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Cheng Li

Biography: 

Cheng Li is a senior fellow and director of research at the Brookings Institution's John L. Thornton China Center. Li grew up in Shanghai during the Cultural Revolution. In 1985, he came to the United States, where he received an MA in Asian studies from the University of California, Berkeley, and a PhD in political science from Princeton University. Before joining Brookings in 2006, Professor Li was the William R. Kenan Professor of Government at Hamilton College, where he had taught since 1991.

Li is the author/editor of numerous books, including Rediscovering China: Dynamics and Dilemmas of Reform (1997), China's Leaders: The New Generation (2001), Bridging Minds across the Pacific: The Sino-U.S. Educational Exchange 1978–2003 (2005), China's Changing Political Landscape: Prospects for Democracy (2008), and China's Emerging Middle Class: Beyond Economic Transformation (forthcoming, 2010). He is also the principal editor of the Thornton Center Chinese Thinkers series published by the Brookings Institution Press.

Professor Li has advised a wide range of U.S. government, education, research, business, and nonprofit organizations on work in China. He has frequently appeared on CNN, C-SPAN, BBC, and PBS. Li also serves as a director of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, a member of the Academic Advisory Team of the Congressional U.S.-China Working Group, a trustee of the Institute of Current World Affairs, an adviser to the World Bank, and a vice chairman of the Committee of 100.

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Recent Commentary

Military Affairs

Promoting “Young Guards”:
 The Recent High Turnover in the PLA Leadership (Part III: Personal and Political)

by Cheng Livia China Leadership Monitor
Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The bold moves toward reform of China’s military will have profound implications not only for Xi Jinping’s political standing in the lead-up to the next leadership turnover in 2017, but also for the development of civilian-military relations in the country and for the trajectory of China’s military modernization. 

Military Affairs

Promoting “Young Guards”: The Recent High Turnover in the PLA Leadership (Part II: Expansion and Escalation)

by Cheng Livia China Leadership Monitor
Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The most noticeable trend under the leadership of Xi Jinping since the 2012 National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been the continuing consolidation of power. In particular, the military has been a key arena in which Xi has strengthened both his personal power and his new administration’s authority. 

Military AffairsAnalysis and Commentary

Promoting “Young Guards”:
The Recent High Turnover In The PLA Leadership (Part I: Purges And Reshuffles)

by Cheng Livia China Leadership Monitor
Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A key component in Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power has centered on the military domain. 

Beijing, China
The Provinces

Xi Jinping’s Inner Circle—Part 5: The Mishu Cluster II

by Cheng Livia China Leadership Monitor
Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Xi Jinping’s personal assistants (mishu), both previous and current, constitute a major cluster among his inner circle. Because of their very close working relationship with Xi, they are often among his most trusted confidants. 

The Provinces

Xi Jinping’s Inner Circle--Part 4: The Mishu Cluster I

by Cheng Livia China Leadership Monitor
Thursday, March 19, 2015

Xi’s personal assistants, both previous and current, constitute a major cluster of his inner circle.

The Provinces

Xi Jinping’s Inner Circle—Part 3: Political Protégés from the Provinces

by Cheng Livia China Leadership Monitor
Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Throughout the reform area, top Chinese leaders have usually risen to their positions after gaining substantial experience as provincial-level leaders. 

The Provinces

Xi Jinping’s Inner Circle (Part 2: Friends from Xi’s Formative Years)

by Cheng Livia China Leadership Monitor
Monday, July 28, 2014

The dominance of Jiang Zemin’s political allies in the current Politburo Standing Committee has enabled Xi Jinping, who is a protégé of Jiang, to pursue an ambitious reform agenda during his first term. The effectiveness of Xi’s policies and the political legacy of his leadership, however, will depend significantly on the political positioning of Xi’s own protégés, both now and during his second term.  This second article in a series examines Xi’s longtime friends—the political confidants Xi met during his formative years and with whom he has remained close over the past several decades.

The Provinces

Xi Jinping’s Inner Circle (Part 1: The Shaanxi Gang)

by Cheng Livia China Leadership Monitor
Friday, March 14, 2014

Like successful politicians elsewhere, President Xi Jinping assumed China’s top leadership role with the support of an inner circle. This group has been crucial to Xi’s efforts to consolidate power during his first year in office. This first article in a series of three focuses on native-place associations, namely the so-called Shaanxi Gang, which includes the “Iron Triangle” grouping in the Politburo Standing Committee. Such discussion can help reveal the future trajectory of politics and policy-making during the Xi administration. The analysis of the positioning and promotion of some of Xi’s longtime friends provides an invaluable assessment of both Xi’s current power and the potential for effective policy implementation.

The Provinces

The Rise of the Legal Profession in the Chinese Leadership

by Cheng Livia China Leadership Monitor
Monday, October 7, 2013

Crucial to any analysis of China’s political trajectory is an understanding of the kind of leadership that is governing the country. This is even more important now, given the emergence of new political elites with distinct educational and professional credentials who will be running the country for the next decade and beyond. Throughout PRC history, changes in the composition of the political elite have often reflected—and sometimes heralded—broad social, economic, political, and ideological changes in the country at large. This essay examines the rapid rise of lawyers and legal professionals in both Chinese higher courts and the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, and it links the trend of professionalization of the court judges and the emergence of legal professionals in the CCP leadership with paradoxical developments regarding the rule of law.

The Provinces

A Biographical and Factional Analysis of the Post-2012 Politburo

by Cheng Livia China Leadership Monitor
Thursday, June 6, 2013

This essay assesses the new Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party—the 25 highest-ranking leaders in the party, government, and military in present-day China—using biographical data regarding age, gender, birthplace, educational and occupational credentials, bureaucratic portfolio and career patterns, and political affiliations and factional backgrounds. Norms of elite selection may be inferred from such data, which allows a broad-based quantitative and qualitative analysis of the changes in the top leadership. Findings include the ascendancy of leaders with experience as provincial party secretaries, the swift decline of technocrats, and the appearance of a new form of the factional balance of power. The essay concludes with a preview of the leading contenders for the next Politburo and its supreme Standing Committee.

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