Yet, through careful cultivation of Hu, he nimbly climbed the political ladder. Like other ambitious politicians who come from more humble backgrounds, he forged patron links to Hu after joining the Chinese Communist Youth League.
“In China, if I promote you, then on major issues you’re supposed to heed me,” one former official and Youth League member said. “I’ve seen it myself. When people make decisions now, people don’t refer to principles or ideals, but to what will benefit their boss.”
In theory, the Chinese Communist Party has a performance-based evaluation system that determines which officials are qualified for promotion. Those include targets on economic growth, extinguishing potential protests and population control for the territories under their watch.
However, a study by three scholars, published in February in American Political Science Review, found that patronage networks were more important than performance measures. Most surprising was that even meeting the target for economic growth paled in importance next to patron-client ties.
The authors wrote that cadre management institutions “delivered promotions to followers of senior party leaders” and that there was “no relationship between growth performance and party ranking, and a strong relationship between factional ties and rank.”
The overwhelming dominance of ethnic Han men in the party’s upper levels also undermines the argument that the cream rises to the top, regardless of gender, ethnicity or family background. Of the 205 full members of the new Central Committee, only 5 percent are women. The 25-member politburo did double its female representation, though — by going from one to two women.