Four things you should know about China's next leaders

On Thursday, the seven men who will rule China for the next five to ten years filed onto a stage at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Here are four of the most important things to know about the men shaping China's future.

They're not engineers any more.

In 2006, each of the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee had trained as an engineer; then-President Hu Jintao studied hydropower while his Premier Wen Jiabao was an expert in geology. That started to shift with the ascension in 2007 of China's new leader Xi Jinping (he studied law along with chemical engineering) and his deputy Li Keqiang (who studied law and received a PhD in economics). The latest lineup features a far more diverse band of former economists, research fellows, and even a journalist. Without reading too much into how career background affects leadership styles -- a 2006 article comparing U.S. and Chinese leaders in Bloomberg said that "engineers strive for 'better,' while lawyers prepare for the worst -- it does mean that they bring a more varied set of experiences to the job.

China's new leader is far more personable than the last chairman.

By smiling and seeming relaxed, Xi already proved himself a far more natural presence than Hu Jintao, the faceless, stiflingly boring bureaucrat who stepped down yesterday. Hu and his interregnum of boringness was the exception rather than the rule. The despotic Mao Zedong astounded people with his charisma; the 4'11 Deng Xiaoping, who ran China in the 1980s and 1990s, charmed with his smile. Even though nature bestowed Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao's predecessor as president of China, with less of an ability to appear at ease, he at least tried to be likeable. If we're lucky, Xi will end the last decade's tradition of devastatingly boring speeches.

The party forgives, even if it does not forget.  

Yu Zhengsheng, named the fourth-ranking member of the Standing Committee, was a rising star in the 1980s. But in 1985 his brother, formerly the director of the Beijing National Security Bureau, defected to the United States. As I wrote in an article in May, the defection not only brought down a Chinese spy in the CIA but also nearly torpedoed Yu's career. He spent the next dozen years working his way up through relatively low-level positions in the coastal province of Shandong, joining the Politburo in 2002 and replacing Xi as party secretary of Shanghai in 2007. The whereabouts of his brother are unknown; as are details about how Yu proved his loyalty after his brother "fled and betrayed the country."

We know so little about them.

In a 2009 speech in Mexico, Xi Jinping said that "some foreigners with full bellies and nothing better to do engage in finger-pointing at us." He then added, "First, China does not export revolution; second, it does not export famine and poverty; and third, it does not mess around with you. So what else is there to say?" That quote has shown up dozens of times in media outlets around the world, in part because it's by far the most interesting thing he's said since he started appearing on the national scene in 2007.

In a 2010 interview, Bo Zhiyue of the National University of Singapore told me that the seventh-ranking man on the Standing Committee, Zhang Gaoli, was low profile, even for a Chinese leader. "In China they say if you try to stick your head out you might be a target," Bo said. It's advice that Chinese leaders -- from Xi Jinping down -- know very well, and that's one of the reasons they remain such a mystery.


YouTube removes (then reinstates) video of Israeli strike on Hamas commander

Update: YouTube has reinstated the video. A company spokeswoman tells All Things Digital's Peter Kafka, "With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call. When it's brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it." Kafka's take is that YouTube users flagged the video yesterday, triggering a review process that ended in a YouTube staffer deciding to remove the content early this morning. It appears that call was overruled.

Original post: Yesterday I highlighted the Israeli military's efforts to live blog and live tweet its offensive in the Gaza Strip, raising important questions about the role social media should play in today's military operations. Apparently, at least one social media site seems to think the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) went a step too far.

On Wednesday, the IDF uploaded and linked to a video of a successful strike against Hamas military commander Ahmad Jabari. YouTube has since blocked the footage, which featured an aerial view of a vehicle carrying Jabari exploding, explaining that the content violated YouTube's terms of service. Those terms include these pointers:

  • Graphic or gratuitous violence is not allowed. If your video shows someone being physically hurt, attacked, or humiliated, don't post it.
  • YouTube is not a shock site. Don't post gross-out videos of accidents, dead bodies or similar things intended to shock or disgust.

As with any content-moderation decision, the removal raises questions about where and when YouTube draws its red lines about controversial content. And you can ask the same question about Twitter. On Wednesday, All Things Digital's Mike Isaac asked whether the microblogging site is obligated to remove messages like the IDF's tweet yesterday recommending that "no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead." Here's Isaac:

Are these practices within the bounds of the Twitter and Facebook Terms of Service? Even from a close reading, it is difficult to tell. According to Twitter's rulebook, users are not permitted to "publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others," nor are users allowed to use Twitter "for any unlawful purposes or in furtherance of illegal activities." That includes tweets both foreign and domestic, as Twitter's "international users agree to comply with all local laws regarding online conduct and acceptable content"....

But under what area do the IDF's activities fall? Is Israel on sturdy ground if it restricts its Twitter activity to mere reportage of events happening on the ground? Should a tweet such as this - where the IDF advises Hamas leaders not to "show your faces above ground in the days ahead" - be considered a threat?....

The ultimate question for these Web giants: Is this a speech issue, or a safety issue? Will Twitter, Facebook and even Yahoo - Flickr's owner - eventually step in if the situation escalates? Or will they let this play out over the course of the IDF's campaign?

And at what point is global policy exempt from the standard terms of service agreements written by Twitter, Facebook and the like? Should a declaration of warfare via Twitter be considered a "direct and specific threat," or a matter of foreign policy no different than a political address carried out over a broadcast network?

So far, the IDF's warning to Hamas operatives remains on Twitter -- with more than 4,000 retweets.