The rise of officials with a Communist Youth League background - the so-called tuanpai, or youth league faction - is a conspicuous aspect of President Hu Jintao's leadership. While the youth league has always had the mandate to serve as a training ground for young cadres and a reserve from which the Communist Party can pick eligible cadres for further grooming, officials with a youth league background are now blessed with brighter career prospects than ever. As Mr Hu, a former youth league head, engineers leadership reshuffles at the regional and central levels of the government and party to consolidate his power, the further rise of the tuanpai is inevitable. Since assuming power late in 2002, Mr Hu has begun to fill key central and provincial government posts with his youth league allies, and the pace is expected to pick up until the 17th party congress next year, when several of the most prominent youth league officials are inducted into the highest echelons of power. Among the 62 top posts of the 31 provincial-level administrations, there are eight provincial party secretaries and nine governors who once served in senior positions on the youth league central committee or provincial committees. Even more importantly, most worked as central or provincial youth league leaders at some point between 1982 and 1985, when Mr Hu was secretary and first secretary of the central committee of the youth league. That means many of them were once colleagues or direct subordinates of Mr Hu. And even those who worked at provincial youth league committees during the period were likely to have had some sort of contact with Mr Hu, who was the head of the national youth league structure at that time. The most eye-catching examples among these so-called tuanpai stars are the two Li's - Liaoning party boss Li Keqiang and Jiangsu party boss Li Yuanchao . Both were colleagues of Mr Hu at the youth league secretariat 20 years ago and rumours are rife that Mr Hu is likely to anoint Li Keqiang as his successor at the 17th party congress. Some rising stars in the central government are also regarded as tuanpai, although they are not as numerous as in the local governments. The two most noteworthy are the head of the United Front Work Department, Liu Yandong , and the Minister of the General Administration of Sports Liu Peng . Despite their inexorable rise, youth league officials as a group have also generated increasing criticism and doubts focusing on their lack of experience, and prompted queries over their capabilities in managing macroeconomic and microeconomic matters. That is because the majority were mainly involved in the ideological and party affairs before their rise to leading positions at the central and local government levels. 'A youth league background has not always been an asset as these officials might have spent so many years in the youth league that they do not have enough work experience in their portfolio for their further promotion,' said a mainland editor with close links to the youth league. 'An example is Li Keqiang. He could not get into the Communist Party Central Committee during the 14th party congress despite the high hopes because he went to work for the youth league right after he got out of university and that was all in his portfolio.' Li Keqiang finally became a Central Committee member at the 15th congress and has remained so. Analysts believe the rise of tuanpai officials is not mere nepotism because they have many advantages over others. They are generally younger than officials who have climbed the political ladder from the grass-roots level. A shift of emphasis in the credentials of officials as a result of Mr Hu's policy shift from the fervent pursuit of economic growth favoured by his predecessor, Jiang Zemin , to political populism is also to the advantage of tuanpai officials, who usually have better academic qualifications, better international exposure and more experience in propaganda. Central Party School professor Ye Duchu told China Business News that the latest round of reshuffles is strikingly different from the previous rounds of major reshuffles in the 1980s and 1990s, with those of the 1980s emphasising age and professional qualifications and those of the 1990s emphasising an ability to propel economic growth. He said the latest round was trying to elevate officials with the so-called 'all-round qualities' of an official, such as popularity and achievements in environmental protection. The new requirements mean that youth league officials with training in propaganda and campaigning will enjoy improved career prospects. This is particularly true for those with exposure to western training and those who can speak foreign languages, according to the editor with league connections. 'The structure of the youth league is very much like the Communist Party - it has departments in the areas of military, sports, international relations and united front work and these officials have the best access to information in the entire Communist Party,' the editor said. 'They also have access to a lot of information about the west and they have exposure to a lot of mainstream international values.' In stark contrast with Mr Hu, who speaks no foreign languages, Li Keqiang and Li Yuanchao can both speak English and Li Yuanchao even gave a speech in English during a visit to the US. While these officials are known to be less hamstrung by ideology and more open-minded, analysts doubt that they will be able to change the party's governing style or the mainland's political culture. 'Many observers are asking this question - with the decline of the 'Shanghai Gang', will there be any differences in the working style among the new generation of officials,' Hong Kong-based China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said. 'I don't see any obvious change. The political culture is deep-rooted and it cannot be changed by individuals as it is a culture that emphasises the absence of personality among officials.' The editor who had work contact with the two Lis agreed. 'Li Keqiang certainly has a mindset of modern values, but in a giant political machine like this, the personal factor is not important.'