Hu Jintao (pinyin: Hú Jǐntāo, pronounced [xǔ tɕìntʰɑ́ʊ]; born 21 December 1942) is a former leader of the fourth generation of leadership of the Communist Party of China. He was General Secretary of the Communist Party of China from 2002 to 2012, Chairman of the CPC Central Military Commission from 2004 to 2012 and President of the People’s Republic of China from 2003 to 2013.
Hu has been involved in the Communist party bureaucracy for most of his adult life, notably as Party secretary for Guizhou province and the Tibet Autonomous Region, and then later First secretary of the Party Central Secretariat and Vice-President under former leader Jiang Zemin. Hu is the first leader of the Communist Party without any significant revolutionary credentials. As such, his rise to the leadership represented China’s transition of leadership from establishment communists to younger, more pragmatic technocrats.
During his term in office, Hu reintroduced state control in some sectors of the economy that were relaxed by the previous administration, and has been conservative with political reforms. Along with his colleague, Premier Wen Jiabao, Hu presided over nearly a decade of consistent economic growth and development that cemented China as a major world power. He sought to improve socio-economic equality domestically through the Scientific Development Concept, which aimed to build a “Socialist Harmonious Society” that was prosperous and free of social conflict. Meanwhile, Hu kept a tight lid on China politically, cracking down on social disturbances, ethnic minority protests, and dissident figures. In foreign policy, Hu advocated for “China’s peaceful development“, pursuing soft power in international relations and a business-oriented approach to diplomacy. Through Hu’s tenure, China’s influence in Africa, Latin America, and other developing regions has increased.
Hu possesses a low-key and reserved leadership style, and is reportedly a firm believer in consensus-based rule. These traits have made Hu a rather bland figure in the public eye, embodying the focus in Chinese politics on technocratic competence rather than personality.
On 15 November 2012, Hu relinquished the titles the General Secretary of the Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the CPC and was succeeded by Xi Jinping.
Hu Jintao was born in Taizhou, Jiangsu province on 21 December 1942. He grew up in Taizhou, and completed his primary education and secondary education there. After his high school education, he went to the department of hydraulic engineering, Tsinghua University at the capital city, Beijing.
His branch of the family migrated from Jixi County, Anhui to Taizhou during his grandfather’s generation. Though his father owned a small tea trading business in Taizhou, the family was relatively poor. His mother was a teacher and died when he was seven, and he was raised by an aunt. Hu’s father was later denounced during the Cultural Revolution, an event that (together with his relatively humble origins) apparently had a deep effect upon Hu, who diligently tried to clear his father’s name.
Hu was a gifted student in Taizhou High School, excelling in activities such as singing and dancing. In 1964, while still a student at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, Hu joined the Communist Party of China (CPC), before the Cultural Revolution. He was the chairman of the Tsinghua Student Union at that time. He graduated in hydraulic engineering in 1965. At Tsinghua, Hu met a fellow student, Liu Yongqing, now his wife.
In 1968, Hu volunteered for his service in Gansu and worked on the construction of Liujiaxia Hydroelectric Station while also managing Party affairs for the local branch of the Ministry of Water Resources and Electric Power. From 1969 to 1974, Hu worked for Sinohydro Engineering Bureau, as an engineer.
Early political career
In 1973, Hu was transferred to the Construction Department of Gansu as a secretary. The next year he was promoted to vice senior chief. In 1980, Deng Xiaoping implemented the “Four Transformations” program, which aimed to produce communist leaders who were “more revolutionary, younger, more knowledgeable, and more specialized.” In response to this nation-wide search for young party members, Song Ping, the first secretary of CPC Gansu Committee (Gansu’s governor) discovered Hu Jintao and promoted him several ranks to the position of deputy head of the commission. Another protégé of Song, Wen Jiabao, also became prominent at the same time.
In 1982, Hu was promoted to the position of Communist Youth League Gansu Branch Secretary and was appointed as the director of the All-China Youth Federation. His mentor Song Ping was transferred to Beijing as Minister of Organization of the Communist Party of China, and was in charge of senior cadres’ recommendation, candidacy and promotion. With the support of Hu Yaobang and Deng Xiaoping, Hu was assured of a bright future in the party. At Song Ping’s suggestion, in 1982 central Party authorities invited Hu to Beijing to study at the Central Party School. Soon after, he was transferred to Beijing and appointed as secretariat of the Communist Youth League Central Committee (“CY Central”). Two years later Hu was promoted to First Secretary of CY Central, thus its actual leader. During his term in the Youth League, Hu escorted Hu Yaobang, who was CPC General Secretary then, in visits around the country. Hu Yaobang, himself a veteran coming from the Youth League, could reminiscence his youth through Hu’s company.
