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Will Liu Yandong make political history in China?

Last updated on: November 12, 2012 10:09 IST

Will Liu Yandong make political history in China?

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The elite Standing Committee of the politburo consists of the top leadership of the Communist Party of China, but no woman has ever held a post in the committee. 

All that could change if Liu Yandong, who some observers say, could be a possible challenger to the ruling committee.

Liu Yandong currently serves on 25-member politburo of the Communist Party of China and is its only female member.

Born in Jiangsu, Liu, whose father was a vice-minister of agriculture in the past, was said to have been initiated into party by former president Jiang Zemin's foster father. Liu Yandong, 67, a well-connected 'princeling' and politburo member, could get selected as a member of the Standing Committee in the once in a decade change of leadership.

She is the wife of Yang Yuanxing, also a 'princeling' who runs his own technology company.

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Image: Member of China's Politburo Liu Yandong at a China market focus event at the London Book Fair.
Photographs: Paul Hackett/Reuters

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Like present President Hu Jintao, she studied at Tsinghua University and worked as his deputy in the party's youth league. She later did her masters degree in sociology from Renmin University of China.

Liu rose to prominence through the influential United Front Work Department and at the last party congress in 2007 in which she was made a politburo member in charge of health, education, science and sports.

From the days of its founder Mao Zedong, the 82 million member-Communist Party of China, which is the longest party to be in power has remained a male bastion, with few woman taking up top positions even though the lot of the women improved under its rule.

According to a study there is one woman among the 24 members of the politburo, one in 16 full members of the Communist Party's Central Committee is female and only one of 120 centrally-run state-owned companies, the most powerful economic sector, is run by a woman.

Having long been an ally of Party General Secretary Hu Jintao and ascended from the ranks of the Communist Youth League, she entered the 17th politburo of the Communist Party of China in 2007. 

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Image: Liu Yandong attends the closing ceremony of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's parliament, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing
Photographs: Jason Lee/Reuters

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At the 2008 National People's Congress she was elected state councilor, and was not elected as a vice-premier.

Though she is regarded as a long shot, "the door is not closed", said Cheng Li, an expert on Chinese politics at the Brookings Institution. Appointing Liu to the standing committee could send a powerful signal from the very top. Even Wu Yi, the formidable negotiator dubbed China's "Iron Lady", never made it that far. But Cheng Li warned: "Competition is so intense they don't even bother to look at the symbolism.", the Guardian reported.

"Although her chances of promotion are slimmer than those of other contenders, if she succeeds, she is expected to bring more charm to the secretive body," reported the Washington Post

Analysts say that Liu's strength lies in her political connections and ability to toe the party line. They say her consensus-building style of functioning will work to her advantage.

Liu has never been a provincial governor, a key resume item for most of China's top leaders. Her age could also count against her, because the party prefers to install younger people. The current nine-member standing committee could be shrunk to seven, reducing her chances further, the Washington Post reported.


Image: A combination picture shows the 10 main candidates vying for seven seats on China's ruling Communist Party's next Politburo Standing Committee. Top row from left to right: China's Vice President Xi Jinping, Vice Premier Li Keqiang, Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang, Vice Premier Wang Qishan, and Li Yuanchao, head of the Organisation Department of the Communist Party of China. Bottom row from left to right: Zhang Gaoli, Secretary of the Tianjin Municipal Committee, Wang Yang, Party Secretary of the Guangdong Province, Liu Yandong, State Councillor of China, Liu Yunshan, member of China's Communist Party's leading Politburo and Yu Zhengsheng, Shanghai Party Secretary.
Photographs: Reuters/Staff/Pool

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