Image Source: Colors Magazine
By Shen Nianzu (沈念祖)
Issue 581, August 6, 2012
Nation, page 14
Translated by Laura Lin
Original article: [Chinese]
Asking a Chinese official their age is starting to become even more sensitive than asking a woman the same question.
Recently, Zhou Li (周黎), a professor at Peking University, likened Chinese officials' clambering up their career ladders to "participating in a championship," as everyone vies to get ahead.
Within this context, the government's age requirement for official jobs has progressively been lowered, while positions at each level of the hierarchy have a maximum age restriction.
If one hasn't been promoted by a certain age, then their career is doomed to stagnate forever.
A Young Generation of Local Leaders
Of all the criteria for selecting officials, age, as the only quantifiable indicator that can be applied to all candidates, is starting to come under more scrutiny. "Age has become a rigid lever," said Xin Xiangyang (辛向阳), a researcher at the Marxism school of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
For instance, according to this reporter's calculation, the average age of the 404 people who have just been elected members of the various provincial and municipal Communist Party Committees is 54.83 years. This basically implies that not only did they start their careers early and avoided committing any errors in the last 35 years or so, but that they have also managed to stay ahead of their counterparts by 5 to 10 years at each level of the hierarchy.
Members of the provincial-level CPC standing committees in the six western regions of China - which include the autonomous regions of Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia where minority populations are concentrated - have a somewhat lower average age of 53.13 years.
"This is because the CPC Central Committee sends young officials to the west to get experience. As the differences between the west and the east are so obvious, at the provincial level, a party committee official has to have a global awareness and grasp the national situation," said Chen Xuewei (陈雪薇), a professor at China's Central Party School.
Wang Liping (王利平), a professor at Fujian Provincial Committee Party School, also pointed out that as China's east coast led the way with "Reform and Opening Up" policies, officials in these areas are likely to be more stable. It's not easy for younger officials to stand out, whereas out in the west - where reforms are needed - reform-minded young people can push them forward.
In its five-year plan guideline published at the end of 2009, called "The Building of National Party Leadership," the CPC Central Committee has made specific demands with regards to the age of provincial party secretaries and local leaders.
The echelon of officials around 55-years old is the main body and is to be maintained whereas there should be 3-4 officials who are under 48-years old. The number of officials around 50 years old is also to be increased.
Following the guideline, 277 of the 404 newly elected provincial party committees members were born after 1950 and make up a dominant 69 percent of the total. The 119 officials born after 1960 account for another 29 percent.
Early Birds Get the Worm
Of the 31 provincial-level party secretaries in China, only three were born after 1960. The Party Secretary of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Hu Chunhua (胡春华), and the Party Secretary of Jilin Province, Sun Zhengcai (孙政才), are the youngest and most closely watched.
Hu Chunhua is referred to by the media as "little Hu" for the similarities in his career profile to current President Hu Jintao. He has set various age records in his posts. He was the youngest department-level official to serve as Secretary of the Tibet Communist Youth League. He ascended to be the First Secretary of the Communist Youth League in 2006 when he was 43 years old and became the youngest ministerial-level official. Posts in Tibet and the central Communist Youth League at a very young age were his best political capital.
Sun Zhengcai, like Hu Chunhua was born in 1963, and is another of China's rising political stars. Sun became the youngest minister in the cabinet when he was appointed head of the Ministry of Agriculture in 2006. Some media hailed him as a dark horse of the new generation.
In his thesis "Age Advantage in the Promotion of Provincial-level Officials," Chen Po, a student of Political Science at Chicago University, concluded that it's not actually the more experienced who are most likely to be promoted.
"The eldest group has a 70 percent chance of retiring and, in essence, belongs to the pension group,” he says. “As a matter of fact, often the younger the person, the greater his chance for advancement."
According to Chen Po's analysis of data from the past 20 years, though the provincial party committee secretaries have an average age of 57.2, the ones who eventually ascend to the Politburo are much younger, on average 54.75 years.
“Making an exception” and “One size fits all”
The CPC central committee's younger and younger age requirement is affecting the strategy of local party committees in promoting their officials. In certain places, the operations have become mechanical and simplified. In short, due to the demand of meeting a rigid age structure, some party committees are obliged to promote the less qualified.
Zeng Yuping (曾玉平), the former CPC party secretary of Yicheng City in Hubei Province, shared his thoughts on the drawbacks of this phenomenon. "To a certain extent, officials' passion for their work largely depends on the age limit of their posts. If the provision says that one doesn't have to withdraw from a leadership post until you are 60 years old, one would still possesses passion at 55. But if the provision says that one has to withdraw from a leadership post at 50, one would probably have lost one's passion by the time you are 48."
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