The only legal parties in China are the Communist Party or parties affiliated with the Communist party. Independent opposition parties are not tolerated. Former Chinese Premier Li Peng said in December 1998 that if a new party "is try to negate the leadership of the Communist Party, then it will not be allowed to exist." The functioning of the Chinese government in many ways is the functioning of the Chinese Communist Party. Every leader at virtually every level has to be appointed, approved or otherwise sanctioned by the Communist Party. See Government

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the world’s largest political party. The number of members exceeded 80 million for the first time in 2010, reaching 80.27 million , 2 million more than in 2009, and up from 72.39 million members in 2006, 61 million members in 1997 and 50 million in 1992. The number of members is almost equal to the population of Germany. In 2010, 21 million people applied for membership but only 14 percent were accepted. According to Xinhua News Agency the large membership is testimony of the party’s “uninterrupted robust development and fullness of vitality and energy.” About 22 percent of the members are under the age of 35 and 25 percent are women. Membership is increasing now. For a while it was declining because members were dying off or were expelled for crimes and unpaid dues. [Source: AP, June 24, 2011]

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Communist party leaders in the 1950s

The Communist Party is highly secretive, intensively bureaucratic and concerned first and foremost with self-reservation. Paul Theroux wrote in the late 1980s: "The Communist Party was like a Masonic order, just as mysterious as a brotherhood, possibly sinister, and just about as unenjoyable---you had to be chosen, and the most supine and robotlike yes-men were the likeliest candidates." Staunch Communists pepper their speech with expressions like "class enemy" (jeiji diren) and "running dog" (zou gou).

Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian, “The Chinese Communist party, which started in 1921 as a revolutionary organisation with a dozen founders, is now a technocracy with 80 million members and distinctly aristocratic tendencies. Many senior cadres - large numbers of whom are now the "princeling" sons and daughters of former leaders - use party connections for self-enrichment in an increasingly divided society. Lacking an electoral mandate, the party has built its legitimacy on managerial competence and national strength, particularly with economic growth and engineering prowess.

Websites and Resources

Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article on the Communist Party of China Wikipedia ; China Today, official Chinese government source on the Communist Party of China ; History the Chinese Communist Party at ; News of the Communist Party of China ; Council of Foreign Relations ; Global Security Party Profile

On the Government in China: Wikipedia article on the Government of China Wikipedia ; Chinese Government site on the Chinese Government ; Directory of Government Branches ; U.S.-China Business Council Info on Chinese Government Branches ; Chinese Government Branches / ; Guide to Chinese Government Agencies ;, official Chinese government source < a href=""> ; National Flag, Anthem and ; Information on Top Chinese Leaders China Vitae ; More on Top Chinese Officials ;China Elections and Governance Blog ; CIA List of Current World Leaders /


Chinese Communist Party, Organization and Power

While the Chinese Communist Party has largely abandoned Marxist economics theory in favor of the “socialist market economy” it has largely retained its rigid Leninist structure. The top priority of Marxist-Leninism is to stay in power at all costs and maintain stability. A popular expression in the 1950s was “The party is the hands and the people are the feet.”

The Communist Party is organized according to Lenin's principal of "democratic centralism." In theory power is supposed to be rooted in elected officials in various units from the local to National Party Congress level and spread from the bottom to the top. In practice however power is rooted in the Politburo and Central Committee and flows in the opposite direction. Local officials and National Party Congress members are selected by the Central Committee and people that answer to them. They vote on the local and republic level in accordance with the leadership’s wishes.

The Communist Party has made economic growth and nationalism the basis for its legitimacy. Andre Nathan, a China specialist at Columbia University, told the New York Times in 2006, “Today’s Communist Party s a highly developed bureaucracy like IBM or General Motors. It’s not the Communist Party of Mao’s time.”

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Ethnic minority party members

Communist Party Members in China

The Communist Party had over 80 million members in 2010. According to party deputy minister Wang Qinfeng about 24 million party members are farmers, more than 38 percent are women and nearly a quarter are younger than 35 in 2010. According to Xinhua News Agency, 45 percent of the members in 2002 were workers, farmers, fishermen or herders, 12 percent were highly skilled technicians and 21 percent were miners, government officials, or members of the military or paramilitary armed police.

Party membership increased 20 percent between 2002 and 2010. Being in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) helps member further their careers and provide perks such as health care and retirement benefits. Some say that profits has been a major motivation with party membership often viewed as opportunity to take bribes and profit from coercible land deals.

