Hu Jintao

Hu Jintao 胡锦涛



Former State President and CCP General Secretary (retired 2012/13). May continue to have a say in Tibet Work. Imposed martial law when Party Secretary of the TAR in 1988.


Pronunciation: Hoo Jin-tow (as in how) Hu Jintao
Born: 1942, Jiangsu Province.
Education: Qinghua University, hydraulic engineering.
Career: 1988 Party Secretary of TAR, appointed to Politburo Standing Committee in 1992. Heads China Youth League “faction”. General Secretary of CPC 2002 – 2012, President of China 2003 – 2013.
Prospects: Retired, but likely to retain an influence on policy and future promotions of China’s leaders.
Relevance to Tibet: Had strong control of Tibet Work. Party Secretary of TAR 1988 – 1992 (during the imposition of martial law).

Standing in the Party and Career Highlights:

Early recognition and support by Party elders including Hu Yaobang, Deng Xiaoping and Song Ping.

First postings to Gansu and Guizhou provinces and Tibet Autonomous Region (December 1988 – 1992). Meteoric rise thereafter.

Appointed to Politburo Standing Committee in 1992.

Headed Central Party School and became Vice President, thus has been at top levels of China’s leadership from 1992 to 2012/13.

In March 2003 the legislature elected him president by a vote of 2,937 to 4 with 3 abstentions.

Hu did not succeed Jiang Zemin as Chairman of the Central Military Commissions until 2004/5, after generals expressed concern for Jiang’s attempts to cling to power. A Reuters report on 31 August 2012 correctly predicted that Hu planned a clean handover to Xi Jinping of the party leadership, the presidency and the chair of the central military commission over the period end 2012/early 2013, to avoid a repeat of what happened in the transition of power from Jiang Zemin. Reuters further reported that Hu had been (unsuccessfully as it transpires) negotiating to promote Li Keqiang to be a vice Chairman of the central military commission, in order that he might retain influence after stepping aside.

One of Hu’s assignments in the Politburo Standing Committee was ethnic and minority affairs (according to Willy Lam). Known both for his ability to bring about compromise and his ability to keep his own views hidden.

A US Embassy Cable, dated April 2008 gave the following details about Hu and Tibet policy. “Summary: President Hu Jintao remains firmly in charge of China’s policy on Tibet, with the leadership unified over Beijing’s current hard-line stance and buoyed by rising PRC nationalist sentiment [xxxx]. Given Hu’s background and experience in Tibet, as well as the ‘extremely sensitive’ nature of the issue, no one would ‘dare’ challenge Hu or the Party line, contacts say. While there may be differences in how various leaders publicly articulate China’s Tibet policy, there are no substantive differences among the top leadership. Similarly, Embassy sources do not believe that two recent articles in Party-controlled southern newspapers signaled leadership debate or a review of policy, instead arguing the pieces perhaps reflect an adjustment in the Party’s media strategy. The Party has been buoyed by rising nationalist sentiment, fueled in part by anger at the West over ‘biased’ media reporting on Tibet and Olympic-related protests, but this nationalistic fervor also constrains future policy choices. Regardless, any modification of Tibet policy is unlikely in the short term, at least until after the Olympics, contacts say. End Summary.”

Family Background and Personal Details:

  • Reports about his family status are inconsistent – are most probably modestly well-to-do tea merchants.
    They are believed to have “strong Buddhist leanings.” (David Aikman, Time, to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China).
    Hu’s father was tortured then imprisoned during Cultural Revolution for capitalist crimes; died young as a result.
    Hu tried, without apparent success, to clear his father’s record. According to Richard McGregor’s book “The Party”, Hu’s elderly aunt who had raised him from the age of five, was prevented by officials from giving interviews to the media after Hu was named Party Secretary, and photos of him as a child were removed from her house, so that the Party could entirely control the narrative of his life.
  • Hu Jintao is married with two children; a daughter who completed a Master’s degree in finance at Columbia University under an assumed name, and a son, known as the “Teflon Princeling” for his ability to evade journalists questioning his connection to a mulit-million pound corruption investigation in Namibia (Telegraph, 2009)
  • At Qinghua University, Hu was a member of the dance team and was reported to be good at the fox trot. Has a photographic memory. Fascinating personal details that were expunged from his official biography when he became leader-in-waiting included the comments such as “he plays table tennis fairly well” and “occasionally danced solo at parties”.

