Children of the Cultural Revolution poised for power

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BEIJING, Sep 13 (Reuters) Children turned on parents, students denounced their teachers and Chairman Mao Zedong proclaimed ''To rebel is justified'' -- the Cultural Revolution was a defining, if terrifying, experience for many Chinese.

This turbulent period provides the social backdrop that shaped the formative years of rising political stars like Li Keqiang, Li Yuanchao and Xi Jinping, who lived through the chaos or were ''sent down'' to the countryside to learn from the masses.

But this is a group -- often called the ''fifth generation'' of Chinese leaders -- who were young enough to be able to bounce back from the turmoil of the period and whose early political experience came as China was slowly opening up.

And it is this generation that could be on the rise when the Communist leadership opens a key five-yearly congress on Oct. 15.

Observers are waiting to see whether President Hu Jintao elevates any of the younger generation. That could pave the way for one of them to take over the ultimate reins of power in 2012, when Hu will be readying for retirement.

Well-educated, less ideological and more open to the outside world, this generation which has never known a China that wasn't Communist could start the country on its first steps towards democracy, analysts say.

Promotions are in the offing for some of them -- cadres in their early 50s who have been working in the provinces or in ministries, and who were born and raised after 1949, founding date of the People's Republic.

Yet the scars of the Cultural Revolution ensure that political change under their rule is likely to be cautious, analysts said.

''They all want some reforms, some transparency. They're going to try to build more rule of law,'' said Zhiyue Bo, a China scholar at St John Fisher College in New York.

''This Cultural Revolution experience is helpful in a sense to help them understand the reality of China -- that it's poor.'' BANISHMENT Few survived the Cultural Revolution unscathed.

Xi Jinping, now Shanghai Party boss, was banished to the countryside. Li Yuanchao, Party chief in the prosperous eastern province of Jiangsu, endured a similar experience.

''It's unique that they had such drastic, dramatic change during their formative years,'' said Cheng Li, a China politics expert and senior Brookings Institution fellow in Washington.

''If you spent 10 years rusticated from Beijing, Shanghai or Tianjin to remote areas, that will have a very strong impact on your world views, on your attitudes, on your capabilities.'' Still, just because they are considered part of the same generation does not mean that they have a broad convergence of views about the direction of China.

There are two distinct groups who had two distinct experiences, said Rana Mitter, Chinese politics lecturer at Oxford University.

Fifth generation leaders more closely associated with Hu honed their skills in China's vast and poor countryside and understand that balancing the country's development more equitably is important.

The other group, which favours Hu's predecessor Jiang Zemin and his breakneck growth strategy, has had much more experience in booming coastal regions like Shanghai.

''They've probably been influenced significantly more by the idea that the important thing is to race ahead first, in continuation of the Deng Xiaoping idea that some places are going to get rich first and that's the way it will be for a while,'' he said, referring to the reformist paramount leader who died in 1997.

''It's clearly not a factional battle, but there is a balancing act going on as to which of these is important at any one time,'' Mitter added.

GENERATION 4.5 Some China watchers warn against expecting too much from the fifth generation, noting that the age difference between them and Hu and his fourth generation contemporaries is not so great -- they are more of a 4-{ generation.

''Even though they climbed the ladder of success at different speeds, their political experiences are very similar to each other,'' Bo said.

''In terms of political views, they probably share a lot among themselves and I think they'll follow a similar route (to the current leadership) in terms of economic and political reforms,'' he added.

Therefore, they may not rock the boat too much.

''I think the Chinese system is structured to create a reasonably homogenous view at the elite level, say in contrast to the American system where the whole emphasis over the past decades has been on polarisation,'' said Frederick Teiwes, Professor of Chinese Politics at the University of Sydney.

''I like to think of the Chinese leadership as the tyranny of the middle,'' he added.


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