SHANGHAI—Once a formidable force in Chinese politics, the "Shanghai Gang" of former Communist Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin is now struggling to hold onto its influence.
Though traces of its clout linger—a man with connections to the 86-year-old Jiang was recently appointed mayor of Shanghai—most of the country's top leaders, including current General Secretary Xi Jinping, have only loose ties to the group.
The annual session of the National People's Congress opened on March 5 in Beijing. Later that day, Xi told a meeting of the Shanghai delegation, "You should carry out an array of policies that benefit the people," adding, "There is a need to change the way work is done."
Xi himself is one of the 59 members of the Shanghai delegation to the NPC, and his ascent up the ladder of China's political hierarchy included a short stint as secretary of the Shanghai municipal party committee.
But Xi is not considered a member of the Shanghai Gang.
He was transferred from the secretary of the Zhejiang provincial party committee to the secretary of the Shanghai municipal party committee in 2007 to take over from Chen Liangyu, who had been fired on corruption charges.
At the time, Chen was considered in line to join China's leadership corps as a rising star of the Shanghai Gang. His dismissal was seen as an attempt by Hu Jintao, the general secretary at the time, to undermine Jiang's influence.
The decision to appoint Xi to replace Chen may have been a ploy by Jiang, who wished to bring Xi under his own control to counter the influence of the Communist Youth League, Hu's power base.
Later in 2007, Xi was promoted above Li Keqiang, a Hu protege, with the support of Jiang and other party elders. Xi assumed the post of party general secretary in 2012.
Despite this, Xi's power base largely lies with the so-called princelings—the privileged children of senior party and government officials—and with the military. His connection to Shanghai is relatively thin.
In another blow to the group, two Jiang aides retired from key posts in China's leadership corps, as part of a personnel reshuffle endorsed during the current NPC session.
Wu Bangguo, 71, stepped down as chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, and Jia Qinglin, 73, stepped down as chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
Former Chinese Vice President Zeng Qinghong, another member of the Shanghai Gang, is a close Jiang aide. However, Zeng, 73, is also considered a princeling, with the latter attribution believed to be more important.
Although the Shanghai Gang appears to be slowly fading from the political foreground, one Chinese researcher said its clout has yet to die out completely.
Yang Xiong, 59, was promoted to mayor of Shanghai in February, even though he was not elected as a member, or even an alternate member, of the Communist Party Central Committee during the party's national congress last year.
According to Hong Kong media and other sources, Yang served as president of a Shanghai-based investment firm when Jiang's older son was its representative director.
"A personnel appointment may end up unapproved if Jiang remains definitely opposed," said the researcher.
The current Shanghai municipal party committee secretary, Han Zheng, 58, was originally expected to take over the post from Chen. But he saw it "snatched away" by Xi after Chen's dismissal. Han sat beside Yang, the Shanghai mayor, during a meeting of the Shanghai delegation on March 6, and fielded questions from reporters.
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