences often stubbornly refuse to stay in one box and their political views are hard to pin down. The closest analogy in U.S. politics may be the nomination process for justices on the Supreme Court, when candidates often shy away from revealing too much about his or her political beliefs or possible courses of action once in office; instead, observers are left to read the tea leaves from their backgrounds and experiences.

Here are the eight candidates for the remaining five spots on the PSC after Xi and Li take their anticipated seats, each handicapped by the odds:

Zhang Dejiang (The Firefighter) -- 90%: Although one of the Party's favorite firefighters, Mr. Zhang in fact botched the handling of some of the worst public-relations disasters in China in recent memory, such as the fatal delays in local authorities' reporting of the SARS outbreak in Guangdong during his reign and the widely-criticized rescue efforts in the Wenzhou train collision when he was appointed to lead the rescue operation. It spoke volumes about his political standing when he was tapped to take over the ousted Bo Xilai's post in Chongqing and handle the unsightly aftermath, a clear sign that he is highly trusted by the current leadership, and likely to be rewarded with a promotion to the PSC.

Presented by

Rachel Lu, editor and co-founder of Tea Leaf Nation, spent her childhood in southern China. She is currently based in Hong Kong.  

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