Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang are 59 and 57 respectively. First, the other five members of the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC), all male, are all 64 or older. They will all have to retire in 2017 under current rules, which do not allow reappointment to the Politburo of anyone 68 or older. Hu Jintao made it directly from the currently 205-member Central Committee to the PBSC at the 14th Congress and was elevated to the CCP Chairmanship (and Chinese Presidency) at the 16th Congress, but all other PBSC members appointed at the 16th, 17th, and 18th Congresses first became Politburo members before their next promotion. Second, only two women made the 25-member (including the 7 PBSC members) Politburo and they are 67 and 62. One will be gone in 2017, the other in 2022 under current rules. Put these two sets of facts together—the loosely used buzzwords currently in vogue among financial types and their minders appear to be “data points”—and it’s a good bet that the next pair of top leaders will be two male Politburo members 52 or younger who will be promoted to the PBSC at the 19th Congress. Only two men fit this description: Sun Zhengcai and Hu Chunhua, both 49. All the others are scattered between 67 and the mid-fifties.
Sun is an agricultural scientist by training—unlike Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao, Xi and Li, he actually served as a cabinet minister, for agriculture—while Hu majored in literature and the Chinese language and appears to have made his mark as a propagandist. Both, like the four current and immediately preceding leaders, appear to have lived all their lives in China, way too late for training or education in the Soviet Union and a little too early for Western schools.*
Of course things could change. It’s not against the laws of physics to bump someone up from the Central Committee directly to the Standing Committee at the 19th Congress, then appoint that person party president or prime minister at the 20th. And there’s no Chinese law—not that this would be a problem if you catch my drift—that says that person cannot be a woman. They might decide to appoint a one-term president or prime minister, which would make the Standing Committee members between 53 and 57 also selectable. The retirement age may be raised. Scandals happen, and people die. And political cataclysm may blow the best laid succession plans to smithereens. These are all unlikely turn of events. But stranger things have happened, not least in China. So I’m going to stay tuned.
* Actually, I assume that an Ivy League diploma is still a negative for political advancement unless you intend to make your mark as a technocrat, a route that probably has a bamboo ceiling.