Abstract: The transformation of China’s political elite provides important insights into the nation’s political metamorphosis and the changes in cadre selection criteria. The current literature explains the composition of Chinese political elites by referencing cross-sectional biographic data and describing how the revolutionary veterans stepped down and were replaced by the technocrats who emerged in the 1980s and 1990s. However, explanations for the rise of the technocrats have largely been limited to socioeconomic factors. By analyzing the longitudinal data of Chinese provincial leaders during the period of 1990–2013, this article shows the rise of technocrats in Chinese politics in the 1990s but also provides an explanation for it from the perspectives of individuals’ career paths and the contemporaneous political and policy landscapes. These explanations were drawn from analyses of the expansion of higher education and faculty restructuring in the 1950s, graduate job assignments, the recruitment and promotion of young and middle-aged cadres, and the cadre policy known as the Four Modernizations of the early 1980s. This article presents the interactions among individuals’ career opportunities, group composition characteristics, and socioeconomic and macropolitical dynamics. It also reveals how the Chinese Communist Party legitimizes its ruling power and maintains state capacity and political order through elite recruitment.
Keywords: China; education reform; elites; Four Modernizations; technocrats