Liu Yuan - a princeling with a humble image

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 April, 2011, 12:00am


Despite his low-profile style, Liu Yuan, the youngest son of late president Liu Shaoqi, is a popular topic for mainland and overseas media because of his background and promotion prospects.

Last month, Liu Yuan was the subject of the latest cover story in Global People - a semi-monthly magazine under the Communist Party mouthpiece, the People's Daily - with a comprehensive profile interviewing many of his former co-workers, including farmers, grass-roots village cadres, military officers and even scholars who studied his parents.

The consensus was that this princeling - the term for a child of a former high-ranking party official - was capable and humble when he worked in Henan and the People's Liberation Army armed police.

Like many of his princeling peers, Liu suffered during the Cultural Revolution (he was 15 when it began in 1966), the magazine said. But he did not complain and, after graduating from Beijing Normal University in 1982, worked as a local cadre in Sinxiang county, Henan, as his mother, Wang Guangmei, suggested.

'Liu never put on airs when he worked with us, as other so-called princelings did,' former county leader Yan Guangliang, 80, was quoted by the magazine as saying. 'He was not a picky eater. He ate what farmers ate - plain porridge and dried sweet potatoes. He was so humble when dealing with villagers.'

When he was selected as vice-governor of Henan in early 1988 in charge of overseas commerce, traffic and safety, he immediately headed to Sanmenxia to supervise the handling of a traffic accident in which more than 40 people were killed, according to a retired provincial official.

'When Liu was our vice-governor, he toured every disaster site to visit the wounded and comfort the victims as soon as he could,' the retired official said.

In 1992, Liu was transferred to the PLA's armed police and given the rank of major general in charge of hydropower projects. It was an arrangement between former supreme leader Deng Xiaoping and then-president Yang Shangkun amid a cadres exchange between the government and the military.

Joining the army was a dream from Liu's childhood, and he quickly adapted to army life even though he was 41, according to his colleagues. He tried to help the military hydropower team to contract dozens of big projects, including the Three Gorges Dam project in the mid-1990s and some in the Tibet plateau, Global People reported. He was rewarded for his efforts by being promoted to lieutenant general in 2000.

After serving in the army for more than 17 years and becoming an academic with the post of political commissar of the army's Academy of Military Science, Liu was promoted to senior general in 2009 by President Hu Jintao, who is also chairman of the PLA's top decision-making body, the Central Military Commission (CMC).

The 60-year-old senior general returned to the PLA's General Logistics Department - his power base - in January and became its political commissar. But the move raised concerns that he might be promoted to become one of the vice-chairmen of the CMC because of his close connection with Vice-President Xi Jinping, the vice-chairman of the commission.

Traditionally, one of the two military vice-chairmen of the CMC is a political commissar, who is responsible for the political and ideological education and organisation of the army to ensure its loyalty to the party.

'It seems like that what Liu lost during the Cultural Revolution has now become powerful political capital for him to contend for a higher post,' said Ni Lexiong, a Shanghai-based military expert. 'Besides his family background, he is the only princeling who possesses political experience in both the government and the military, and his clean and humble image ideally matches what the public desires from a new leader in today's unstable China - a rich country with poor people.'

But Hong Kong-based commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu said it was too early to speculate if Liu would be further promoted because Xi had not consolidated his political status.

'Xi will be capable of having his own team on the CMC only when he formally replaces President Hu in the party, the government and the military,' he said. 'But so far we don't know whether Hu will keep his chairmanship of the CMC next year, as former president Jiang Zemin did when he retired.'