Fifth Generation: Who is Yu Zhengsheng?

This is the fourth in a series of posts examining the Chinese leaders expected to be named to the Politburo Standing Committee during the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (中国共产党) that kicked off November 8.  Prior installments on Zhang Gaoli here, Zhang Dejiang here and Liu Yunshan here.

Today, we continue our look at the expected members of the Party’s new Politburo Standing Committee with Yu Zhengsheng (俞正声), currently the Party secretary of Shanghai municipality — where he presided over the citywide expo in 2010 — and a Politburo member since 2002.

Yu’s elevation — if true — to the Standing Committee would seem to be a victory for the conservative elite — he’s a ‘princeling,’ a cautious economic reformer  at best, and close to former leader Deng Xiaoping and former leader Jiang Zemin (江泽民).  With the Congress likely to reduce the number of Standing Committee members from nine to seven, his inclusion would mean the exclusion of the relatively more reformist Party secretary of Guangdong province, Wang Yang (汪洋) and the leader of the Party’s organization department, Li Yuanchao (李源潮) — Wang, and especially Li, are considered protégés of the outgoing general secretary, president and ‘paramount leader,’ Hu Jintao (胡锦涛).

He served as the Party’s minister of construction from 1998 to 2001.

From 2002 to 2007, he was the Party secretary in Hubei province, a province of over 57 million people in central China, home to the Three Gorges Dam.

Cheng Li, director of research and a senior fellow at the John L. Thornton China Center, notes in his profile of Yu his ‘extraordinary family background’:

His grandfather’s brother, Yu Dawei, served as defense minister under Chiang Kai-shek. Yu’s father Huang Jing (Yu Qiwei) was the ex-husband of Jiang Qing, who was later married to Mao Zedong, and Huang served as party secretary and mayor of Tianjin in the early 1950s. Yu Zhengsheng’s brother, Yu Qiangsheng, served as bureau chief of China’s Ministry of State Security and defected to the United States in the mid-1980s.

In particular, his brother’s high-profile defection was for years seen to have dismantled his career, and Yu spent the remainder of the 1980s and much of the 1990s in mid-level positions in Shandong province.

At age 67, this would be the last year Yu would be eligible for membership on the Politburo Standing Committee and, like Zhang Dejiang (张德江) and Zhang Gaoli (张高丽), two other Jiang protégés expected to win seats on the Standing Committee, he would only be eligible to serve one term — so, like the other Zhangs, and also like the 65-year-old Liu Yunshan (刘云山), all four would likely retire at the 2017 National Congress, due to the age limit for those over age 67.

That means that incoming leader  Xi Jinping (习近平) would have an opportunity in five years to remake the Politburo Standing Committee in his own image.  Xi and the expected new premier of China, Li Keqiang (李克强) are expected to run the Party and the parallel Chinese governmental apparatus for the next 10 years.

But as a former engineer who worked as an expert in building ballistic missiles earlier in his career, Yu shares more in common with the engineering-heavy leadership under Hu on its way out at this Congress, not the more broadly educated generation set to emerge this week.

If Yu does make it, it will most likely be at Li’s expense — Li is close to Ling Jihua, a longtime Hu ally, whose own hopes to join the 24-member Politburo have been extinguished by the death of his son, Ling Gu, and a female companion in a high-speed Ferrari crash in March 2012. Ling was subsequently demoted in August 2012.


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