Party Committee Secretary of Guizhou
In 1985, Hu Yaobang pushed for Hu Jintao to be transferred to Guizhou as the provincial Committee Secretary of Communist Party of China. Hu attempted to improve the economy of the backwater province, and reputedly visited all of its eighty-six counties. While in Guizhou, Hu was careful to follow Beijing’s directives and had a reputation of being “airtight”; he rarely would offer his views on policy matters in public. While Hu was generally seen as an official with integrity and honesty, some locals preferred his predecessor Zhu Houze. In 1987, Hu Jintao handled the local students protest parallel to the Democracy Wall carefully, whereas in Beijing similar protests resulted in Hu Yaobang’s forced resignation.
Tenure in Tibet
The exit of his patron Hu Yaobang from the political scene was initially seen as unfavourable towards Hu Jintao. He drew criticism from party elders for failing to criticize the ousted reformer. In 1988, Hu was transferred to become Party Regional Committee Secretary of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, the restive area’s number-one figure, while also taking on the role of Political Commissar of the local People’s Liberation Army units. A number of Tibetans have long been opposed to government policy in the region and unrest and ethnic conflict were brewing, particularly anti-Han Chinese sentiments amongst local well-placed Tibetans. Minor clashes had been occurring since 1987, and when the scale of unrest grew, Hu responded with the deployment of some 1,700 People’s Armed Police into Lhasa in February 1989 in an attempt to warn against further disturbance. Increased clashes culminated in serious rioting in Lhasa‘s core on 5 March 1989, five days before the 30th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising. What occurred after is a matter of dispute: rioters accused the police of shooting them arbitrarily, and the police claiming that they had acted in self-defense. In addition, there was speculation that Hu delayed his orders to clamp down on the protesters until late into the evening, when the police chief was forced to act because the situation was spiraling out of control. The protesters were suppressed early into the next day, and Hu asked Beijing to declare martial law on 8 March.
Hu’s role in the demonstrations and rioting on March 5 was never made clear. While it is general protocol that Hu must have at least implicitly approved the use of force against protesters, whether he actually gave orders throughout March 5 is a matter of debate. In addition, John Tkacik cites that Hu had been coordinating with the Chengdu Military Region for troops to be on full alert as the situation progressed. Some diplomatic analysts linked what they saw as Hu’s brutal use of force to the suppression of activists and students at in Tiananmen Square, which took place a mere three months later. Whether Hu provided “inspiration” for the PLA on June 4 is a matter of debate, but it was clear that Hu’s actions in Lhasa earned him unprecedented attention in the upper echelons of party power, including “paramount leader” Deng Xiaoping. When tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square, Hu was one of the first regional leaders to declare his support for the central authorities. Hu experienced high-altitude sickness in June 1990, and returned to Beijing, but remained in his position for another two years, during which Hu achieved little. But his departure to Beijing was seen as a means to return to the centrefold of Chinese politics, which led to some doubts as to whether or not he was as ill as he had claimed.
Before the opening of the 14th National Congress of the CPC in 1992, the Party’s senior leaders, including Deng and Chen Yun, were to select candidates for the Politburo Standing Committee to ensure a smooth transition of power from the so-called second-generation leaders (Deng, Chen, Li Xiannian, Wang Zhen, etc.) to third-generation Communist Party of China leaders (Jiang Zemin, Li Peng, Qiao Shi etc.). Deng also proposed that they should consider another candidate for a further future transition, preferably someone under fifty to represent the next generation of leaders. Song, as the organization chief, recommended Hu as an ideal candidate for the prospect of a future leader. As a result, shortly before his 50th birthday, Hu Jintao became the youngest member of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, and the second youngest PSC member ever since the CPC took power in 1949.
In 1992, Hu took charge of the Secretariat of the Communist Party of China, which oversaw day-to-day operations of the Central Committee, and the Central Party School, which was convenient for him to bring up his own supporters among senior CPC cadres. Hu was also put in charge of the ideological work of the CPC. Although Hu was considered heir apparent to Jiang, he always took great care to ensure that Jiang be at the center of the spotlight. In late 1998, Hu promoted Jiang’s unpopular movement of the “Three Stresses” – “stress study, stress politics, and stress healthy trends” – giving speeches to promote it. In 2001, he publicized Jiang’s Three Represents theory, which Jiang hoped to place himself on the same level as other Marxist theoreticians. In 1998, Hu became Vice-President of China, and Jiang wanted Hu to play a more active role in foreign affairs. Hu became China’s leading voice during the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999.