Machine-learning Analysis on Leadership Formation in China

Who’s Next? Machine Learning Predictions of Politburo Promotions for the 19th Party Congress of the CCP

The 19th Party Congress of the CCP (中共第十九次全国代表大会) is scheduled to take place in October or November this year. Who will be selected as the Politburo members (政治局委员) in the new Party Congress has drawn a significant attention from numerous experts, scholars, and policy-makers both inside and outside of China. Yet, the current discourses on the issue are still mostly based on narrative descriptions without sufficient analysis. Here, we, I and my advisor Prof. Victor Shih at UCSD would like to present our top predictions on the next Politburo members who will be promoted from the Central Committee (中央委员) , one rank below in the CCP party hierarchy. Note that we only predict the ordinary Politburo members except the Politburo Standing Committee Members (政治局常委). Please refer to “Victor Shih and Jonghyuk Lee (2017), Predicting Authoritarian Selection: Theoretical and Machine Learning Predictions of Politburo Promotions for the 19th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party” for further details. The data used in this post can be retrieved from - “Victor Shih, and Jonghyuk Lee (2016), An Updated Database of Central Committee Members of the CCP, San Diego: Institute of Global Conflict and Cooperation.”


We built an Ensemble Model stacked with 10 different machine learning algorithms. In the model, we inserted over 80 features of the CCP leaders including biographical (e.g. age, gender, university alma maters, minority status...) , career (e.g. job experiences, job positions, job diversities...) , factional (e.g. princeling, Tsinghua, Shanghai, Petroleum...) , and network (e.g. network centralities, work connections with the top leadership...) variables. Each machine learning algorithm selects important variables, removes irrelevant ones, or decides a sufficient subset for predictions. Finally, we synthesize all the results from the above machine learning techniques into a single ensemble model in order to maximize the overall prediction accuracy. The full list of the proposed variables, and the detailed model specifications and validations can be found in Shih and Lee (2017).

However, the predictions entirely determined by the machine tend to be away from the “reality,” because they are only based on the previous outcomes from the 14th PC to the 18th PC. Although this analysis is established under an assumption that there is a systematic selection institution in the CCP throughout the periods, some qualitative judgments are still inevitable to achieve precise predictions for the new Party Congress. Hence, we first would like to make a top 20 list (out of the 170 CC members) calculated by the ensemble model, and next, among the 20 candidates, we will pick up 11 most probable candidates for the next Politburo in accordance with the informal age restriction (七上八下): the Politburo members aged over 67 are supposed to be retired. If the CCP leadership follows this rule, at least 11 Politburo positions (out of 25) will be available in the next Party Congress.


Each Politburo member has his/her own professional position outside of the Politburo. Generally speaking, the first or second ranks of the main party, military, or government departments occupy the Politburo membership including the State Council, the Secretariat, the Central Military Commission, the National Peoples Congress, the National People’s Political Consultative Conference, the Organization, the Propaganda, the United Front, the Directly Administrated Municipalities, and etc. However, the model finds that the current position that an official holds (one year before the next Party Congress) is not a good predictor to determine the Politburo promotions. The positions are susceptible to be changed until the very last moment or sometimes even after the Politburo appointment.

Nevertheless, the previous selection patterns of the CCP inform us that it is almost impossible to assign back to a powerful and influential position once an official is transferred to a nominal or advisory organization. The machine learning model is built based on the data as of October, 2016. Since then, we have observed several notable appointments. Several officials who were once in a powerful position were transferred to a nominal or advisory institution. For example, Wang Anshun (王安顺) was a promising political figure who had served as a mayor of Beijing. In November, 2016, he was transferred to the Development Research Center of the State Council (国务院发展研究中心), one of the advisory organizations of the State Council. In the early of 2017, Cai Fuchao and Huang Qifan, two skilled senior officials with a variety of job experiences in the central and the local governments, were also transferred to the NPPCC (全国政协) and the NPC (全国人大) respectively, two most representative nominal institutions in China. Instead, the survivals who are still holding a de-facto position in the central and local organizations have a higher chance to achieve the Politburo promotion. In terms of the current position (one year before the next Party Congress), the model suggests that being a provincial party secretary grants the highest probability of promotion to the Politburo. Therefore, many of my top predictions are party secretaries in different provinces.

