Power transition of New China

Mao Zedong 毛泽东

The People's Republic of China was established on October 1, 1949. Mao Zedong governed the country as Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) until his death in 1976. Politically a Marxist-Leninist, his theoretical contribution to the ideology along with his military strategies and brand of policies are collectively known as Maoism.

Mao and other Communist leaders set out to reshape Chinese society. Industry came under state ownership and China's farmers began to be organized into collectives. The Chinese initially received significant help from the Soviet Union.

In 1958, in an attempt to introduce a more Chinese form of communism, Mao launched the 'Great Leap Forward'. This aimed at mass mobilization of labor to improve agricultural and industrial production.

In 1966, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution, aiming to purge the country of impure elements and revive the revolutionary spirit.

Mao appeared victorious, but his health was deteriorating. His later years saw attempts to build bridges with the United States, Japan and Europe. In 1972, US President Richard Nixon visited China and met Mao.

Mao died in 1976.

The Gang of Four 四人帮

The Gang of Four was the name given to a political faction composed of four Chinese Communist Party officials. They came to prominence during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and were subsequently charged with a series of treasonous crimes. The members consisted of Mao Zedong's last wife Jiang Qing, the leading figure of the group, and her close associates Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwen.

The Gang of Four effectively controlled the power organs of the Communist Party of China through the latter stage of the Cultural Revolution.

The Gang of Four, together with disgraced Communist general Lin Biao, were labeled the two major "counter-revolutionary forces" of the Cultural Revolution and officially blamed by the Chinese government for the worst excesses of the societal chaos that ensued during the ten years of turmoil. Their downfall in a coup d'état on October 6, 1976, a mere month after Mao's death, brought about major celebrations on the streets of Beijing and marked the end of a turbulent political era in China.

Hua Guofeng 华国锋

Hua Guofeng was the premier of the People's Republic of China from 1976 to 1980 and the chairman of the CPC from 1976 to 1981.

Hua was a strong supporter of Mao in the Great Leap Forward (1958–1960). By late 1970 Hua had become the top man in Hunan province. He became a member of the State Council in 1971 and was later listed a member of the Politburo of the CPC in 1973 and moved to Beijing, where he was named vice premier in 1975.

After the death of Premier Zhou Enlai in January 1976, Hua was named acting premier. Hua became Chairman of the CPC after the death of Mao in September 1976. Known as an ideologically flexible leader, Hua had no strong ties either to the Maoist radicals or to Deng Xiaoping and the other pragmatists within the Communist Party. Although his unexpected rise to power had been seen as a compromise between the party factions led respectively by the Gang of Four and Deng Xiaoping, Hua ordered the arrest of the Gang of Four just days after Mao’s death. In 1980 Hua resigned the premiership to Zhao Ziyang, a follower of Deng. In June 1981 Hua was replaced as party chairman by Hu Yaobang, also a Deng supporter. Hua remained a member of the Central Committee of the CPC until he resigned in 2002.

Zhao Ziyang 赵紫阳

Zhao Ziyang, former General Secretary of the CPC and a follower of Deng Xiaoping, was considered as one of the most reform-minded leaders in the 1980s. When Deng was persecuted as a "capitalist roader" during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Zhao suffered a similar fate. This was not only due to his ties with Deng, but also because his rural reforms were considered to be too much capitalistic. After his rehabilitation by Zhou Enlai in 1973, he resumed his climb through the ranks.

By experimenting with "responsibility systems" in agriculture, Zhao became known as a reformer. Other elements of the reform package that Zhao developed and Deng adopted were the policies of coastal development and price and industrial reforms. In 1980, he was made Premier of the State Council, and strongly supported policies to increase the role of the market and to separate Party and State.

In 1987, he replaced Hu Yaobang as General Secretary of the CPC. This greatly diminished his influence on the process of political and economic reforms although it enabled him to develop his theory that China was only in a primary stage of socialism, on the basis of which a wide variety of experiments in the economy and political sphere were possible.

Hu Yaobang 胡耀邦

Hu Yaobang was considered the most reform-minded member of the post-Mao leadership.

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, he followed Deng Xiaoping to Beijing, where he became the head of the Communist Youth League. When Deng was purged in 1966, Hu shared the same fate. When Deng was restored to power in 1973-1976, Hu reappeared. The pattern was repeated in 1976-1977.

