What does Zhao Ziyang’s career development tell us about paths to the top of the Chinese political hierarchy? More specifically, what does it tell us about channels of recruitment, credentials for advancement, political socialization, and transformation of elites in the Chinese political system? To be sure, a single case study is hardly optimal to posit any firm conclusions about these large questions. Nevertheless, Zhao’s career is illustrative and it largely concurs with other case studies of Chinese elites. 1 However, every case has it own unique features. There exists no guaranteed formula to propel one up the career ladder. Different strategies for advancement have proven effective at different points in time. Zhao’s career has spanned a period characterized by recurrent political upheaval, and he has had to adjust his strategies accordingly in order to survive. What follows is an attempt to summarize the various factors which affected (or did not affect) Zhao’s career development, and to place his career in the broader context of Chinese elite mobility.