Analysis: From builders to managers: educating China's leadership

Thu Feb 28, 2013 5:21pm EST
 
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By Irene Jay Liu and David Lague

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Sun Zhengcai earned his PhD from China Agricultural University in 1997, experimenting with different fertilizers for crop rotation in northern China, according to his doctoral thesis.

For the world's biggest grain grower and consumer, this type of research is crucial for improving yields. But it was an unlikely qualification for political leadership in China where engineers have traditionally held many of the top posts.

Sun represents one of the more far reaching changes in Chinese politics. Highly educated leaders in a broad range of disciplines are rising to the top of the ruling Communist Party, according to data from Connected China, a Reuters database application that tracks the connections and careers of China's leaders.

Sun, 49, who joined the Politburo at November's Communist Party Congress, is one of five PhD holders in a body in which all 25 members have at least a junior college education.

Some education experts explain the rise of this more highly educated leadership class as a product of the increasing complexity of China's economy and society.

It also reflects an evolution in the Party. A generation of revolutionary soldiers gave way to technocratic engineers who guided the following period of industrialization. The engineers are now handing over to leaders better qualified to run the world's second-biggest economy.

"As the society matures, it is always beneficial to have a leadership with diverse backgrounds," said Gong Peng, a Professor at Tsinghua University's Center for Earth System Science. "They bring different thinking and skills to the administration."

The data from Connected China shows far more Politburo members now hold PhDs and graduate degrees than earlier leadership generations.   Continued...

 
Sun Zhengcai, then party chief of Jilin province attends a meeting held on the sidelines of the 18th National Congress of the CPC, in Beijing, in this November 9, 2012 file photo. Sun earned his PhD from China Agricultural University in 1997, experimenting with different fertilizers for crop rotation in northern China, according to his doctoral thesis. Sun represents one of the more far reaching changes in Chinese politics. Highly educated leaders in a broad range of disciplines are rising to the top of the ruling Communist Party, according to data from Connected China, a Reuters database application that tracks the connections and careers of China's leaders. REUTERS/China Daily/Files