A man walks past a poster about the People's Liberation Army featuring a portrait of President Xi Jinping. Photo: Reuters / Thomas Peter

The “seven up, eight down” rule for senior Communist Party members is unlikely to be followed at next year’s 19th Party Congress, according to an insider.

Introduced at the 2002 16th Party Congress, the rule allows sitting members of the Central Poliburo aged 67 to be promoted to the Standing Committee, while those who have reached the age of 68 are called on to retire.

However, Deng Maosheng, a director with the Policy Research Office of the Party’s Central Committee, described it as a “perceived convention only” when he met with media at a government-organized briefing session in Beijing this week.

If the “seven up, eight down” rule is applied at the 19th Party Congress next autumn it would see a major reshuffle of the top leadership, with only Party Secretary Xi Jinping, who will be 64 by then, and Premier Li Keqiang, who will be 62, being allowed to stay in the seven-member Standing Committee, while everyone else, including the anti-graft figurehead Wang Qishan, would have to step down.

Deng, who was also a member of the drafting committee for the communiqué of the Party’s sixth plenum which ended last week, insisted: “The arrangement can be flexible with reference to circumstances. ‘Seven up, eight down’ is not set in stone.”

Supporting this idea is Gu Su, a professor of philosophy and law at Nanjing University, who told the South China Morning Post that it is more likely that Wang will stay to continue the important anti-corruption campaign, although Xi would have to put forward a strong case for it to happen.

Andrew Nathan, a political science professor at Columbia University, told Bloomberg that pointers to look for at the 19th Congress would be if Wang stays, which would break the “seven up, eight down” rule, and whether an heir-apparent to Xi emerges, which would signal whether the country’s president was looking to serve beyond the usual two terms as party leader.