* The underlined are the top 11 most likely officials to become a Politburo member in the 19th PC.

Rank 1: Lu Hao (陆昊) - Governor of Heilongjiang Rank 2: Wang Anshun (王安顺) - Secretary of Development Research Center Rank 3: Jia Ting’an (贾廷安) - Vice Director of Political Work Department of the CMC Rank 4: Cai Fuchao (蔡赴朝) - Vice Chairman of Work Committee of the NPPCC Rank 5: Li Hongzhong (李鸿忠) - Party Secretary of Tianjin Rank 6: Chen Min’er (陈敏尔) - Party Secretary of Guizhou Rank 7: Peng Qinghua (彭清华) - Party Secretary of Guangxi Rank 8: Shen Deyong (沈德咏) - Vice President of Supreme Court Rank 9: Li Jianhua (李建华) - Party Secretary of Ningxia Rank 10: Che Jun (车俊) - Governor of Zhejiang Rank 11: Cai Mingzhao (蔡名照) - President of Xinhua News Agency Rank 12: Huang Qifan (黄奇帆) - Vice Chairman of Work Committee of the NPC Rank 13: Zhao Hongzhu (赵洪祝) - Vice Secretary of Discipline and Inspection Committee Rank 14: Bayinchaolu (巴音朝鲁) - Party Secretary of Jilin Rank 15: Liu Yazhou (刘亚洲) - Political Commissar of PLA Defense University Rank 16: Lou Jiwei (楼继伟) - President of National Council for Social Security Fund Rank 17: Wang Xuejun (王学军) - Vice Chairman of Work Committee of the NPC Rank 18: Wang Guosheng (王国生) - Party Secretary of Qinghai Rank 19: Hu Zejun (胡泽君) - Vice Procurator General of Supreme Procuratorate Rank 20: Chen Quanguo (陈全国) - Party Secretary of Xinjiang


The Politburo is the highest de-facto authority of the CCP where leaders from different sectors and domains collectively decide the major agenda of the country. It has a few representative positions (although there is no official rule). In this post, We will divide the possible Politburo positions into 4 groups: one reserved for minority, one for female, two for military, and the rest for Han, male, and civilian candidates.

1. Minority Slot: Based on the previous selection patterns (in the 16th PC and the 17th PC), the CCP occasionally reserves one slot for minority.

*Bayinchaolu (巴音朝鲁) - Party Secretary of Jilin (Rank: 14th), male, Mogolian, was born in 1955 and is a native of Inner Mongolia. He seems to be only one option to choose if the CCP leadership selects one minority Politburo member. He has a variety of local experiences across Inner Mongolia, Zhejiang, and Jilin. In particular, he had worked together with Xi Jinping from 2003 to 2007 when he was a party secretary of Ningbo and Xi Jinping was a party secretary of the province. His only downturn is that he is a so-called ‘Tuanpai (团派).’ The model suggests that the working experience in the CYL (Communist Youth League-共青团) has been significantly rewarded in the Hu Jintao administration. However, the future of Tuanpai now becomes doubtful under Xi’s dominance. As a minority, his rival is Quanzhezhu (全哲洙) - Vice Director of United Front Work Department (Rank: 36th), the second highest ranks among the CC minorities. He is relatively older (born in 1952) ethnic Korean and accumulated his career mostly in Jilin province under Zhang Dejiang’s leadership. Zhang Dejiang’s exit from the PSC in the next party congress is also expected to harm the future of Quanzhezhu.

