China's ruling Communist Party will this month unveil its new top leadership team, expected to again be an all-male cast of politicians whose instincts are to move cautiously on reform.
Sources close to the leadership say 10 main candidates are vying for seven seats on the party's next Politburo Standing Committee, the peak decision-making body which will steer the world's second-largest economy for the next five years.
Only two candidates are considered certainties going into the party's 18th congress, which starts on Thursday: leader-in-waiting Xi Jinping and his designated deputy, Li Keqiang, who are set to be installed as president and premier next March.
Of the remaining eight contenders, only one has the reputation as a political reformer and only one is a woman.
Following are short biographies of the candidates, including their reform credentials and possible portfolio responsibilities.
REFORM CREDENTIALS: Considered a cautious reformer, having spent time in top positions in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces, both at the forefront of China's economic reforms.
Xi Jinping, 59, is China's vice president and President Hu Jintao's anointed successor. He will take over as Communist Party boss at the congress and then as head of state in March.
Xi belongs to the party's princeling generation, the offspring of communist revolutionaries. His father, former vice premier Xi Zhongxun, fought alongside Mao Zedong in the Chinese civil war. Xi watched his father purged and later, during the Cultural Revolution, spent years in the hardscrabble countryside before making his way to university and then to power.
Married to a famous singer, Xi has crafted a low-key and sometimes blunt political style. He has complained that officials' speeches and writings are clogged with party jargon and has demanded more plain speaking.
Xi went to work in the poor northwest Chinese countryside as a sent-down youth during the chaos of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, and became a rural commune official. He went on to study chemical engineering at Tsinghua University in Beijing and later gained a doctorate in Marxist theory from Tsinghua.
A native of the poor, inland province of Shaanxi, Xi was promoted to governor of southeastern Fujian province in 1999 and became party boss