Hu Jintao:  Since the conclusion of the phased transfer of power between Jiang Zemin and Hu in September 2004, the president has adopted a somewhat more conservative posture than his predecessor on economic issues, while rejecting the sharp rollback of market reforms demanded by the CCP’s hard-line faction.  Hu has used an anti-corruption drive to dislodge Jiang’s loyalists in the so-called “Shanghai faction” from key positions, and has further bolstered his position through personnel changes carried out at the CCP congress in 2007.

Wen Jiabao:  Wen is the third-ranking member of the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) elected in November 2002, and succeeded his mentor, Zhu Rongji, as prime minister in March 2003.  Like the president, Wen received his political education in China’s vast interior as a provincial official, making him an ideal partner to help Hu advance his populist agenda.

Xi Jinping:  The former party secretary for Shanghai replaced Zeng Qinghong as vice president in March 2008, and is the front-runner to succeed Hu as president when his term ends in 2013.  Xi is the son of a former vice prime minister who has spent much of his life in China’s coastal urban centers, and as such tends to place highest priority on China’s international standing and the further liberalization of the economy.

Li Keqiang:  The former party secretary for Liaoning, Li was elevated to the post of vice premier in the State Council in March 2008.  A product of the rural west and a man of humble origins, Li places highest priority on boosting the living standards of a rural population that has not enjoyed the benefits of the market reforms implemented since the 1980s.  As a potential contender to succeed President Hu, Li is expected to compete with Vice President Xi within the CCP hierarchy, a prospect that could complicate the transfer of power when Hu steps down in 2013.

Conservatives:  While willing to tolerate a freer market, this element of the party seeks a more activist economic role for the state and opposes rapid or far-reaching privatization. The influence of the conservatives has been diluted by Jiang’s success in solidifying the control of pragmatist allies over the main institutions of power within the party and the government, but this check has been weakened under Hu, whose own inclinations are more sympathetic to the position of the hard-liners that was the case with Jiang.