2. Female Slot: Since the 15th Party Congress, there has been a designated slot for a female member (Wu Yi, Liu Yandong, and Sun Chunlan) in the Politburo. It is likely that Sun Chunlan will be able to maintain her Politburo membership (age 67 in 2017). If not, the strongest candidate for the female slot is:

*Hu Zejun (胡泽君) - Vice Procurator General of Supreme Procuratorate (Rank: 19th), female, Han, was born in 1955 and is a native of Chongqing. In the Chinese system, the civilian legal institution is generally considered as a mere nominal institution controlled by the party apparatus. Therefore, people may wonder how Hu Zejun, a vice level of the nominal organization, is evaluated stronger than other female CC members such as Shen Yueyue (沈跃跃)-the former Vice Director of the Organization Department (Rank: 26th) or Song Xiuyan (宋秀岩)- the former Governor of Qinghai (Rank: 37th). All these three female officials had worked in the CYL. Hu Zejun and Shen Yueyue reach a relatively higher prediction ranks because they have accumulated various experience from the central and local departments: Sichuan, Guangdong, and Ministry of Justice, and Zhejiang, Anhui, and the Central Organization Department respectively, whereas Song Xiuyan had stayed in Qinghai for the most of her career. The major distinction of Hu Zejun from Shen Yueyue is a connection with Xi Jinping. Although China experts may not agree that Hu Zejun is a follower of Xi Jinping, the model identifies that Hu Zejun and Xi Jinping are connected through the State Commission for National Defense Mobilization (国家国防动员委员会). They were both members of the SCNDM from 2003. However, all these three female officials are currently working at nominal institutions such as Supreme Procuratorate, NPC, and All China Women’s Federation respectively. It is more likely that Sun Chunlan-Director of United Front Department will stay in the Politburo for the next Party Congress.

3. Military Slot: There are one or two slots for military personnel from the Central Military Commission. For the 19th Party Congress, at least one position for the military personnel will be available after Fan Changlong’s (born in 1947) retirement.

*Jia Ting’an (贾廷安) - Vice Director of Political Work Department of the Central Military Commission (Rank: 3rd), male, Han, was born in 1952 and is a native of Henan. This famous military personnel is relatively old, but gains tremendously high scores from the career diversities and the informal network connections. He had worked in the central government, Shanghai party committee, and the Central Military Commission. In the model, military experience as a civilian official substantially increases his probability of promotion, as we can observe in the case of Xi Jinping. Moreover, the model appreciates his experience as a Shanghai secretariat secretary where he served as a personal secretary of Jiang Zemin. However, Although the model ranks him as the 3rd due to his strength on networks and job diversity, his actual rank is supposed to be much lower than the 3rd . Historically, the military position in Politburo is occupied by a professional military personnel. Furthermore, Xi has no reason to promote one of the most loyal followers of Jiang Zemin.

*Liu Yazhou (刘亚洲) - Political Commissar of PLA Defense University (Rank: 15th), male, Han, was born in 1952 and is a native of Zhejiang. If not Jia Ting’an, the next possible candidate for the military position is Liu Yazhou, the highest rank among the professional military personnel. Since joined the People’s Liberation Army in 1968, he accumulated various experiences through Air Force, the CMC, Beijing Military Region, Chengdu Military Region, and finally Defense university. Particularly, his career in different locations and departments distinguishes him from other military officials. Judging from his media appearance, he seems to have a quite strong preference on military expansion. In reality, the military position will be a competition between Liu Yazhou and Cai Yingting (蔡英挺)-the former Commander of Nanjing Military Region (Rank: 58th). Liu Yazhou represents the CCP’s meritocratic selection system, whereas Cai Yingting’s success will be interpreted as Xi’s dominance in the selection process. Cai Yingting’s only strength comparing to Liu Yazhou is that he has a connection with Xi Jinping through the experience in Nanjing Military Region (南京派) where Xi Jinping was a vice head of the Defense Mobilization Commission of Nanjing Military Region and Cai Yingting was a deputy chief of staff of Nanjing Military Region.