Quotations By/Comments About

  • Hu Jintao almost never speaks to the press or makes quotable quotes. His most characteristic public statement, summarizing his policies, is: “We in China are working hard to build up a strong, prosperous, democratic, and culturally advanced modern socialist country. We need an international environment of lasting peace, and we long for living harmoniously with all countries of the world.”
  • “Whatever his instincts, he has always been a faithful follower of the party line. One of Mr Hu’s few recorded sayings is that success in life ‘requires resolve, attention to concrete matters and courage in making decisions’.” (BBC)
  • “Known as brilliant and bland”. (New York Times)
  • Henry Kissinger: “Having met with Hu on many occasions, I invariably found him thoughtful, extremely well prepared and very courteous. His mastery of the subject matter seems to make small talk unnecessary to him.” (Time, 2009)
  • “A Chinese saying best describes the risk of showing one’s clear political or ideological leanings: ‘The bird that sticks its head out gets shot.’ In all his public remarks, Hu has cautiously toed the party line, and no outsiders know where he really stands on economic and political reform and many other critical issues that confront China today.” (Yao Jin, China Brief)
  • “Although he is undoubtedly a remarkable self-promoter who knows how to use his patrons and patronage to get ahead, his résumé also reflects an intelligent, attractive, and thoughtful politician who knows how to develop a constituency among common people.” (John Tkacik, research fellow, Asian Studies Center of The Heritage Foundation, formerly chief of the China division at State Department’s intelligence and research bureau in the early 1990s)

Significant and Contradictory Anecdotes about Hu Jintao

  • One of his first acts in Guizhou was to re-open a case against three young men who had been only reprimanded after lassoing a young woman from a speeding truck, resulting in serious injury. Despite the young men’s families having Party connections, Hu ordered a re-trial that resulted in prison sentences, one for life. National publicity followed. (New York Times.) Also in Guizhou (1986) pro-democracy university students seized control of a campus building. Rather than use a hard-line approach, Hu met with students, listened to their grievances and convinced them to stand down. This approach is reported to have contributed to the decision to send him to Tibet – click to read more, below. (Encyclopedia of World Biography)
  • Reportedly sent to Tibet as punishment for failure to join condemnation of Hu Yaobang (and/or, by his critics, as an opportunity to fail). He was relatively inexperienced and was the first civilian leader, surrounded by long-time military hard-liners. Protests began before Hu arrived in Lhasa and came to a boil on March 5 1989. Part of his response showed “a level of cunning and political maturity rare for a 47-year old cadre.” Police chief phoned repeatedly asking for direction. Hu kept saying to hold off use of force and wait for further instructions. By evening, when things were out of control, Hu unplugged his phone, leaving the police chief no choice but to call in the PAP. Hu took credit for the crackdown, but had things gone differently, he could have blamed the police for acting without his orders. Thereafter, Hu spent almost no time in Tibet, making it unclear what his role was during martial law, declared in Beijing by Li Peng. (Sources Willy Lam; Joseph Fewsmith, The Heritage Foundation, and others.)
  • Hu is credited with implementing the policy he called “grasping with both hands” (still visible in Tibet today), of combining economic development with a crackdown on separatism. (Hu Yaobang had advocated economic development, but Hu framed it as a crictical part in the fight against separatism).
  • When Jonathan Mirsky (then correspondent for the Observer newspaper), visited Tibet in 1989 he met Hu Jintao and, when he asked him how he was enjoying his new job, Hu replied that he “disliked Tibet’s altitude, climate and lack of culture,” adding that his family were not intending to join him in Tibet. Mirsky was apparently astonished to hear Hu conveying such a negative view to a Western journalist. Hu went on to display his inherent distrust of Tibetans, telling Mirsky, when asked whether he had made any Tibetan friends, that he feared no Tibetan would protect him if there was ever a disturbance in Lhasa. (Jamestown Foundation China Brief, 2002.)