Party members are in a sense the heirs of the traditional gentry. They are a power-holding elite, dispersed over the whole country, and serve as intermediaries between their own communities or units and the nation. They are recruited from the population at large on universalistic grounds of "merit," and they claim authority by their mastery of an ideology that focuses on government and public order. The ideology is contained in books, and party members are expected to be familiar with the basic texts, to continue studying them throughout their careers, and to apply them in concrete situations. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The differences between the traditional elite and the party are obvious. Party members are supposed to be revolutionaries, be devoted to changing society rather than restoring it, come from and represent the peasants and workers, and be willing to submit themselves totally and unreservedly to the party. On the whole, party members are distinctly less bookish and more military-oriented and outwardly egalitarian than traditional elites. Party members have been preferentially recruited from the poor peasantry of the interior, from the army, and from the ranks of industrial workers; intellectuals have usually found it difficult to enter the party. The party is represented in every village and every large or medium-sized enterprise in the country. The scope of its actions and concerns is much greater than that of its traditional predecessors. *

Not all party members hold state jobs: some hold village and township-level positions, and many armed forces enlisted personnel join the party during their service. (Indeed, a chance to join the party has been one of the major attractions of military service for peasant youth.) Party members direct all enterprises and institutions and dominate public life and discussion. Anyone with ambitions to do more than his or her daily job or work in a narrow professional specialty must join the party. * These day many urban people see few advantages with joining but in rural areas party members are often still regaled as the elite and membership can protect individual interests or provide opportunities that otherwise would be impossible.

Up until the Deng economic reforms, only high party official got to go abroad, stay at five-star hotels and had to access to the things like hard currency could buy foreign goods at Friendship stores. Lower-level Communist officials had the power to claim the sleeping berths they wanted on trains and kick other passengers out. In the old days members of the Communist Party almost never criticized Mao and when they did, even if they simply stated the truth, they often suffered bitter consequences. This lead to a party of yes men. One U.S. diplomat called Mao's loyal supporters "Whateverists," or politburo members who believed that "whatever Mao said about this or that was correct."

In Shanghai, Communist Party members periodically set up booths on Nanjing Road and receive comments and give out advise whole People's Liberation Army soldiers offer services such as sharpening knives, fixing watches and even cutting hair.

Joining the Chinese Communist Party

Party membership has traditionally been very selective. According to AP: “Applicants for party membership need recommendations from current members and his or her company or work unit leader showing a strong degree of party loyalty, plus “good behavior.” They also have to submit essays expressing support for the party. [Source: AP, June 24, 2011]

Candidates must demonstrate their zeal, devotion to party principles, and willingness to make a total commitment to the party. Ideally, membership is a complete way of life, not a job, and selection for membership depends more on assessment of an individual's total personality and "moral" character than on specific qualifications or technical skills. While this could probably be said of all communist parties, Chinese Communist Party members certainly mirror China's traditional mandarins, who were political generalists rather than technical specialists. Party members are the intermediaries who link enterprises and communities with high-level structures, and they can belong to more than one organization, such as a factory and a municipal party body. Party membership is virtually a requirement for upward mobility or for opportunities to leave one's original work unit. [Source: Library of Congress]

The Communist Youth League is often an important stepping stone to joining and advancing in the Communist Party. It is the equivalent of the Young Pioneers for high school students. Most high school students join for social reasons and because they are required to. In universities and work places, promising members of the Youth League are chosen to be members of the Communist Party. One woman told Theroux, "It is very hard to be a member. You don't volunteer. You have to be asked to join the Party. You must first act very well and leave a good impression. Do your work diligently---work overtime, study, be obedient."

While young people in Beijing and Shanghai tend be cynical about Communist Party rhetoric young people in other parts of the country still take it seriously and consider it an honor to join the party. Young people selected to join are often among the best and brightest.

In past the decade about one million people have joined the party every year. The party is trying to recruit more members with higher educations. Many new members join to get good jobs and make connections. Still the Communist party is having difficulty recruiting young members. Efforts to revive interest in socialism are referred to "frying old rice and soaking old tea."

Advancing in the Chinese Communist Party

The career of ambitious Communist officials is not unlike that of officers in the American military. Ambitious young officials are rotated through a series of management posts, punctuated with mid-career training at party schools. They are evaluated at the end of each command post, which determines whether they advance or are sidetracked. The Communist Party now continually provides training for its cadres. Most vice ministers have spent some time in the West and many speak English.

