Hu Jintao, Chinese Politburo Member
Mooney, Paul, Newsweek International
Even by the standards of Chinese bureaucrats, Hu Jintao is remarkably faceless. China's vice president has been marked as a man to watch since 1992, when Deng Xiaoping tapped him to become the youngest member of the Politburo's powerful seven-man standing committee at the tender age of 49. But that's precisely the problem: in the arcane and cutthroat world of Chinese politics, No. 2s don't get to be No. 1 by showing how capable they are. They survive more than rise, and Hu has wisely spent most of the past decade keeping a low profile and parroting the wisdom of his boss.
That means the world knows next to nothing about the man slated to take control of the world's most populous nation at one of the most crucial moments in its modern history. Next fall, as five of the standing committee's members step down, Hu will replace Jiang Zemin, 75, as president and head of the Communist Party. (Prime Minister Zhu Ronghi is scheduled to retire in the spring of 2003.) Yet Hu remains an enigma even to longtime Sinologists. "There are a lot of question marks about Hu, and that's the most striking thing we can say about the man," says David Shambaugh, a China specialist at George Washington University.
Like several other top leaders, Hu studied engineering at prestigious Qinghua University. He served as head of the Communist Youth League from 1982 to 1985--where he developed the core of his support--and then as party secretary of remote, backward Guizhou province. His rise is the result of his association with Song Ping, a provincial official he worked under in Gansu. Song later became a party elder in Beijing and brought Hu to the attention of the central leadership.
Hu is best known for his stint as party secretary in Tibet, where he presided over a harsh crackdown on local Buddhists in the late 1980s. Yet even here his role remained opaque: suffering from altitude sickness, he spent little time in Tibet. Recently a conciliatory Dalai Lama said he thought that Hu had never expressed his true opinion of the repression--and that the two men could eventually reach an agreement on Tibet. …