After Deng's Four Modernization policy was adopted in 1978, Hu was named to the Politburo and made head of the organization and propaganda departments of the party. In 1982, he replaced Hua Guofeng as Party General Secretary.

Hu's position as Party General Secretary was taken by Zhao Ziyang, who continued many of Hu's economic and political reforms.

Deng Xiaoping 邓小平

In 1966, Deng Xiaoping became the major target of struggle during the Cultural Revolution. Deng was prosecuted by Red Guards, lost all his positions and was sent into internal exile.

In early 1973, Deng was rehabilitated at Mao's suggestion and with strong support from Zhou Enlai. A year later, he re-entered the Politburo.

Deng's excellent connections in the Army, Party and State bureaucracy enabled him to resume work once the Cultural Revolution had ended. He succeeded in having adopted his plans for the urgent modernization of the economy in December 1978. This strategy, the Four Modernizations (of agriculture, industry, national defense and science & technology) was based on a blueprint that he and Zhou Enlai had drawn up in the early 1970s. As a result, Deng is widely seen as the "Chief Architect" of the Chinese economic reforms.

On the basis of Mao's dictum "seek truth from facts" that Deng propagated, a new pragmatism could take root in Chinese politics. With the "One Country, Two Systems" principle that he formulated, China was able to resume sovereignty over Hong Kong (1997) and Macao (1999). The same principle is also applied when reunification with Taiwan is proposed.

In November 1992, Deng became dissatisfied with the slow and cautious pace of economic reform that was advocated by conservative leaders such as Li Peng and Yao Yilin. To show his displeasure, he made an inspection tour of the South, the most advanced and prosperous provinces and regions. From that moment on, China's economic development exploded, leading to double-digit growth for much of the 1990s.

Jiang Zemin 江泽民

Being involved with the creation of the Special Economic Zones in the South, Jiang Zemin was seen as part of the group of reformers allied with Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang. In 1982, he joined the CPC Central Committee.

In 1985, Jiang was made mayor of Shanghai. Although not very popular with the population, he impressed many foreign business people and politicians with his plans for economic reconstruction. After his elevation to the Politburo in 1987, he concurrently served as Party Secretary of Shanghai, while the more popular Zhu Rongji replaced him as mayor.

Jiang was picked by Deng Xiaoping to replace Zhao Ziyang as CPC General Secretary in the days preceding the Tiananmen Incident in June 1989.

In 1994, Jiang was officially confirmed as Deng's successor. In that capacity, he added the positions of President of the People's Republic and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces to his résumé. When Deng died in February 1997, Jiang was catapulted into the limelight. He made a lasting impression with his tearful funeral oration at Deng's casket, pledging to persevere in his predecessor's footsteps; and he presided over the Hong Kong Handover in July of that year. Moreover, he has been advocating the inclusion of "Deng Xiaoping Theory" in the canon.

Jiang's political stature has increased significantly as a result of a number of recent developments. First, Jiang reaped the credits for the return of Macao to Chinese sovereignty (1999). Secondly, he presided over China's accession to the World Trade Organization (2001-2002). Moreover, during his reign, the People’s Republic of China was picked to host the Olympic Games in 2008. At the same time, Jiang has been actively working on his own contribution to China's ideological complex. In 2000, his theory of the "three represents" was first presented. The theory focuses on the future role of the CPC as "a faithful representative of the requirements in the development of advanced productive forces in China, the orientation of the advanced culture in China, and the fundamental interests of the broadest masses of the people in China."

Hu Jintao 胡锦涛

Hu Jintao became General Secretary of the CPC from 2002 and President of the People’s Republic of China from 2003.

At the 1992 CPC Congress, Hu was appointed a member of the Secretariat of the CPC Central Committee, a key post that enabled him to establish networks throughout the party. In 1998 he was elected Vice President of the People’s Republic of China, and the following year he became Vice Chairman of the CPC Central Military Commission. By 2002 Hu had emerged as the heir apparent to President Jiang Zemin, and in November of that year he succeeded Jiang as General Secretary of the CPC. In March 2003 Hu was elected President of the People’s Republic of China by the National People’s Congress. He consolidated his power in September 2004 when he was named head of the Central Military Commission following Jiang’s resignation.