Party officials usually advanced their careers by attaching themselves to a high-up official. Loyalty and discipline have traditionally been valued more than party virtues than ability or creativity. In recent years, members of the Communist Party have been required to repeldge their allegiance, a move that has been extremely unpopular with officials who thought their promotion would be based on economic performance that than political subservience.

The Communist party is also having difficulty getting rid of old corrupt officials. Investigations of officials regarded as corrupt have been launched. In some cases the investigators not the corrupt officials have ended up in labor camps even tough their efforts are largely applauded by ordinary Chinese.

New Communist Party Members in China

About 20 million people applied to join the party in 2009. Less than half of the new recruits are ordinary front-line workers, meaning that the party is still a badge of managerial office-holding. Less than 40 percent of new recruits are women, meaning that the party remains almost 80 percent male.” [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, May 20, 2009]

In recent years, it has concentrated on targeting the best and brightest. Among those trying to join the Communist Party are bright undergraduates who have been trying to join for several years; doctorate students that want to change society and graduates that want a job. This is a change from the 1980s when Communist Party recruits were looked down on by peers as careerists and probably second-rate students. [Ibid]

Some elite students still consider the party --- with its attendant political meetings --- boring and irrelevant. But between 30 percent and 50 percent apply to join the party. An approval rate of about 5 percent reinforces the desirability of membership: recruiters seek those with top grades, leadership potential and youthful idealism --- albeit feigned in some cases. [Ibid]

To rise through the governmental hierarchy, membership is a must. But it shines out for other employers, too. The draw was not your ideological purity, one young told The Guardian, more the evidence of your accomplishments. “To be honest I'm a bit embarrassed,” she said,”Other people joined because they wanted to help the party and country My main reason was because it was very hard to find a job.” [Ibid]

A more idealistic student pusuing a Ph.D in philosophy told The Guardian , “It's easy to be a critic, but then maybe you can't change society. You can do more inside the system than without...Students can see its problems, but still think China can do much better under its leadership. They want to go into the system and maybe make a little change. Maybe some people have an underlying motive: more desire for power. But quite a lot really want to do something to change the country.” [Ibid]

Chinese Cadre System

Communist officials are known as cadres. A cadre is defined by the Oxford University Press Dictionary as “a small group of people trained for a particular purpose or profession.” High-level officials are sometimes referred to as mandarins, a term used to describe elite bureaucrats in imperial times. Senior cadres remain overwhelmingly male, but there is now a compulsory retirement age and even (very low) quotas for women.

According to the Library of Congress: The party and government cadre (ganbu) system is the rough equivalent of the civil service system in many other countries, 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.[Source: Library of Congress]

The Chinese cadre system went through a massive overhaul in the 1980s that reduced its size, made it more efficient and transformed it into the one of the primary instruments of national policy. 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. [Source: Library of Congress]

See Article on the Chinese Bureaucracy

Support of the Communist Party in China

The Communist Party is liked and respected by many Chinese. It is given credit for economic successes and reclaiming Hong Kong and Macau and improving China’s status and position in the world. Some think the party would do very in free elections. In the old days loyalty to the Communist party was placed above loyalty to family and love.

Support of the Communist Party has declined. After the first wave of Deng reforms and the collapse of collective farming system, the power of the Communist party disintegrated in the countryside. According one study, 60 percent of he party's rural branches had disbanded as of 1993. Since then support has also declined in the cities but the party structure remains more intact there.

Within the Communist there has been a great deal of soul searching as to which direction the Communist Party should go in the future. There have been calls for reforms, which have largely been ignored. Foreign experts and scholars have been called in to offer their views. The party worries that frustration over unemployment, rural property and corruption could lead to widespread unrest and threaten their hold on power.

Chinese Communist Party is propped up by secret police and military.

Chinese Communist Party, Insecure at the Top

The Chinese Communist Party celebrated its 90th birthday on July 1, 2011, the New York Times reported, outwardly confident but inwardly haunted by a sense that it is not truly loved."They don’t have the hearts of 99 percent of the population, and they are worried about that,"Kerry Brown, head of the Asia Program at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, told the New York Times. [Source: Didi Kirsten Tatlow, New York Times, June 15, 2011]

The party can point to enormous achievements. It has overseen the creation of great wealth in the last three decades, with economic reform lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty."They think they’ve got everything right. The economy over the last 10 years has quadrupled. So why don’t people like them?" he asked, rhetorically. "It’s paradoxical."

