The List

Meet China's Next Leaders

A who's who of the top contenders for the Middle Kingdom's most powerful jobs.

In October 2007, nine of the most powerful men in China walked across a stage in the massive Great Hall of the People, at the closing of the Communist Party's twice-a-decade National Congress. "Once they were assembled, an untrained eye might have had difficulty telling them apart," Financial Times journalist Richard Macgregor writes in his 2010 book The Party about China's communist rulers. "The nine all wore dark suits, and all but one sported a red tie. They all displayed slick, jet-black pompadours, a product of the uniform addiction to regular hair-dyeing of senior Chinese politicians, a habit only broken by retirement or imprisonment."

The nine men's order on the stage announced to the outside world their ranking in the Politburo Standing Committee, the governing body that rules China and seemed to signify the inevitability of their leadership--ignoring the reality of infighting, jockeying, and compromise by the party elites who selected the nine members far away from the public eye. For those watching at home, these nine men with different ideas, personalities, and networks were distinguishable by their distance from the center of power.

If tradition holds, another group of men will again stroll across the stage in October during the 18th National Congress, this time led by Xi Jinping, the man widely expected to replace Hu Jintao, followed by Li Keqiang, whom party watchers expect will replace Wen Jiabao as premier. The next seven spots (or five or six; Hu Jintao is reportedly pushing for a smaller Standing Committee so that he maintains more influence after he steps down) are likely open and fiercely contested by roughly a dozen powerful men -- and one woman. Wang Yang, party secretary of Guangdong, China's most popular province and the subject of a profile in Foreign Policy's latest issue is one contender. The outside world knows little about Wang and the other personalities or their standings in the party elite. "The deals are so complicated," says Cheng Li, an expert on Chinese elite politics at the Brookings Institution. "We don't know the facts involved. We know one hundredth of what [the party elite] knows." With those caveats in mind, here are five people besides Xi and Li whose smiling, stage-managed faces we might see on that red stage in October.

 Wang Qishan

The mayor of Beijing from 2003 to 2007, Wang Qishan is currently the vice premier responsible for economic, energy, and financial affairs, serving under outgoing premier Wen. Wang's former counterpart, former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, called him "decisive and inquisitive," with a "wicked sense of humor." The son-in-law of the late Vice Premier Yao Yilin, Wang is one of the princelings, a group of often high-ranking leaders who are the sons and daughters of top officials. Chinese political observers see princelings like Wang as more closely allied with the leadership faction of former President Jiang Zemin than that of current President Hu Jintao. Brookings' Li thinks Wang, nicknamed "chief of the fire brigade" for his competence amid crisis, is almost certain to obtain a seat on the Standing Committee.

Zhang Gaoli

The party secretary of the metropolis of Tianjin and an economist who formerly worked in the oil industry, Zhang is known as being low-key, even for a Chinese official. In 2011, Tianjin under his stewardship grew at 16.4 percent, the highest rate in China, tied with the metropolis of Chongqing. Zhang is seen as a protégé of Jiang Zemin and Jiang advisor Zeng Qinghong; he is known for his pro-market leanings, having served as party secretary of Shenzhen, China's center of cowboy capitalism, from 1997 to 2001. But if Binhai, the development zone that has driven much of Tianjin's growth, fails under Zhang's stewardship, it could hurt his chances of promotion.

Hu Chunhua

Seen as an ally of Hu Jintao, "Little Hu," as he's known in China (he's unrelated to Hu Jintao) is party secretary of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, a massive, coal-rich area in the country's north. If the 49-year-old Hu does ascend to the Standing Committee, he will be the youngest member and possibly the core of the sixth generation of Chinese Communist Party leaders, a strong contender to replace Xi Jinping as party secretary in 2022. (Hu Jintao was also 49, and the youngest member, when appointed to the Standing Committee in 1992.) Like Hu Jintao, who served as party secretary of Tibet and Guizhou, Hu Chunhua has extensive experience dealing with Chinese minorities, an important qualification given the instability of areas like Tibet and Xinjiang. He spent 23 years in the Tibetan provincial government, and reportedly speaks fluent Tibetan, rare for a Chinese official. For now, Little Hu would likely be one of the lower-ranking members, like Hu Jintao in 1992 (7th) and Xi Jinping in 2007 (6th).

Liu Yandong

Currently the only woman in the 25-member Politburo, the decision-making body a rung down from the Standing Committee, Liu is state councilor, an assistant to China's premier and vice-premiers. She's seen as a protégé of both Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin. She graduated from Hu's alma matter Tsinghua University, and served as his deputy in the Communist Youth League, an organization that Hu ran and is seen as his power base. Liu is a princeling; her father was formerly a vice minister of agriculture and introduced Jiang Zemin's adopted father to the Communist Party in 1927. She would be the first woman in Chinese Communist Party history to make it to the Standing Committee, though Liu, at 66, might be too old. The Politburo has an unofficial retirement age of 68, and Liu's chances could be hurt "if the leadership decides to make this supreme decision-making body younger," writes Li.

Yu Zhengsheng

Shanghai Party Secretary Yu's career has had the most public vicissitudes of any current Chinese leader. In 1985, Yu's brother, the former director of the Beijing National Security Bureau, defected to the United States. Yu, a princeling who reportedly had close ties to the family of former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, managed to salvage his career and spent six years as the party secretary of Hubei province before being appointed to his current position in 2007. But everyone else on this list might have similar skeletons in their closet; the code of silence surrounding the Chinese Communist Party means it's unlikely that that information will ever be made public.

