Politics in China

Politics in China

Politics in The People’s Republic of China (PRC)

  1. Considerations from which to commence inquiries into Chinese politics
  1. China is a rapidly changing country and the implications of its political landscape reach far and wide. According to many,China is, once again, the center of the world.
  2. In part resultant from an opaque political process, China defies simple understanding.
  3. After the fall of the USSR and the challenges resultant from Tiananmen, the Chinese government is struggling to find a balance between freedom and order while expanding and distributing her riches.
  4. China is defining her current quest mainly in pragmatic terms, as opposed to ideological terms.
  5. The goal of the current leadership is the “socialist market economy” or “the third way”. The leaders of the Chinese government have staked their legitimacy on the performance of this new economy.
  6. China is a one party authoritarian state.
  7. There is no political pluralism.
  8. China is not totalitarian.
  9. Chinese citizens are, by and large, politically apathetic. Most citizens are either parochials or subjects.
  10. There has been some political opening in response to Tiananmen and as a means to encouraging international investment. This opening is of much interest to scholars of China and international investors alike.
  11. Consider some significant indications of the recent Chinese transformation
  12. There are approximately 100 million “floating” Chinese who, as a result of eased restrictions on population movement and de-collectivization of rural farms, are seeking employment in cities and towns. They are, in essence, unregistered squatters and have few rights.
  13. Local governments, empowered by new fiscal federalism, pursue and protect their negotiated economic claims from encroachment, at the expense of a weakened central government with a steadily declining share of the GDP.
  14. China’s GDP has quadrupled in 20 years. The noveau riche are making their mark by offering alternatives to state employment.
  15. 40 million Chinese are wired to the outside world.
  16. In order to deal with the abovementioned significant indications, the Chinese government is forced to reconsider Three Relationships
  17. Past-Present
  18. State-Society
  19. China-The World
  1. Current Policy Challenges
  2. Federalism
  3. Freedom
  4. Internet and the cyber war
  5. Labor protests
  6. “It’s the embodiment of Orwellian, where words carry their opposite meaning…if freedom of speech is the freedom to say what is acceptable to the party, and freedom of publication means that you are free to publish what has already been accepted by the party, then I guess you can say there is freedom of speech and publication in China.” (Nicolas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch)
  1. Economic development
  2. Encouraging small and medium size business to the extent…
  3. “Some get rich first”
  4. WTO membership
  5. Minimize corruption and maximize transparency
  6. Foreign Policy
  7. UN
  8. US
  9. North and South Korea
  10. Japan
  11. Nationalism
  12. Taiwan
  13. Hong Kong
  14. The Wild West and Tibet
  15. Evolution, Not Revolution
  1. Chinese Society
  2. Population 1.3 billion
  3. 1950 = 85% rural, 1980 = 82% rural, 2000 = 64% rural
  4. De facto ease on migration laws, accompanied by collectivization and mass industrialization, encourages/necessitates urban migration.
  5. Geography
  6. Population concentrated on eastern 1/3 of the land
  7. ¼ of China’s land is arable
  8. Ethnicity & Unity
  9. 92% Han (55 minority nationalities)
  10. 5 provinces with significant minority populations
  11. Tibet
  12. Mongolia
  13. Xinjiang
  14. Yunnan
  15. Ninxia
  16. CCP is officially atheist. 1982 Constitution guarantees the freedom of religious worship as well as the "freedom not to believe in any religion" (but Falun Gong and Missionary Christians are stifled)
  17. Mandarin language (Beijing-based dialect)
  1. Historical Setting
  2. The Chinese are understandably proud of their 6,000 years of history.
  3. Traditional China was governed by an emperor and a unique bureaucracy of scholar-officials who gained their positions meritocratically through examinations that tested their knowledge of Confucian classics.
  4. Confucianism is a conservative philosophy that sees society as a hierarchy of harmonious relationships. Confucianism blurs the distinction between state and society—it is one.
  5. Dynasties rise and fall. The Qing dynasty lost their legitimacy over the course of the mid-19th century in the face of domestic struggle and foreign economic and military encroachment. When the Qing dynasty crumbled in 1912 a republic was founded. This republic did not restore order nor legitimacy. For 37 years regional warlords competed for local legitimacy while problems raged through China:
  6. Peasant poverty: taxes, fees, droughts, absentee landlords, feudalism
  7. Lost the industrial-imperialist-capitalist race
  8. Japan’s invasion and occupation
  9. Global economic depression
  10. Two World Wars
  1. To Unify China:
  2. The Nationalist Party (est. 1912) was strong in urban areas
  3. The Communist Party (est. 1921) consolidated leadership in the countryside and exploited the Nationalists’ failures to unify the country and to defeat Japan. History worked in favor of the CCP.
  4. 1924-1927 the Nationalist and Communist parties allied to unify the nation against warlords. The Nationalists broke this tenuous alliance. The Chinese Civil War lasted from 1928- 1937 and from 1945-1949 when the CCP won and the Nationalists retreated to Taiwan.
  1. The Political History of the PRC
  2. Three Major Periods
  3. 1949-1957: “Lean to one side” and follow the Soviet Model
  4. Soviet military and technological assistance (not much)
  5. Coercive methods to centralize bureaucracy, nationalize industry, collectivize agriculture
  6. “Thought Reform”: The 100 Flowers Campaign invited intellectuals to allow their thoughts to blossom and openly criticize the Party. “Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress in the arts and sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land” (Mao Zedong) This led to some 500,000 persecuted rightists (“poisonous weeds”).