Key reasons for its unpopularity are corruption, and its regular resort to violence when people ask for more oversight of government, said Mr. Brown. David Shambaugh, head of the China Policy Program at George Washington University in Washington, "We think they’re stagnating. They felt, essentially, the foreign view emphasized the party’s fragility and insecurity."

At a conference in June 2011 hosted by Chinese Communist Party officials and attended by Brown and Shambaugh and other foreign scholars the party discussed progress they made in anti-corruption work, cadre training and building a meritocratic civil service. Anti-corruption officials presented "a very detailed paper," said Mr. Shambaugh. But the party asked the scholars not to disclose the contents of the officials’papers, reflecting habitual secrecy in an organization that still requires new members to swear they will "guard the secrets of the party."

The milestone was also marked by the publication of the second volume of History of the Chinese Communist Party (1949-1978) , finally released after 16 years of painstaking editing. The work has been described as objective writing of its history. "No exaggeration of glory and no denial of failure. That's the attitude that should be adopted by a mature political party," Yan Shuhan, a professor from the elite Central Party School of the CPC, told the Global Times. Yan said the way the CPC writes its history shows that a political party can only learn from experience by faithfully recording its past. [Source: Global Times, June 17, 2011]

The Global Times reported: “Experts say that objectivity, a founding principle of the CPC, was virtually banished during the late 1950s and 1960s, when "extreme leftist" thought dominated the governing ideology of the Party. Disgraced former senior Party officials such as Chen Duxiu, Wang Ming, Zhang Guotao and Lin Biao are generally treated fairly in the "History of the Chinese Communist Party," historians say. The failure of Chen Duxiu, a key founding member of the CPC, to negotiate constructive cooperation between the CPC and the then-ruling Nationalist Party of China is no longer described as "a show of capitulation." Instead, the failure is now blamed on collective "rightist" thought among CPC members led by Chen. An entire chapter is devoted to the Cultural Revolution, a time during which many Chinese suffered because of poorly thought-out government policies.” [Ibid]

Means Used by the Communist Party to Hold on to Power

The party has managed to remain strong and powerful according to Yardley by 1); stirring up nationalist feelings and promoting the ideas that the party is the defender of these sentiments; 2) maintaining a grip on economic life by absorbing entrepreneurs and business elite into the party and holding on to profitable state enterprises and having a stakes in many profitable private ones; 3) subduing anger about corruption by promoting efforts---as meager as they may be---to combat it; 4) letting the Chinese pursue their passions of making money and getting ahead so they don’t have time to think about politics; and 5) using government resources to help those, mainly in rural areas, left out.

The Washington Post’s John Pomfret has argued that the Communist Party has managed to hold on to power by giving lots of Chinese a stake in preserving the existing system and doing what it can to appease them. In the countryside for example farmers have been absorbed into the TVE system and terminated their taxes. Malcontents are paid off. Only the leaders are jailed.

The Communist Party is not shy about using force when it feels pressed to do so. Kerry Brown, head of the Asia Program at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, told the New York Times, "Historically, violence has served them well. The party seized power in revolution, consolidating it with campaigns that killed tens of millions of Chinese. Today, it is seeking a more consensual form of rule, but can’t agree how. "The thing that haunts them is the transfer from revolutionary, disruptive power, to ruling power," Mr. Brown said. "It was never quite sorted out."

Timothy Mitchell’s theory of the “state effect”describes how the Communist state has designated itself a primary reformer of a “society”from which it stood separate and apart, even as individuals within a community---retrained midwives, labor models, dundian cadres---embodied this state as it moved into previously untouched territory. [Source: Nicole Elizabeth Barnes, The China Beat, September 28, 2011, Nicole Elizabeth Barnes is a PhD candidate in modern Chinese history at the University of California, Irvine.]

On Mitchell’s theory Gail Hershatter said, “Mitchell is concerned, among other things, with analyzing how the categories of state and society are naturalized as separate and distinct. In the China field, we are very dependent upon these categories---many a scholarly interpretation would collapse without them. And yet “the state”in actual, messy historical time is both remote and locally embodied.

