Profile: Li Keqiang

File photo: Li Keqiang, 30 April 2012 Li Keqiang, 57, was involved in student politics

Li Keqiang has had a colourful career, rising from manual labourer on a rural commune to the number two leader of the world's most populous nation.

The 57-year-old has developed a reputation as a man who cares about the less well-off in society, perhaps as a result of his humble roots.

He is seen as close to outgoing Chinese President Hu Jintao, since both were officials in the party's youth league.

Currently a vice-premier and a member of the politburo's Standing Committee, Mr Li is expected to take over from Wen Jiabao as premier in late March.

'Bad luck'

Mr Li was born in 1955 in Anhui province, the son of a local official.

He reportedly rejected his father's offer to groom him for the local party leadership, enrolling instead at Beijing's prestigious Peking University to study law after time spent at a commune.

He joined the party in 1976 and became involved in student politics as head of the university's student federation from 1978 to 1982.

After graduation, he slowly worked his way up the party ladder. The politician, said to be fluent in English, also completed his PhD in economics.

Start Quote

Compared to Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang is much more cautious - they have very different styles”

End Quote Bo Zhiyue senior research fellow

He joined the upper echelons of the party's youth league in the 1980s, when Mr Hu was in charge of the organisation.

Mr Li was chosen as deputy secretary of the party in Henan province in 1998 and became party secretary of Liaoning province in 2004.

He became China's youngest provincial governor when he was tasked to run Henan.

But his tenure in the rural and heavily populated province was marked by a series of unfortunate events - including fires and the spread of HIV through contaminated blood - that led to him to earn a reputation for "bad luck".

He fortunately found success in boosting Henan's economy. He then impressed many by his efforts to revitalise Liaoning, an industrial province that suffered following China's economic reforms.

It has been widely speculated that Mr Li was Mr Hu's preferred successor but lost the top job to Xi Jinping.

'Cautious' leader
File photo: Aids activists in Henan province HIV spread through contaminated blood in Henan province

Mr Li has a reputation of being a friendly politician like his boss, Wen Jiabao. Some analysts also say that his understanding of economic reforms needed by China may be what the country needs.

But others point out that Mr Li suffers from the image of being a passive leader.

"Compared to Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang is much more cautious," said Bo Zhiyue, a senior research fellow at the East Asian Institute of the National University of Singapore. ''They have very different styles.''

While Mr Xi's "blue blood" shows in his self-confident manner, Mr Li is much less strident, a result of having to work hard for many years to get to where he is, Mr Bo added.

A US diplomatic cable released by whistle-blowing website Wikileaks described Mr Li as "engaging and well-informed".

In a private conversation with the US ambassador in 2007, he called China's economic figures "unreliable" and warned that official corruption was the biggest cause of public resentment, according to the leaked cables.

In January he made a high-profile trip to Europe, and later reflected on ties between the continent and China in a May commentary published in the Financial Times newspaper.

"The world today needs both Western thinking and Oriental vision," he wrote. "If China and Europe can both achieve success by development models suited to their respective conditions, we will make the world more harmonious and prosperous."

Not much is known of Mr Li's personal life. Local media report that he is married to Cheng Hong, a professor in Beijing, and they have one daughter, who is thought to be studying in the US.

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