After months of tenuous purges, endless political jockeying, and (often erroneous) Western media speculation, the seven men who will lead China for the next five years (and in some cases, the next decade) formally introduced themselves to world on Thursday just before noon local time. Their presence on the stage of the Great Hall of the People formally brought to a close an important era in China’s history: the Deng Xiaoping era. Since being brought back from his second exile in 1978, two years after Mao’s death and the arrest of the Gang of Four, Deng (and the Eight Immortals) has towered over China, first during Deng’s own rule that saw sweeping changes that lifted millions of Chinese citizens out of poverty and modernized the country, and later through Deng’s hand-chosen successors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.
Not unlike Deng’s return to power, China’s new leaders, largely ‘princelings’ whose formative experience was the Cultural Revolution– in which many of them first participated in and soon became victims of—take the reins of power at a time when China is facing enormous challenges. Compared with their nine predecessors, the seven men who now serve atop the CCP’s Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) are older, less-scientific, more conservative, and heavily weighted towards the Shanghai faction in China’s elite politics that is often associated with former President Jiang Zemin, who boldly reasserted himself into Communist Party decision-making in the months preceding the unveiling of the PSC members. Additionally, the PSC’s first-among-equals, Xi Jinping, appears to be far more charismatic than the man he replaces, a much welcome change for China followers both inside and outside the country.
The new leadership faces a host of pressing challenges, including: an increasingly politically conscious and activist public, armed with far more information than their parents thanks to new social media platforms; a slowing economy suffering from growing debt, weak global demand, official corruption, low domestic consumption, rising labor costs, and over centralization that is largely the result of too-big-to-fail but too-politically-powerful to easily break-up State-Owned Enterprises (SEO); and increasingly strained relationships with China’s neighbors and the United States.
Without further ado, here are the seven men charged with tackling these challenges and many others, introduced according to their rank in the Party hierarchy: