An article in the South China Morning Post (December 13, 2019) gave the personal background of Xinjiang Party Secretary and Politburo member Chen Quanguo. It said Chen Quanguo was born into a working-class family in Henan province, a region dependent on agriculture and coal mining. In 1977, he got a firm foot on the rung of the ladder out of obscurity when he passed the college entrance exam. It was the first such exam since the death of Mao, who had banned them during the Cultural Revolution, and the competition was fierce. Before college, he served four years in the military in an artillery division and did a stint in a car factory. After graduation, he started his climb up the political ladder and began to get noticed. At the age of 33, he became the youngest county party chief in Henan. After that, Chen Quanguo didn’t seem to put a foot wrong. From the mid-1990s he was promoted every other year for almost a decade. As is often the case, he was helped by personal ties to the powerful. Chen worked in Pingdingshan city from 1992 to 1994, helping to oversee Ye county, which happened to be the hometown of Jia Tingan, who served for decades as the personal military aide of former president Jiang Zemin, according to official public résumés of the pair. “Jia wielded significant influence in the province and so the two had plenty of common issues to discuss,” said a source close to the provincial government who declined to be named to discuss the matter. Jia, 67, is now on the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, the country’s legislature. When in Henan, Chen got along well with colleagues and didn’t particularly stand out, the source said. Chen’s wife was an official with the banking regulator of the local government and his daughter spent some time at school in Britain. Another development around this time is said to have helped Chen’s rise. He became deputy governor of Henan in 1998. Henan is full of coal mines and accidents were common in those days and the city party chiefs were always blamed, the source said. “So Chen dodged that and the career stumbles that could have come with it.” Instead of taking flak for mine accidents, Chen spent his final days in Henan regularly swimming laps in the pool at the party committee compound in the afternoons. “We heard he was training himself up for Tibet,” the source said. However, Chen’s next promotion was to the governor of northern Hebei province in 2009, his first ministerial-level job. But, two years later, he was party secretary of Tibet – one of China’s most politically sensitive regions and a traditional power base of then-president Hu Jintao. Just months after his appointment in 2011, the region advertised positions for another 2,500 police. At public events, Chen fits the bill for a party cadre with a sweep of jet-black hair, somewhat drawn features, and a tendency to deliver long speeches interspersed with tongue-twisting party jargon. But even by the standards of China’s sober-suited bureaucrats, he’s difficult to pin down. Despite a 40-year career, a search through his official speeches failed to throw up any ambitious slogan, joke or personal anecdote attributable to him. His preference for staying in the background was on show when the Xinjiang regional government held a press conference in March in Beijing. The room was packed with Chinese and foreign journalists, but Chen let regional Governor Shohrat Zakir do the talking.

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