Power Play

The Chinese Communist Party has come a long way since its first congress in 1921; a conspiratorial gathering that took place in a houseboat near Shanghai. It now appears before the world as a modern ruling group, a confident technocracy in suits and ties, complete with a high tech press center. But on closer inspection, the Party is only half-modernized, just like the country's economy—part skyscraper, part feudal village.

The successors to Jiang Zemin and Co. chosen this week rose through a deliberate, meritocratic process of promotion that favors skillful politician-administrators. Yet the final list of the Party...