After Toiling in Rural China, a Protégé of Xi Jinping Joins Party’s Top Tiers

LIUPANSHUI, China — Guizhou is one of China’s poorest provinces, yet its villages of rice paddies, buffalos and mud-brick homes have long been a proving ground for rising stars in the Chinese Communist Party. The former president, Hu Jintao, once ran this mountainous southwestern province, as did a powerful lieutenant to President Xi Jinping.

Now, the party has tapped another leader in Guizhou for promotion into its top tiers, making him a potential candidate to one day succeed Mr. Xi. The official, Chen Min’er, 56, a former Chinese literature student and propaganda worker, is nearly certain to enter the Politburo at a party congress in the autumn, putting him in the running for an even more powerful role in the future.

Several other Chinese leaders in their 50s are poised for promotion as well, and analysts are watching to see if any will be anointed with a seat on the Politburo Standing Committee, the party’s highest rung of power. That would fit with recent party tradition, but some insiders believe Mr. Xi may delay designating a successor, setting up a leadership contest in which he will decide the victor.

Mr. Chen is “clearly being fast-tracked, and I think he will end up on the Standing Committee someday,” said Christopher K. Johnson, an expert on Chinese elite politics at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “I’m doubtful it will happen now, but Xi Jinping could force his elevation as a declaration of his leadership supremacy.”


Chen Min’er, recently appointed Communist Party secretary of Chongqing.

Tyrone Siu/Reuters

In the jockeying for advancement, Mr. Chen starts with several advantages. He is one of Mr. Xi’s protégés, having spent much of his career in Zhejiang, a wealthier province in eastern China, while Mr. Xi was the party chief there. This summer, Mr. Chen was handed a high-profile assignment as party secretary of Chongqing, a vast municipality of 30 million where he can showcase his political skills.

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