Some Lesser-known Issues Facing Hu Jintao

  • Conflict between governance by consensus at the top level [to avoid Mao/Deng-style dictatorship] and the ‘Zhao Ziyang lesson,’ i.e. the urgent necessity for leadership to avoid public displays of disagreement. “But this leadership ‘consensus’ seems increasingly unnatural in a society changing as fast as China is, and has encouraged leaders to “kick the can down the road” rather than confront thorny policy dilemmas.” (Murray Scot Tanner, Brookings 2007)
  • Pressure for political reform from two prominent groups: “public intellectuals” (retired officials and senior academics), who are allowed more freedom to speak out, and the children of the generation of thinkers responsible for the intellectual ferment in the late 1980s, in particular Hu Deping, son of Hu Yaobang. (Willy Lam, Asia Times, 2009)
  • Internal disagreements about whether the Party should continue “old-style politics” – that is “striking hard” against supposed internal enemies, organizing flamboyant mass campaigns, and promulgating an endless series of exhortatory slogans – or adopt a new mode of quieter governance, with talented administrators who do their work efficiently. (Russell Leigh Moses, Wall Street Journal, May 2010.)

Hu Yaobang, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao in 1986
Above: Hu Yaobang, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao in 1986.

At each Chinese new year, Hu Jintao travels…. to the dusty, un-renovated courtyard house of his deceased mentor, Hu Yaobang. “Hu Jintao sits here. I sit there next to mum,” says Hu Yaobang’s second son, Hu Dehua, gesturing to a line of chairs below a huge portrait of his diminutive father, dangling a cigarette. At first glance the current and former Communist Party chiefs have little in common beyond the coincidence of their family names and career paths. Hu Jintao comes across as every bit as stiff, impenetrable and conservative as Hu Yaobang was irrepressible, engaging and unapologetically liberal. (John Garnaut, Sydney Morning Herald, 29 May 2010).

Hu Jintao’s Contact Details

  • Address: Zhongnanhai, Xi Chang’an Jie, Beijing 100017
  • Website:,
  • Phone: + 86 10 6307 0913
  • Fax: + 86 10 6307 0900

Hu Jintao Profile Downloads:

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2 Responses to Hu Jintao

  1. editor says:

    ‘True Democracy’ Within China’s Politburo?
    “Can one find democracy in China? According to a US source in Beijing, the country’s Politburo is more interested in consensus than decrees — on all issues except for Tibet.” But consensus “doesn’t apply to one particularly touchy issue: that of the Dalai Lama and Tibet. On that subject, China’s president and Communist party head Hu Jintao ‘is firmly in charge.’ In his eyes, the Dalai Lama is a traitor and a separatist. Rebels are to be severely punished or re-educated — a view that Hu himself applied during his time as Communist party chief in Tibet from 1988 to 1992. Those who would prefer a milder approach risk their careers, US diplomats have been told.” Speigel Online, 5 December 2010.,1518,732963,00.html.

    This article seems based on a cable 16 April 2008 which had the following summary: ‘President Hu Jintao remains firmly in charge of China’s policy on Tibet, with the leadership unified over Beijing’s current hard-line stance and buoyed by rising PRC nationalist sentiment, xxxxx. Given Hu’s background and experience in Tibet, as well as the “extremely sensitive” nature of the issue, no one would “dare” challenge Hu or the Party line, contacts say. While there may be differences in how various leaders publicly articulate China’s Tibet policy, there are no substantive differences among the top leadership.’

  2. editor says:

    July 2011: the rumoured death of former President Jiang Zemin is significant for the 2012 leadership transition. Jiang’s opinions would have a significant impact on decisions about the 5th generation leadership; if he is dead, Hu’s influence over who is to take the top jobs will substantially increase.

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