This article examines the factors affecting the promotion speed of Chinese mayors in prefecture-level cities. Quantitative analysis has shown that the human capital theory is a powerful tool for explaining the promotion speed. Deng Xiaoping's policy of cadre modernisation had a substantial effect on the career advancement of mayors. The article argues that the causality between the economic performance of a jurisdiction and the political mobility of its leaders may be interpreted insufficiently and it reveals that an official's promotion speed correlates positively with the economic performance of the city in which he or she serves as mayor. A more comprehensive pattern is observed: an official who climbs the ladder faster is more likely to be nominated as mayor of an affluent city; the economic performance of a city may provide a political edge for further promotion.