PRESIDENT Jiang Zemin's succession strategy has been affected by the failure of his protege, Zeng Qinghong, to do well in an internal assessment of candidates for promotion to the Politburo.
Soon after the death of Politburo member Xie Fei in October, senior cadres, including members of the Central Committee, were asked to rate the suitability of a number of rising stars to fill Xie's seat.
Mr Zeng, head of the party's Organisation Department and already an alternate member of the Politburo, was thought to be a shoo-in.
A party source said yesterday, however, that Mr Zeng, a former vice-party secretary of Shanghai, did not score well in the appraisal.
By contrast, State Council Secretary-General Wang Zhongyu, a right-hand man of Premier Zhu Rongji, did much better.
'Part of Zeng's lack of popularity is due to the fact that Jiang has already elevated too many members of the so-called Shanghai Faction to top positions,' the source said.
He added this development could slow plans by Mr Jiang to transfer another protege, Shanghai party secretary Huang Ju, to Beijing.
Originally, the President had wanted Mr Zeng and Mr Huang to be in charge of preparations for the 16th Party Congress in 2002, which would witness a thorough rejuvenation of the leadership.
Mr Jiang was also leaning towards asking the Governor of the People's Bank of China, Dai Xianglong, to replace Mr Huang.
A diplomatic source said, however, Mr Jiang would find it awkward to elevate Mr Dai to the Shanghai post before Mr Zeng had gained full Politburo status.
'The position of Shanghai party secretary usually entitles its holder to Politburo membership,' the source said. 'Given the fact that Dai, another protege of Premier Zhu, has always been junior to Zeng, Jiang certainly does not want the banker to upstage his protege.' Meanwhile, Mr Jiang has incurred criticism among cadres and intellectuals for promoting his son, Jiang Mianheng, to Vice-President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences this month.
As the academy position carries vice-ministerial status, the younger Mr Jiang's elevation has been compared to the appointment of Deng Xiaoping's daughter, Deng Nan, as vice-minister of the State Science and Technology Commission in 1991.