Wen Jiabao
Heir apparent to Premier Zhu Rongji

Wen Jiabao has come a long way from his wilderness years as a geological surveyor in China's northwest region. You might not think so. Thin, bespectacled and mild-mannered, his looks and demeanor belie his status as an administrative powerhouse in the Communist Party hierarchy. Wen has been Zhu Rongji's righthand man since he became premier in March 1998. In the process Wen has overtaken more apparent candidates such as Vice-Premier Wu Bangguo. A native of Tianjin and a geologist by training, he spent 15 years during the Cultural Revolution as a surveyor in Gansu province. Then his career skyrocketed. Recruited into the provincial hierarchy by conservative provincial party chief Song Ping, Wen quickly made the jump to central government, joining the central Ministry of Geology and Mineral Resources. Within a year he became vice minister and soon after was catapulted into the Central Committee's general office, where he stayed eight years. Along the way Wen had become an alternate secretary for the party's 13th Central Committee. Attaching himself to premier and later party general secretary Zhao Ziyang, Wen accompanied him on visits to fasting students in May 1989, just before the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Later, Wen adapted to the shifting political winds and in 1992 became an alternate member of the Politburo at the party congress. At the 15th congress in 1997 he was made a full member of the Politburo. Wen's star had begun to rise earlier in the decade after he vaulted from the general office to the party's leading group on agriculture, replacing outgoing vice premier Jiang Chunyun. Promoted to vice premier at the National People's Congress in March 1998, Wen has varied tasks. Apart from his agriculture portfolio, he fronts flood relief efforts, has taken charge of China's grain marketing since Zhu's crackdown on the sector last year and - probably most important - heads the newly formed finance work committee of the Central Committee. This makes him Zhu's point man for cleaning up the troubled banking industry. It's no surprise that Wen, 57, is being groomed to take over Zhu's job in 2003. With President Jiang Zemin to make way for Hu Jintao as party head, a Hu-Wen duo would likely be China's best-educated and most experienced leadership team to date.

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Photo: China News Service