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China Watch: How Many Good Emperors in a Row Can an Authoritarian System Produce?

The record is five, in the Roman Empire in the second century: Marcus Cocceius Nerva, Marcus Ulpius Traianus, Publius Ælius Hadrianus, Titus Aurelius Fulvus Boionius Arrius Antoninus, and Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.

Geoff Dyer on the Beijing Succession:

FT.com / FT Magazine - Who will be China’s next leaders?: Next year, China will start a leadership transition, which will give the country a new president in place of Hu Jintao, who is also the head of the party and the military, and a new premier to replace Wen Jiabao, who runs the day-to-day business of the government. In 2007, a key party meeting in effect chose the next leadership team, when Xi -Jinping (pronounced Shee Jin-ping) and Li Keqiang (pronounced Lee Ke-chiang) were both promoted to the country’s top body, the nine-man Politburo Standing Committee. Xi, now aged 57, became vice--president and 55-year-old Li one of four vice-premiers (the most senior, with responsibility for the economy, climate change, health and the environment), giving both five years to play understudy to their bosses.

The names of the next leaders may already be pencilled in, but the easiest way for them to sabotage their promotion would be to start ­discussing bold ideas now. Instead, they have to spend five years in a form of political purdah, going out of their way to avoid controversial topics. As a result, little is known of their views about many of the big issues that China faces – how to keep the economic boom going, how to manage ties with the US and, perhaps most important of all, whether the Communist party should maintain its iron grip on the country’s political system. Politics in China is often expressed through coded gestures, rather than bold statements, which makes their visits to the family home of Hu Yaobang so symbolic. Were China’s next leaders behaving as dutiful party members, paying respect to a senior comrade in a system that values displays of loyalty, or are they secret liberal sympathisers who are waiting for the right moment to restart the debate about political reform that died in Tiananmen?

There is always an element of wishful thinking to such discussions. For the past two decades, -western observers and governments have projected these questions on to leadership changes, in the hope of finding the new Chinese Gorbachev figure, one who has yet to appear. Yet this is not just a change in leadership but a shift in generations. The stolid engineers who dominate senior positions in China today will be replaced by a group who -studied law, economics and, in a few cases, journalism, and who came of age during the 1980s, a time when China was assailed by western ideas and influences after the intellectual deep freeze of the Mao years. It will be a new era...

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