He has made fewer enemies on his way up than have many ambitious rivals, and so he is acceptable to more of his peers and superiors. He will only be "first among equals" on the Standing Committee of the party's Politburo, however, and is expected to spend his first few years in power consolidating his position before launching any new policy initiatives.
Li Keqiang: leader of 'the populists'
The only other expected holdover from the current Standing Committee, Li Keqiang comes from a less-privileged background than Vice President Xi Jinping. Mr. Li is identified as a leader of the "populist" faction who has evinced interest in social issues such as affordable housing and health care, as well as alternative energy and responding to climate change.
He is tipped to take over from Wen Jiabao as prime minister, a job that would put him in charge of the country's economy.
Li came to prominence as party chief in the rust belt province of Liaoning, in China's hardscrabble Northeast, having worked his way up in the Communist Youth League, the power base of current President Hu Jintao, whose protégé he is.
Li has been a highflier since he won a place at the prestigious Peking University Law School in 1977, when universities reopened after the Cultural Revolution. His friends there included a number of student activists who were later jailed or exiled for their role in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
Li speaks English, unusual for a Chinese leader.