Feng Li/Getty Images

The List

Tortured Reading

From the world's "best" travel guides, selections of the worst history and most contorted politics.

You're all ready for your big, foreign adventure: Bags are packed, tickets purchased, and you've dog-eared that copy of the Lonely Planet to guide you around paradise. But along with helping you find the best beaches and or a gem of a hotel, you might be getting a bit of historical revisionism as well. As Michael Moynihan writes in "Leftist Planet," his article in this month's Foreign Policy, our favorite travel books are a veritable buffet of "factual errors, and a toxic combination of Orientalism and pathological self-loathing."

"There's a formula to them," Moynihan writes. "A pro forma acknowledgement of a lack of democracy and freedom followed by exercises in moral equivalence, various contorted attempts to contextualize authoritarianism or atrocities, and scorching attacks on the U.S. foreign policy that precipitated these defensive and desperate actions." Here's a selection of some of the worst:

"Gora Sekirnaya: Literally 'Hatchet Mountain," Gora Sekirnaya is 10km northwest of the village and is infamous thanks to the torture Alexander Solzhenitsyn alleged took place there in his Gulag Archipelago (though scholars now dispute many of his claims)." - Lonely Planet: Russia and Belarus

"The [Museum of Communism's] politics are a bit simplistic -- the popular postwar support for the [Communist] Party is underplayed -- but it's worth tracking down for the memorabilia alone." - The Rough Guide to Czech Republic

"[Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's* book] Mao: The Untold Story is a massive and well-researched character assassination; indeed, it's hard not to suspect that axes are being ground." - The Rough Guide to Beijing

"The Gaza pullout, despite its vast political significance, was undermined when the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) returned a year later in Operation Summer Rain [sic]." - Lonely Planet: Israel & the Palestinian Territories

"Ahmadinejad was reported as saying Israel should be ‘wiped off the map'. The translation of what he actually said in Farsi has been widely debated, but the message that went out was fairly clear: Iran wants to nuke Israel. Fortunately, about 99% of Iranians - and perhaps even Ahmadinejad himself - don't want this at all." - Lonely Planet: Iran

"‘State sponsor of terrorism': Another old chestnut - Iran has long been accused of establishing and funding Palestinian ‘terror' groups Hezbollah and Hamas." - Lonely Planet: Iran

"Reforms by the young president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, may not have been as wide-ranging as many might have hoped, but there is certainly a feeling of optimism in the capital. Culture and tourism are high on the agenda and Damascus has responded with a flurry of art gallery and hotel openings (including the long-awaited Four Seasons)." - Lonely Planet: Syria

"Owned by faceless multimedia conglomerates, the majority of California's radio stations won't tell you anything particularly useful or insightful about the state - unless you're a fan of zealous political ranting, round-the-clock sports coverage or, more helpfully, traffic reports. It's best to skip most specialty stations on the AM frequency - although AM chat shows, with their often angry callers and hosts can be hilarious and illuminating, if not in the intended sense." - Rough Guide to the United States

"Svay Rieng Province: During the Vietnam War, American forces were convinced that this was where the Vietnamese communists' version of the Pentagon was situated. While there were undoubtedly a lot of Vietnamese communists hiding in Cambodia during much of the war, there was no such thing as a Pentagon." - Lonely Planet: Cambodia

"Syria was the original suspect [in the Lockerbie bombing]. But when Syria supported the Allies in the Gulf War against Iraq, suspicion suddenly shifted to Libya. One of the most credible theories was that the bombing had been ordered by Iran in retaliation for the shooting down of an Iran Air airbus by a US warship in the Persian Gulf on 3 July 1988." - Lonely Planet: Libya

"Soon after coming to power, Libya's revolutionary government decided that Libya was to be transformed into a modern nation. As part of this goal, entire communities were moved from Saharan oases into often custom-built accommodation, encouraged by free, modern housing with electricity, air-conditioning and integrated sewage systems." - Lonely Planet: Libya

"Cuba's Olympians are living proof that success at sport is not just about sponsorship, equipment and million-dollar contracts" - Lonely Planet: Havana

"Such uniqueness is a vanishing commodity in an increasingly globalized world. Grab it while it's still there." - Lonely Planet: Cuba

"So there was a way into the land on the edge of the world, that small pocket of mountains that the Western press was forever wailing to be a worry and a menace, this secretive, hermetic state referred to as Stalinist on good days, that final bastion of high ideals and base deeds." - Bradt: North Korea

"The village of Panmunjom sits bang in the middle of the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea. You'll see much the same from the north as the south, but with the propaganda reversed -- all of a sudden it was the US Army that started the Korean War and Kim Il-sung who won it. Interestingly, many visitors note that the cant is just as strong on the American [sic] side (though usually more balanced)." - Rough Guide to Korea

"Few people's historical legacy is simultaneously greater and more uncertain than that of Iosif Jughashvili, the Gori cobbler's son who went on to rule the largest country on earth for a quarter of a century. Few would question his achievements: were it not for the Soviet role in WWII, Nazi Germany would probably have won, and in the space of a decade he turned the Soviet Union from a peasant economy into a vast industrial powerhouse.... Yet the suffering of millions cannot be forgotten.... In a country [Georgia] that is still recovering from post-Soviet chaos, and where many still do not reap much material benefit from capitalism, it's perhaps not surprising that some still say they would like to see another Stalin in charge." - Lonely Planet: Georgia, Armenia, & Azerbaijan

*Correction, Aug. 13, 2012: The original version misspelled the authors' names. 

Kevin Jaako via Flicker