Political observers indicate that Hu has distinguished himself from his predecessor in both domestic and foreign policy. Hu's political philosophy during his leadership is summarized by three slogans — a "Harmonious Society" domestically and "Peaceful Development" internationally, the former aided by the Scientific Development Concept, which seeks integrated sets of solutions to arrays of economic, environmental and social problems, and recognizes, in inner circles, a need for cautious and gradual political reforms. The Scientific Development doctrine has been written into the Communist Party and State Constitutions in 2007 and 2008, respectively. The role of the Party has changed, as formulated by Deng Xiaoping and implemented by Jiang Zemin, from a revolutionary party to a ruling party. Hu continues the Party’s modernization, calling for both "Advancement" of the Party and its increasing transparency in governance.

In response to the great number of social problems in China, in March 2006, Hu released the "Eight Honors and Eight Shames" as a set of moral codes to be followed by the Chinese people, and emphasized the need to spread the message to youth. Alternatively known as the "Eight Honors and Disgraces", it contained eight poetic lines which summarized what a good citizen should regard as an honor and what to regard as a shame. It has been widely regarded as one of Hu's ideological solutions to the perceived increasing lack of morality in China after Chinese economic reforms brought in a generation of Chinese predominantly concerned with earning money and power in an increasingly frail social fabric.

Wen Jiabao 温家宝

In March 2003 Wen Jiabao was formally approved as the new premier of the People’s Republic of China, succeeding Zhu Rongji. His experience in shaping agricultural policy, in particular, was believed to have helped his bid for the premiership, as one of the immediate priorities for China was revitalizing its lagging rural economy. As premier, Wen was also entrusted with restructuring China’s heavily indebted banking system and continuing to reform its state-owned enterprises to make them more globally competitive. In May 2008, shortly after Wen began his second term as premier, a massive earthquake struck Sichuan province in southwestern China, leaving tens of thousands of people dead. Wen helped direct relief efforts after the quake and served as the government’s public face of compassion and leadership in the wake of the tragedy. Later in his second term, Wen began to publicly advocate reforms of the Chinese political system, including increased democratic participation by citizens.

Wen has been described as a populist by most observers. His quick responses and visits to the scenes of various disasters, including the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, has earned him a considerable reputation as an approachable leader in touch with the experiences of the masses. Wen engages regularly with locals on his trips to various Chinese provinces as well as foreign visits; he played baseball and badminton with Japanese and South Korean citizens during visits to those countries. "Whether taking a stroll or swimming, it puts me at ease both mentally and physically and helps me handle my heavy workload," Wen had remarked.

Xi Jinping 习近平

Xi Jinping, born 1 June 1953, currently serves as the top-ranked member of the Central Secretariat of the Communist Party of China, the country's Vice President, Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission, President of the Central Party School and the 6th ranked member of the CPC Politburo Standing Committee.

Mr Xi studied chemical engineering at Tsinghua University before joining the Communist Party in 1974. He worked in Hebei, Fujian and Zhejiang provinces, before being named Shanghai party chief in 2007 and tasked with cleaning up a corruption scandal.

Son of communist veteran Xi Zhongxun, Xi Jinping served mostly in Fujian province in his early career. He was later appointed party chief of the neighboring Zhejiang province, and then was appointed as Shanghai's party chief following the dismissal of Chen Liangyu. Known for his tough stance on corruption and a frank openness about political and market economy reforms.

To many inside China, Mr Xi is less famous than his wife, folk singer Peng Liyuan. Their daughter is reportedly studying at Harvard.

Li Keqiang 李克强

Li Keqiang, born 1 July 1955, is the First ranked Vice-Premier and deputy party secretary of the State Council of China, the seventh ranked member of the CPC Politburo Standing Committee. As Premier Wen Jiabao's top lieutenant, Li's official portfolio includes economic development, price controls, finance, climate change, and macroeconomic management.

Li has a reputation for caring about China's less well-off, perhaps a result of a modest upbringing. Born in Anhui Province, Mr Li reportedly rejected his father's offer of a local party career, enrolling instead at Beijing's prestigious Peking University to study law.

Li rose through the ranks of the Communist Youth League. From 1998 to 2004, Li served as the Governor of Henan and the province's CPC party chief, and then the Liaoning party chief, an office that made him first-in-charge in that province.


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