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China's 5th generation comes of age

By Willy Wo-Lap Lam
CNN Senior China Analyst

The 16th Party Congress last November rejected a proposal to induct Li Keqiang into the Politburo

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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- The Fifth Generation of Chinese leadership has come of age with the appointment of Li Keqiang as the Communist party secretary of Henan, the country's most populous province.

Li, 47, is the highest ranked cadre of the Fifth Generation, usually a reference to officials aged from the late 30s to the late 40s.

There are already several cadres in the same age group who have attained ministerial status.

They include Zhao Leji, 45, the Governor of remote Qinghai Province, and the party secretary of the Communist Youth League (CYL) Zhou Qiang, 42.

However, given the importance of Henan, Li's appointment, announced in the state press on Tuesday, is the first indication that Fifth Generation cadres have begun to hit the big time.

Official biographies say that Li, who has a doctorate in economics from prestigious Peking University, spent the bulk of his career in the CYL.

After having been chief of the league's party committee for five years, Li was transferred to Henan Province as vice-governor in 1998.

Political sources in Beijing say Li owes his meteoric rise to the patronage of party General Secretary Hu Jintao, who is also a former CYL administrator.

The sources said Hu had originally wanted Li to be inducted into the Politburo at last November's 16th Party Congress as a representative of the Fifth Generation.

However, his proposal was reportedly shot down by members of the party's dominant Shanghai Faction.

Liberal reputation

The sources added that quite a large number of Fifth Generation rising stars had ties to the League, whose members usually have a liberal reputation.

The other major component of Fifth Generation officials are returnees from abroad.

Since Chinese students first went abroad for further studies in the early 1980s, an estimated 135,000 have returned to work in their native country.

While the bulk of these well-educated returnees are employed by universities or joint ventures along the coast, a minority has been absorbed into senior party and government posts.

Last week, the municipal government of Pudong, Shanghai, made history when it agreed to pay Wu Yue an unheard-of 500,000 yuan ($60,000) a year as chief planning officer.

Wu, 40, has recently returned to Shanghai after gaining a doctorate in planning and design from Harvard University.

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