"I don't anticipate fundamental departures from Hu Jintao, or anyone else for that matter," said Dali Yang, an expert on Chinese politics at the University of Chicago. "The ideological spectrum among the elite is much narrower now. These people are not that divergent or different from each other in their goals."
The idea of recruiting entrepreneurs into the fold, one of Jiang's pet ideas, was written into the party charter Thursday by the congress. The party inspired by Karl Marx and Mao Tse-tung, once radically committed to empowering peasants and workers, now represents China's "advanced productive forces," including avowed capitalists.
"Private entrepreneurs are an important force in China's economic construction," said Jiang Xipei, a delegate to the party congress and head of Far East Group, one of southern Jiangsu province's largest private companies. The firm, specializing in electric cables, cleared $242 million in sales last year.
"The Chinese Communist Party is a party that changes with the times," he said.
Indeed, the evolution of the 66-million-member organization is evident in the biographies of the new top nine leaders.
No Workers at Top
For the first time in Communist Chinese history, not one of the inner circle is a farmer or worker, although some of the men come from humble backgrounds. Among those retiring with Jiang is No. 4 leader Li Ruihuan, a carpenter who helped build Mao's imposing mausoleum in Tiananmen Square. Li's departure severs the leadership's last direct link with the party's peasant and proletarian roots.
His exit from the scene was another victory for Jiang. At 68, the reform-minded Li, one of Jiang's key rivals and considered by many the most liberal of the old leaders, was technically not bound to step down according to the informal cutoff age of 70 for standing committee membership. Observers say Li was either ousted through Jiang's maneuvering or finally consented to leave because Jiang had agreed to step down as well.
The new lineup consists entirely of technocrats, starting with Hu, a hydroelectric engineer. They will need to bring all their problem-solving abilities to bear on the host of challenges facing China as it tries to catch up with the developed world.
China's astonishing economic development of the last two decades has brought unprecedented prosperity to a significant portion of society, especially urbanites who lead increasingly sophisticated, consumer-oriented lives.
But millions of state workers and peasant farmers have been left behind in the rush to riches. Labor unrest by laid-off workers and protests by overtaxed farmers in the vast Chinese countryside are common.
China's entry last year into the World Trade Organization is expected to deepen its market-oriented reforms but is also liable to throw even more people out of work as unprotected state enterprises go belly up.
The new regime must also deal with a looming crisis over unpaid bank loans, outstanding pensions and rising public debt.
And it has to rein in the rampant corruption that has done more than anything else to undermine faith in the Communist Party.
At this week's congress, Jiang made a point of calling for clean government and better-quality cadres. But he unveiled no reforms that would make China's rulers more accountable to the country's 1.3 billion people.
As the new leader, Hu will be a lightning rod for these concerns and will have to reconcile such demands with the political interests and ambitions of his colleagues and rivals.
"He apparently is very good in terms of coordinating and interacting with colleagues. That will be to his advantage," said Yang of the University of Chicago. "He's younger; he'll be very hands-on in terms of the policy agenda."
The semi-generational shift at the pinnacle of Chinese politics was reflected in the party's newly named elite Central Committee. The average age of its 356 members is about 55, according to the New China News Agency.
The party's military commission, too, has jettisoned members over 70, with the notable exception of Jiang.
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New faces at apex of Chinese power
These are the new members of the ruling Politburo Standing Committee.
Hu Jintao: Vice president (59): Both conservative and liberal party leaders have cultivated Hu as a promising young star since his days as a hydropower major at Qinghua University. Late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping anointed Hu to become President Jiang Zemin's successor and lead the party's fourth generation of leaders. Expected to take over as China's president in March. Said to have a photographic memory.
Wu Bangguo: Vice premier (61): Wu is a former Shanghai party secretary promoted by Jiang Zemin. He majored in radio electronics at Qinghua University, then worked as an engineer in an electronics factory in Shanghai. As vice premier, he has been in charge of state-owned industries.