Chinese Communist Party (CCP)

The People's Republic of China (PRC) is an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP or Party) is the paramount source of power. Party members held almost all top government, police, and military positions. Ultimate authority rested with members of the Politburo. Leaders stressed the need to maintain stability and social order and were committed to perpetuating the rule of the CCP and its hierarchy. Citizens lacked both the freedom to peacefully express opposition to the party-led political system and the right to change their national leaders or form of government. Socialism continued to provide the theoretical underpinning of national politics, but Marxist economic planning had given way to pragmatism, and economic decentralization increased the authority of local officials.

The Party's authority rested primarily on the Government's ability to maintain social stability; appeals to nationalism and patriotism; party control of personnel, media, and the security apparatus; and continued improvement in the living standards of most of the country's 1.3 billion citizens. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, in practice the Government and the CCP, at both the central and local levels, frequently interfered in the judicial process and directed verdicts in many high-profile cases.

The theoretical basis of the political system continued to be Marxism-Leninism, but with an unmistakable emphasis on the application of this doctrine to achieve desired results. The test of a reform was no longer how closely it reflected hallowed quotations or ideas--although reforms continued to be couched in proper doctrinal arguments--but whether or not it produced demonstrable benefits to the reform program. The banner slogan of the reform agenda was "socialism with Chinese characteristics." This slogan implied that considerable leeway would be allowed in doctrinal matters in order to achieve the overriding goal of rapid modernization. But reform leaders realized that successful implementation of the broad-ranging reform program required a stable, professional bureaucracy to direct the course of events. The course chosen included a more rational division of powers and functions for the party and government, and it provided a body of regulations and procedures to support the separation. Institutions were set up to maintain discipline and to audit bureaucratic records.

Party Organization

The organizational principle that drives the Chinese political system is democratic centralism. Within the system, the democratic feature demands participation and expression of opinion on key policy issues from members at all levels of party organization. It depends on a constant process of consultation and investigation. At the same time, the centralist feature requires that subordinate organizational levels follow the dictates of superior levels. Once the debate has reached the highest level and decisions concerning policy have been made, all party members are obliged to support the Central Committee.

The National Party Congress is in theory the highest body of the CCP. It should be distinguished from the National People's Congress, China's highest legislative body. After its ascent to power in 1949, the party held no congress until 1956. This was the eighth congress since the party's founding in 1921. The Ninth National Party Congress convened in April 1969, the tenth in August 1973, the eleventh in August 1977, and the twelfth in September 1982.

Political power is formally vested in the much smaller CCP Central Committee and the other central organs answerable directly to this committee. The Central Committee is elected by the National Party Congress and is identified by the number of the National Party Congress that elected it. Central Committee meetings are known as plenums (or plenary sessions), and each plenum of a new Central Committee is numbered sequentially. Plenums are to be held at least annually. In addition, there are partial, informal, and enlarged meetings of Central Committee members where often key policies are formulated and then confirmed by a plenum. For example, the "Communique of the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee" (December 1978), which established the party's commitment to economic modernization, resulted from a month-long working meeting that preceded the Third Plenum.

The day-to-day work of the CCP is carried out by the Secretariat and its various departments--all placed under the direction of the Political Bureau and its Standing Committee. The Secretariat (suspended in 1966) was reestablished in February 1980 as the administrative center of the party apparatus, or, more aptly, as the party's inner cabinet. The Secretariat and its general secretary are elected by the CCP Central Committee.

The CCP's Central Military Commission is also elected by the Central Committee and exercises authority over the military through the General Political Department of the People's Liberation Army (PLA). Since 1982 the party Central Military Commission has had a counterpart organization in the state Central Military Commission. In fact, the leadership of both bodies is identical. Nevertheless, because the party Central Military Commission reports directly to the powerful Central Committee, it is the authoritative body in matters of military policy.

Below the central level, party committees and congresses were formed in the twenty-one provinces, five autonomous regions, and three special municipalities directly under the central government. Taiwan was listed as a province but, of course, was not under China's administration. The party also was represented in various county subdivisions (which included the prefectures) and within the PLA from regional headquarters down to regimental level. At the bottom of the party hierarchy were three kinds of basic organizations: general party branches, primary party committees, and party branches. These were set up in factories, shops, schools, offices, neighborhoods, PLA companies, and other places, depending on local circumstances and subject to approval by the appropriate party committees.

Party committees at the provincial level are elected by the provincial-level congresses that convene every five years and have as additional functions the election of a discipline inspection commission, advisory commissions, and delegates to the National Party Congress. The county-level party congress convenes every three years and elects a committee, standing committee, and secretary. Below the county and PLA regimental levels, the general branch committee meets twice a year and is elected for a two-year term. The party branch, or lowest level of party organization, meets four times a year and elects a branch committee for a two-year term. Every party member must be a member of a branch committee. Party branch committees and their members at the grass-roots level are the backbone of the party organization. This is also the level where admission and expulsion of party members takes place. Branch members exchange views on issues, become thoroughly informed concerning party goals and policies, and learn to accept party discipline.

The CCP is variously estimated to have between 40 million and 60 million members (about 4-5 percent of the national population). To qualify as party members, applicants must be at least eighteen years of age and must go through a one-year probationary period. Emphasis is placed on the applicant's technical and educational qualifications rather than on ideological criteria. Members are expected, however, to be both "red" and "expert" (see Glossary), and the need to make the party apparatus more responsive to the demands and wishes of the masses of the people is stressed.

In an August 1980 speech, "On the Reform of the Party and State Leadership System," Deng Xiaoping declared that power was overcentralized and concentrated in the hands of individuals who acted arbitrarily, following patriarchal methods in carrying out their duties. Deng meant that the bureaucracy operated without the benefit of regularized and institutionalized procedures, and he recommended corrective measures such as abolishing the bureaucratic practice of life tenure for leading positions. In 1981 Deng proposed that a younger, better educated leadership corps be recruited from among cadres in their forties and fifties who had trained at colleges or technical secondary schools.

By the late 1980s the party and government cadre (ganbu) system, the rough equivalent of the civil service system in many other countries, was entering the final stages of a massive overhaul aimed at transforming the bureaucracy into an effective instrument of national policy. The term cadre refers to a public official holding a responsible or managerial position, usually full time, in party and government. A cadre may or may not be a member of the CCP, although a person in a sensitive position would almost certainly be a party member.

In sum, the "revolution" being carried out in the bureaucratic structures of power was meant to reorient the system away from the style, procedures, and excesses of the Cultural Revolution and toward the most efficient and potentially successful methods for China's modernization. This reorientation required the massive retirement of veteran cadres and the recruitment of those knowledgeable in modern economics and technology to be trained in leadership positions. It was an enormous task and one that obviously met significant resistance from those who either did not understand the new requirements or saw them as a substantial threat to their position and livelihood.

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