Guangdong party chief Zhang Dejiang's prospects of higher office appear to hang in the balance. A native of Liaoning , Mr Zhang began his career in 1968 in Jilin province . He worked there for nearly 30 years, except for two years studying economics at Kim Il-sung University in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang between 1978 and 1980. Frequent media reports have suggested he will be inducted into the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee at next year's 17th party congress, and he certainly has the necessary experience. The 60-year-old first served as party secretary in Jilin before being moved in 1998 to Zhejiang , which enjoyed more affluent years under his leadership. In 2002, he was transferred to Guangdong, a decision apparently made by then president Jiang Zemin . Mr Zhang has been widely viewed as owing his political rise to the patronage of the former leader, but is not regarded as a member of the 'Shanghai Gang', officials brought to Beijing by Mr Jiang. Nor is he a member of the China Youth League, the power base of president and party boss Hu Jintao , or one of the powerful 'princelings' - the offspring of retired party elders. 'Mr Zhang is one of those who can advance with the times,' said a Guangdong party official, referring to a party slogan calling on members to adapt themselves to the changing situation domestically and globally. His star began to fade as the pace of economic growth in Guangdong fell behind that of Shandong and Jiangsu , but the province appears to have regained the momentum in recent years and has impressed central leaders by topping the nation in a government energy conservation campaign while still growing quickly. Still, Mr Zhang's detractors say his track record in Guangdong is not good because the province has been plagued with crises since he took the helm. It was there that the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) emerged in 2003, and although the country's health minister and Beijing's mayor were sacked for their role in covering up the outbreak, Mr Zhang hung on despite banning media reporting during the initial outbreak. Guangdong has also witnessed a rising wave of rural unrest, with up to 20 people believed to have been killed in Dongzhou village last year when police fired into a crowd protesting against inadequate land compensation - reportedly raising eyebrows in Beijing. Northwestern University political scientist Victor Shih said Mr Zhang could be promoted to the Politburo Standing Committee, but he was most unlikely to succeed Vice-Premier Huang Ju , as widely speculated. 'It would alarm foreign investors if a graduate of the Kim Il-sung University in North Korea were to take over China's financial sector,' he said.