ASKED what they think of Lu Hao, their governor, residents of Harbin, capital of the north-eastern province of Heilongjiang, often reply with the word xiaozi. This roughly translates as “young whippersnapper”.
Mr Lu’s youthfulness is indeed striking. Born in 1967, he is the youngest of China’s current provincial governors. He was also the youngest to hold most of his previous positions. Those include factory boss at a large state-owned enterprise, deputy mayor of Beijing and leader of the Communist Youth League, an important training ground for many a national leader.
China’s system of political succession produces occasional surprises, such as the purge three years ago of another provincial leader, Bo Xilai, on the eve of what appeared to be his likely elevation to the pinnacle of power, the Politburo Standing Committee, alongside Xi Jinping, who is now president. But at least since the Communist Party began institutionalising succession arrangements in the 1990s, high-flyers have often been easy to spot. Mr Lu is one of them.
His stint at the youth league was of greatest portent. The organisation is something like an American fraternity club (without the misbehaviour)—its members form close ties which are often maintained in their later careers. Its leaders have a tendency to move into high national office. Hu Yaobang, a party chief in the 1980s, grew to prominence in the league, as did Hu Jintao, Mr Xi’s predecessor. Li Keqiang, the current prime minister, is also an ex-head of the league. Mr Lu’s stint in that role from 2008-13 made him an obvious rising star. His subsequent promotion to a provincial governorship confirmed this impression.
Youth is on his side. The next rung on the ladder to the top may be induction into the 25-member Politburo, possibly as early as 2017. But it will not be until around the time of the party’s 20th congress in 2022—a year after its 100th birthday—that Mr Xi will retire and Mr Lu will have a chance to shine, likely as one of the (now seven) members of the Standing Committee. He will then be 55, a year older than Mr Xi was when he joined the body in 2007. That would give Mr Lu a good few years at the top: Standing Committee members are expected to retire around 70. He would be a member of what party officials already call the “sixth generation” of Communist leaders (the first having been led by Mao Zedong, Mr Xi representing the fifth).
There are several other likely members of the upcoming generation. They include Hu Chunhua, Mr Lu’s predecessor as head of the youth league who is now the party boss of the southern province of Guangdong; and Sun Zhengcai, the party chief of Chongqing, a south-western region. One rising star has already fallen, however. Su Shulin was thought to have bright prospects until he was removed as governor of coastal Fujian province after being snared in a corruption investigation in October.
China’s media often drop hints of who to watch. Mr Lu’s appointment as Heilongjiang’s governor (a few months after he became the youngest full member of the party’s 370-strong Central Committee) was accompanied by a flurry of celebratory articles in the party’s main mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, and other newspapers. They emphasised Mr Lu’s youth, impeccable work ethic and solid record of excellent performance in his previous jobs.
Source: The north star | The Economist