New Chinese Leaders Older and Better Educated Than Predecessors
China's new leadership was rolled out and the official news agency Xinhua saluted them in a puff piece entitled "China's New Helmsmen". It may be reading too much into the title, but Chairman Mao, in his heyday, was referred to as the Great Helmsman.
The collective title and the group photo of the new first-team is intended to convey collective leadership; there will be a team of helmsmen running China rather than one great helmsman.
This is not to say that the new party secretary, soon-to-be President Xi Jinping, will not be the primus inter pares --the first among equals. The Xinhua article gave Xi the most coverage, but it also mentions the accomplishments of other members of the party Standing Committee and Politburo.
Judging by the biographies, the new leadership is older as it begins its 10 year term in office than the team that preceded it. Xi and the new premier Li Keqiang were born in the 1950s, but the other 5 members of the Standing Committee were born in the mid to late 1940s. Given the preponderance of older members, the article takes pains to state that they are not ossified or conservative.
To judge by the article, what characterizes the new leadership is the formative experience of Mao's Cultural Revolution, when they were sent to the countryside to be "reeducated" (quotations original).
The Cultural Revolution was a period of excessive radicalism, when Mao, fearing that the party similar to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was losing its ideological drive and attempting to transform him into an honorary president, turned the tables on the leadership. He encouraged the formation of radical Red Guards and sent the privileged into the countryside to learn from the peasants.
Members of the new elite spent difficult years in exile, but according to the article this may have been a blessing in disguise because it familiarized the new leadership with conditions in the country's interior. It also made them wary of ideological radicalism.
Another common feature of the new leadership is that is more highly educated than the previous leaderships, with a high percentage of PhD's, including the dynamic duo of Xi and Li in the top positions. The picture that emerges at the outset resembles a corporate board of directors rather than ideological radicalism.
We do not know much about the foreign policy preferences of the new leadership. One interesting point is that many in the top leadership had ties with former president Jiang Ze Min (86) who relinquished power in the previous handover, but was seen at the current party congress.
Jiang, in foreign policy, was an advocate of China's "peaceful rise" in other words, China was to gain power under the radar and avoid rocking the boat. The outgoing leadership appeared to disregard this policy and it will be interesting to see whether it will now be reinstated.