  7. 1958-1978: The Maoist Model (Marxism-Leninism-Maoism)
  8. Sino-Soviet Split in 1960
  9. No nuclear aid
  10. Khrushchev didn’t seem to care about Taiwan
  11. Détente with US
  12. The Great Leap Forward (1957-1962)
  13. Politics in Command: Leaping into Communism
  14. Five Year Plans for industry and agriculture
  15. Set targets high and hold local leaders accountable
  16. Crushed the countryside and local leaders fudged output numbers and enslaved the collectives
  17. Stifle opposition…27 million dead
  18. The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976)
  19. To destroy the growing bourgeoisie culture within the Party.
  20. Mao called on students to act as “Red Guards”. They persecuted those who threatened the revolution (or just people that they didn’t like or trust). By 1967, China was in anarchy.
  21. In 1969, Mao called in the army to restore order
  22. By Mao’s Death in 1976, the economic modernizers, both in the Party and on the streets, become influential.
  1. 1978-Present: Deng Xiaoping’s “Third Way” rejection of ideological restraints.
  2. “When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” (Confucius)
  3. "Socialism with Chinese characteristics."
  4. “It doesn't matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.” (Deng Xiaoping’s “New Cat Thesis”)
  5. “Poverty is not socialism. To be rich is glorious.” (Deng Xiaoping)
  6. “Reform is China's second revolution.” (Deng Xiaoping)
  7. “Stability overrides everything” (Deng Xiaoping)
  8. “Let some people get rich first.” (Deng Xiaoping)
  1. The CommunistPartyState
  2. Based on Lenin’s argument that the common citizen lacks revolutionary consciousness and political awareness and, thus, professional revolutionaries must lead.
  3. Guardianship and hierarchy characterize the CCP. Mao called it the mass line.
  4. Guardianship-the CCP bases its legitimacy not by aggregating the interests of the majority but on the representation of the “historical best interests” of all people.
  5. The Chinese constitution calls itself a socialist state under the “people’s democratic dictatorship”.
  6. Post-Mao leaders are more likely to take the temperature of the people. But the people need to be led.
  7. Mass line- party leaders at all levels are supposed to maintain their relationships with ordinary citizens so that the party can transform the “scattered and unsystematic” ideas of the masses into “correct ideas” and propagate them until the “masses accept them as their own”. In this way, policy flows “from the masses to the masses”. “The mass line represents the creative and productive energies of the masses of the Chinese population, which are potentially inexhaustible. Party members should take their cue from the masses, and reinterpret policy with respect to the benefit of the masses.” (Mao Zedong)
  8. Party rules for decision making are based on the principle of democratic centralism-
  9. Democracy requires election of all leading bodies by their members or congresses, regular reports to members and representative bodies, and opportunities for discussion, criticism, and proposals from below.
  10. Centralism requires unified discipline throughout the party. As the constitution states, individuals are subordinate the majority, and all party members and organizations are subordinate to the National Congress and its CC.
  11. Party members can think whatever they want, but they must toe the Party Line
  12. “Unity of the masses, the Party and the whole country is essential. At the same time, criticism may take place along comradely lines, while at the same time a basic unity is felt and preserved. This is the dialectical method.” (Mao Zedong)
  1. Political Structures: Institutions Matter
  2. Government Structures
  3. Legislature: National People’s Congress (NPC)
  4. Structure
  5. 2,951 members for 5 year terms
  6. Not in session most of the year. The Standing Committee of 150 makes most of the decisions.
  7. Although Party approval is need for membership in the NPC, approximately a third of the seats are informally reserved for non-party members. This includes technical experts and members of the smaller satellite parties. Although these members do provide technical expertise and a somewhat greater diversity of views, they do not function as a political opposition.
  8. Functions
  9. Amends constitution
  10. Passes and amends legislation
  11. Plenary Sessions produce and release economic plans and work reports. When the plenary session convenes it is a huge media event—Western journalists can ask unscripted questions.
  12. Theoretically the government’s highest body (!)
  13. Is the NPC a rubber stamp? Four answers:
  14. Yes—the Mao years.
  15. Yes—it does not meet often enough to be legitimate in decision making.
  16. Maybe—recently, the NPC has demonstrated its assertiveness by delegating motions and dissenting votes. Dissenting votes of 20-30% are not uncommon. However, actual failure to pass a piece of legislation has only occurred twice. Although the NPC has thus far never failed to approve a work report or candidate nominated by the Party, these votes are no longer unanimous.
  17. No—the Standing Committee is comprised of political heavyweights (usually retired elders) who have ego, know how to play the game and refuse to be patsies.
  18. Why is the legislature so weak?
  19. Executive led government (is this so different from Britain?)
  20. The Communist party leadership
  21. The CCP exercises direct leadership over both the executive and legislative branches
  22. Party leaders meet with the NPC before legislation is discussed to state their “hopes” for the tone and the outcome of legislation.
  23. NPC powers of appointment are nullified by Party control over candidate nomination. There is usually only 1 candidate to nominate.
  24. CCP leaders have veto power over all legislation.
  1. Executive: The State Council
  2. Structure
  3. The Center: Government Ministries (32 – 100 members…currently at 35)
  4. The Premier
  5. Vice-Premiers
  6. State Counselors
  7. Ministers—specialized, draft laws
  8. Auditor General
  9. Secretary General
  1. Below the Center: Five Tiers

