According to Beijing-based sources, the titles and functions of the seven top leaders have already been confirmed. Xi, "first among equals" in the Standing Committee, will become general secretary (and in March, state president). Li will become premier. Zhang, who will be ranked third, will chair the National People's Congress, China's rubber-stamp legislature. Yu will be named chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, China's top advisory council. Liu will be named head of the Central Committee Secretariat and, later, possibly also state vice president. Zhang Gaoli will become executive vice premier (who helps run the economy) and CCDI secretary will go to Wang.
That long-retired Standing Committee members are making a phenomenal comeback this year has spawned a kind of geriatric politics with Chinese characteristics. Like former leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping before them, octogenarians such as Jiang -- who officially retired eight years ago -- have refused to fade into the sunset. The 86-year-old Jiang suffered a series of heart ailments last year; premature announcements of his death appeared in several Hong Kong and Japanese media in mid-2011. In the past several months, however, Jiang has not only experienced an amazing recovery but also made several high-profile appearances in the mass media. He showed up at a concert at Beijing's National Center for the Performing Arts in late September. In October, he met with representatives of Shanghai Ocean University. And an October article in People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, extolled Jiang's extraordinary memory to testify to his intellectual capabilities: Jiang can reportedly still recite the lyrics of an old pop song, "Moonlight and Shadows."
The sudden preponderance of octogenarians such as Jiang has meant that two relatively liberal cadres favored by Hu have likely failed to make the Standing Committee: Wang Yang, the charismatic party secretary of Guangdong, 57; and Li Yuanchao, the reform-minded director of the Communist Party's powerful Organization Department, 62.
A few of the incoming Standing Committee members, moreover, are ultraconservatives. Veteran propaganda chief Liu Yunshan tightened up media and Internet censorship in the past decade; Zhang Dejiang, a graduate of Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang, was the only senior cadre to have opposed the reform Jiang introduced in 2001 to allow private businessmen to join the party.
The consolation for Hu is that like Jiang he may remain chairman of the Central Military Commission -- China's equivalent of commander in chief of the armed forces -- for at least two more years beyond his retirement from his other party posts at the congress. Hu's residual clout in the People's Liberation Army is reflected in a series of just-announced military appointments. The new chief of the general staff, Gen. Fang Fenghui, and the director of the General Political Department, Gen. Zhang Yang, are considered to be Hu's protégés.
If Hu keeps the top military spot, Xi might not assume real power until 2014 or 2015. This combination of factors, along with Xi's apparently risk-averse personality, means that Xi's leadership priority will likely be maintaining the Communist Party's monopoly on power, silencing dissent, and sustaining economic growth and employment instead of hacking out new paths for political and economic reforms.
It is possible that many of the 2,270 delegates might not be too happy about the continuation of rule of man at the expense of rule of law. Because all important deliberations of the congress will be behind closed doors, however, any show of dissent among the deputies will not see the light of day.
After all, the unprecedentedly tight web of security that China's formidable state-security apparatus has spun around the 18th party congress is as much to ensure that trouble -- what the party calls "disharmonious voices" -- does not break out within the West Beijing Hotel as without.