4. Han, Male, and Civilian Slot:

*Lu Hao (陆昊)-Governor of Heilongjiang (Rank: 1st), male, Han, is a native of Shanghai but was born in Shaanxi in 1967. Most of the machine learning models point out that he is the strongest candidate for the next Politburo membership. He is the youngest among the current 18th CC members. This is very plausible considering the fact that the youngest two in the previous 17th CC, Sun Zhengcai and Hu Chunhua (both are born in 1963) were promoted to the Politburo. Moreover, Lu Hao has all the positive attributes of Sun Zhengcai and Hu Chunhua. He was graduated from Peking university and has work experience in the central CYL just like Hu Chunhua. At the same time, his career trajectories are very similar to those of Sun Zhengcai. They both started their career from Beijing, worked in the central party department, and then, moved to the local government. The model suggests that all these features are positively correlated to the likelihood of being a Politburo member in the next Party Congress.

*Li Hongzhong (李鸿忠) - Party Secretary of Tianjin (Rank: 5th), male Han, was born in 1956 and is a native of Shandong. In fact, he is the most likely future Politburo member among the top 20 candidates. Even before he was assigned to Tianjin as a Party Secretary, Li Hongzhong ranks 5th. He accumulated diverse experiences in different provinces with different specialties. Starting from Liaoning, he worked in Guangdong, Hubei, and Tianjin handling both party and government affairs. He also worked in the central government in Ministry of Machinery and Electronics. Due to the diverse experiences, he was able to establish dense political networks with other top leaders. He is connected with Zhang Gaoli and Wang Qishan through the Guangdong experience where he was a mayor of Huizhou city between 1996 and 2000 while Zhang Gaoli was a vice party secretary and Wang Qishan was a vice governor of the province. In addition, Li Hongzhong is connected with Jiang Zemin through the Ministry of Machinery and Electronics. He worked in the ministry between 1985 and 1988 when Jiang Zemin was the minister of the ministry. It is yet not sure whether the connections with Jiang Zemin, a former Party Secretary General, and Zhang Gaoli, and Wang Qishan, two soon-to-be retired PSC members are beneficial for his advancement to the Politburo. Yet, the recent appointment to Tianjin still can be interpreted as a guarantee of the Politburo promotion since the party secretary of Tianjin is a designated position in the Politburo.

*Chen Min’er (陈敏尔) - Party Secretary of Guizhou (Rank: 6th), male, Han, was born in 1960 and is a native of Zhejiang. This youngest provincial party secretary is the highest rank among the Xi Jinping’s loyal followers. Chen Min’er was a director of propaganda department in Zhejiang in 2002 when Xi Jinping came to Zhejiang as a Governor. In fact, Chen Min’er’s credentials are not as good as those of other high rankers in the model. He does not graduate from a elite university, does not have work experience in the center, and only worked in the propaganda-related positions. Before he was promoted to Guizhou as a governor in 2012, he had worked only in Zhejiang. Nevertheless, his lower age and Xi Jinping connection boost his probability of promotion to the Politburo. The rankings of other Xi Jinping’s Zhejiang followers are Zhao Hongzhu (Rank: 13th), Bayinchaolu (Rank: 14th), Xia Baolong (Rank: 40th), and Huang Xingguo (Before arrest, Rank: 46th). Zhao Hongzhu’s ranking is very high mainly due to his connection with Xi Jinping and his job experiences in a powerful central party organization, the Discipline and Inspection Committee. However, his age is 70 way over the age restriction. Note that other well known Xi Jinping’s Zhejiang followers such as Ge Huijun, Huang Kunming, Li Qiang, and Wang Huizhong are Alternate CC members. Cai Qi, the current mayor of Beijing, is not even in the Central Committee.

*Peng Qinghua (彭清华) - Party Secretary of Guangxi (Rank: 7th), male, Han, was born in 1957 and is a native of Hubei. Peng Qinghua is a Peking university-educated central official who mainly worked in the Central Organization Department from 1983 to 2012. In particular, the working experience in the Central Organization Department during the early career period significantly increases a chance of promotion in the later career. We can observe that three of the top candidates such as Peng Qinghua (Rank: 7th), Li Jianhua(Rank 9th), and Zhao Honghzu (Rank: 13th) have worked in the Central Organization Department in their early career. In additional to the party experience, Peng Qinghua also worked in the government positions. He was a head of Liaison Office for the Central Government in the Hong Kong SAR before he became a party secretary of Guangxi in 2013. The model ranks him as one of the highest due to his relatively lower age, the working experience in the Central Organization department, and diverse rotations across Hubei, Hong Kong, and Guangxi party and government organizations.