(each with a People’s Congress)

  1. 31 Provinces
  2. 332 Prefectures
  3. 2,862 Counties
  4. 44, 891 townships
  5. 906,000 villages (“autonomous mass organizations of self-government”)
  1. President = Head of State = Ceremonial
  2. Jiang Zemin 1993-2003
  3. Hu Jintao 2003 - Present
  4. Head of CCP
  5. Jiang Zemin 1993 – 2003
  6. Hu Jintao 2002 – Present
  7. General Secretary
  8. Hu Jintao 2002 – Present

  1. Chinese Communist Party Structure

The primary organs of power in the Communist Party which are listed in the party constitution include:

  • Politburo Standing Committee, which currently consists of nine members
  • Politburo, consisting of 24 full members (including the members of the Politburo Standing Committee) and one alternate
  • Secretariat, the principal administrative mechanism of the CPC, headed by the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China
  • Central Military Commission (a parallel organization of the government institution of the same name)
  • The Discipline Inspection Commission, which is charged with rooting out corruption and malfeasance among party cadres. 2.5 million punishments in the 1990’s with some 500,000 expulsions from the Party.

Other central organizations include:

  • General Office
  • Organization Department
  • Propaganda (Publicity) Department
  • International Liaison Department
  • United Front Department

In addition, there are numerous commissions and leading groups, the most important of which are:

  • Commission for Politics and Law
  • Work Committee for Organs under the Central Committee
  • Work Committee for Central Government Organs
  • Central Financial and Economic Leading Group
  • Central Leading Group for Rural Work
  • Central Leading Group for PartyBuilding
  • Central Foreign Affairs Leading Group
  • Central Taiwan Affairs Leading Group
  • Commission for Protection of Party Secrets
  • Leading Group for State Security
  • Party History Research Centre
  • National Party Congress + Central Committee
  • There have been 16 Congresses since the CCP founding in 1921.
  • 2,120 members. Too big to be effective. Meets every 5 years for 1-2 weeks. There are no surprises when they meet.
  • Functions:
  • Approve Policy (rubber stamp)
  • Elect Central Committee which exercises legislative functions b/w sessions. The candidates for the CC are pre-determined by the Politburo.
  • The most powerful several hundred leaders in the country.
  • They are usually ministers or provincial party leaders
  • The CC elects the Politburo, the Politburo Standing Committee and the General Secretary of the Party…all of whom are CC members.
  • Annual Plenary Sessions determine CC
  • Ensure the Party line
  1. Politburo + Standing Committee (see Appendix A)
  2. Two dozen leaders in Politburo
  3. 9 leaders in Standing Committee
  4. meet weekly
  5. chaired by General Secretary
  6. The CORE of decision making in China
  7. General Secretary + Departments (Hu Jintao)
  8. The Secretariat (the bureaucratic agency of the Party)
  9. The Discipline Inspection Commission (DIC)
  1. The People’s Liberation Army (PLA)
  2. “The people's army is not merely an organ for fighting; it is also an organ for the political advancement of the Party, as well as of production.” (Mao Zedong)
  3. Functions:
  4. Deals with dissent and protest
  5. Party recruitment
  6. education
  7. economic construction
  8. Secure foreign policy (esp. Taiwanese independence)
  9. A “smaller but stronger” force of 2.5 million
  1. Judiciary
  2. Supreme People’s Court at the Center
  3. Responsible to NPC
  4. Courts do not have the power of judicial review and cannot strike down a law for violation of constitution.
  5. Local People’s Courts Below
  6. Supreme People’s Procuratorate
  7. Supervise criminal investigations, approve arrests and prosecute cases
  8. They also investigate corruption
  9. Responsible to the NPC
  1. Party Leadership in Political Structures
  2. Leadership by Lines
  3. the 1st line is comprised of the younger generation (in their 50’s and early 60’s)
  4. the 2nd line is comprised of “retired” party leaders who work as advisors. They play key roles in decision-making and occupy formal positions of power, but not the top positions.
  5. 40 million officials from top to bottom
  6. The duplication of structures and the dominance of party structures
  7. Nomenklatura system- hierarchical management authority. Manages appointment, transfer and removal from office. Think Weber meets China with a healthy dose of corruption.
  8. Party Core Groups- each ministry has a core group of leaders responsible for key decision making.
  9. Dyadic relationships: “wearing two hats”
  10. Head of State and Head of Party
  11. Jiang was Head of State, Head of CCP and Chairman of the Central Military Commission. Hu is soon to do the same.
  12. Overlapping directorships
  1. Policymaking and Implementation

--Today it seems inconceivable that another Great Leap could take place:

-there is no Mao in the ranks

-experts play a significant role in policy formation

-experiments in localities precede widespread implementation

-local authorities are no longer slaves to the center

-there is negotiation and consensus building among a wider range of bureaucratic units and local authorities (“the top has its policies; the bottom has its countermeasures”)

  1. Policymaking

Politburo Standing Committee Politburo

-Decide major policy decisions → -ultimate authority

-Six executives -ratify work of PB Standing Comm.

Leading Small Groups

-Use their expertise to weigh policy options

Foreign Affairs, Finance, Party Affairs, National Security, Legal Affairs

-Policy Research

-Proposals and Drafts


Party Departments and Government Ministries

-Staff for Leading Small Groups

-Conduct research and experiments

-Channel information upward

-Channel policy downwards

  1. Fragmented Authoritarianism
  2. Example: China planned to build the Three Gorges Dam which would regulate the flow of the Yangtze River (the most powerful river in the world). Building it is on hold because it will cost a fortune, displace a million people, shake up the ecosystem and flood 100 archeological sites. It would also achieve base electrification for most of the country. To plan this megaproject requires the State Planning Commission, The Science and Technology Commission, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Communications, six provinces and the municipalities of Shanghai and Chongqing.
  3. Which powers are to be decentralized or recentralized and by what means?
  4. Dual Subordination or Lines and Pieces
  5. Vertical Bureaucracy: from Ministries to Localities--via provincial, township and county levels (lines).