Today, Li appears more at ease in small groups than in public. Businesspeople and academics say they have been impressed with his diligent studies of policy.
After a decade in power, Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) have retired from their party posts and will step down from the presidency and premiership respectively next year.
Li’s ascent marks an extraordinary rise for a man who, as a youth, worked on a commune in Anhui Province’s Fengyang County — notoriously poor even for Mao’s time and one of the first places to quietly revive private bonuses in farming in the late 1970s. By the time he left, Li was a party member and secretary of his production brigade.
In spite of his liberal past, Li’s elevation is unlikely to bring much change on the political front, where reforms would require more unified support for any serious change.