*Li Jianhua (李建华) - Party Secretary of Ningxia (Rank: 9th), male, Han, is a native of Hebei but was born in Beijing in 1954. He is a unique candidate in the top 20 list who had worked with Zhou Yongkang. When Li Jianhua was a director of the organization department in Sichuan between 2001 and 2002, Zhou Yongkang was his direct supervisor, the party secretary of the province. While his colleagues such as Guo Yongxiang, Li Chongxi, Li Chuncheng, Tan Li, and Wei Hong were arrested before or after Zhou Yongkang’s fall, Li Jianhua was able to survive from the turmoil. It seems that Xi Jinping punished lots of high-ranking officials (the CC members) connected with Zhou Yongkang through Petroleum administrations such as Su Shulin, Yang Dongliang, Jiang Jiemin and etc. In the case of Sichuan where Zhou Yongkang stayed for three years as a leader, only relatively lower ranking officials were dismissed before or after Zhou Yongkang’s fall. An interesting point is Li Jianhua who worked in the Central Organization Department for over 20 years from 1978 to 2000 was suddenly assigned to Sichuan for 2 years - exactly the same period of Zhou Yongkang’s incumbency in Sichuan -, until he went back again to the Central Organization Department as a vice director. In the model, the connection with Zhou Yongkang, a dismissed political patron, may punish his probability of promotion. However, his early experience in the PLA and various experiences in Beijing, Central Organization Department, National School of Administration, and Ningxia significantly compensate his weak political networks.

*Wang Guosheng (王国生) - Party Secretary of Qinghai (Rank: 18th), male, Han, was born in 1956 is a native of Shandong. Unlike other high ranking candidates, Wang Guosheng does not have work experience in the center. However, his affluent local experiences in diverse departments rank him as the 18th. He started his career in Shandong as a cadre of Labor Bureau, Trade Bureau, and Fiance Bureau in the provincial government, and then, was transferred to Jiangsu where he served as a secretary of Direct Organization Work Committee in the provincial party committee. He also obtained leadership experience when he was a party secretary of Lianyungang city in Jiangsu, until he was promoted to the provincial standing committee as a director of the provincial propaganda and organization departments. After serving as a governor of Hubei, he is now a party secretary of Qinghai. Most of his strength is stemmed from the diverse provincial experiences in different party and government organizations. In terms of political capital, the model identifies that he has a work-tie with Yu Zhengsheng, when Wang Guosheng was a vice secretary of Liaocheng in Shandong and Yu Zhengsheng was a member of the provincial standing committee and a party secretary of Qingdao in Shandong.

*Chen Quanguo (陈全国) - Party Secretary of Xinjiang (Rank: 20th), male, Han, was born in 1955 is a native of Henan. The CCP leadership has rewarded Xinjiang and Xizang experiences in the top selection process, as those autonomous regions are crucial to maintain the Chinese internal security. Particularly, as Xinjiang autonomous region is increasingly important these days, the 16th and the 18th Party Congress designated one position for the party secretary of Xinjiang: Wang Lequan and Zhang Chunxian respectively. In this sense, Chen Quanguo has a pretty good chance to become a Politburo member in the 19th Party Congress, considering that he was recently transferred from Xizang to Xinjiang as a provincial party secretary in August 2016. Not only he has the working experiences in both autonomous regions, but also he has a powerful patron. When Chen Quanguo was a director of the provincial organization department in Henan between 2000 and 2004, Li Keqiang was his supervisor, the party secretary of Henan. There is a high possibility that this Li Keqiang’s follower may achieve the Politburo position, because he just replaced Zhang Chunxian, the current Politburo member.