Book by an Aged Communist Stirs Up Trouble in the Chinese Communist Party

Andrew Higgins, wrote in the Washington Post, “As publisher of the secret journal of purged Communist Party chief Zhao Ziyang and other political blockbusters, New Century Press has grown accustomed to dealing with bursts of rage from Beijing. But it never expected a fuss over its latest venture: a densely footnoted monograph on political theory by an 83-year-old communist with a heart condition. “Frankly, this book was never going to be a sensational bestseller,” said Bao Pu, the founder of the Hong Kong-based publishing house.[Source: Andrew Higgins, Washington Post , March 8, 2012]

But there is no telling what will stir anger these days in a country that is increasingly prosperous and powerful but also curiously insecure---so much so that China spends more on internal security than on defense and views as a threat an octogenarian authority on Marxism and believer in democracy. Bao said he got a late-night call last week from officials in Beijing---who have no jurisdiction over what gets written or read in Hong Kong---demanding that he halt publication of a collection of essays by Du Guang, a retired professor at the Central Party School, which serves as a think tank as well as ideological boot camp for China’s ruling Communist Party. “This is what happens if you give unlimited power to the security apparatus,” Bao said, echoing a widespread view that the party, though the architect of China’s spectacular economic renaissance, is in thrall to retrograde security organs that see flickerings of subversion in every corner.

Unlike student protesters who enraged the party by erecting a statue modeled on New York’s Statue of Liberty in Tiananmen Square in 1989 or the jailed Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo who championed Western liberties and mocked party dogma, Du is a party member who takes Chinese communism seriously. In some ways, though, that makes him especially troublesome. His book, an advance copy of which has been reviewed by The Washington Post, doesn’t ridicule the party or call for its overthrow but dissects its theoretical gobbledygook and traces how far it has drifted from its early ideals. The book’s title: “Getting Back to Democracy.”

Shortly after the opening of the National People’s Congress, officials paid a visit to Du and told him that the school’s party committee had decided that his book must be stopped, according to an e-mail the scholar sent to a Chinese friend in the United States. Internet censors, meanwhile, have started blocking his blogs on Chinese Web sites. Furious, Du wrote an angry post, which---in a sign of how difficult it has become for authorities to control the flow of information---has been re-posted on Web sites that are still accessible. “The strangling of free speech is not possible,” Du wrote. “It only . . . makes you lose face before the whole world.”

Contents of the Controversial Book by the Aged Communist

Andrew Higgins, wrote in the Washington Post, “In his still-unpublished book, Du reflects on how he embraced communism more than half a century ago because it promised an end to dictatorial rule but “slowly came to realize that there is a great distance between the ideals of the past and the road taken by our society and country. I feel a responsibility to cry out to those who lead this country’s ruling party and to common people: we have taken the wrong road.” [Source: Andrew Higgins, Washington Post , March 8, 2012]

The party says that it doesn’t reject democracy but only its Western forms, an argument that resonates at a time of growing Chinese nationalism. It points to the National People’s Congress, which has nearly 3,000 members, allows some discussion of policy and no longer votes unanimously in favor of everything.But the legislature still invariably approves party-scripted legislation. Its chairman, Politburo Standing Committee member Wu Bangguo, is a fervent critic of what the party scorns as alien Western notions of democracy incompatible with China’s “national essence.” At last year’s session, Wu outlined a doctrine of “Five Don’ts,” denouncing multiparty competition, pluralism and other innovations as heresies that will plunge China “into an abyss of internal disorder.”

Du’s book provides a detailed theoretical critique of Wu’s arguments. His conclusion: “The National People’s Congress is nothing more than a democratic signboard for a one-party dictatorship.” Criticism of senior party leaders by name is still taboo in China, and Bao, the publisher, thinks this might partly explain Beijing’s sensitivity to the book. Du’s book also hits another raw nerve: It contains a preface by Bao’s father, Bao Tong, a reform-minded senior party official who was purged and jailed after the Tiananmen crackdown.

While ignoring Hong Kong books about the extravagant sex lives of corrupt officials and other titillating topics, Beijing has repeatedly tried to curb more sober works, usually by pressuring the authors. Bao said Chinese officials have intervened to try to halt five New Century Press titles. All but one got published, including a work denouncing China’s current prime minister, often viewed as a liberal, as a fraud. Yu Jie, the author of “China’s Best Actor: Wen Jiabao,” fled to the United States in January and said he had been tortured by Chinese security forces, in part as punishment for his criticism of the premier.

Du has been spared physical abuse and has instead been quietly ordered to withdraw his book from publication. “This is such a depressing story,” said Bao, the publisher. “The system is so intolerant of criticism it cannot even let a sick man in his 80s say what he wants to say. . . . This is why 1.3 billion people are effectively silent.”

90th Anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party

In July 2011, the Chinese Communist Party celebrated its 90th anniversary. In a speech President Hu Jintao said China's ruling communist party must ensure economic growth and its iron grip on stability do not slacken. "Development is of paramount importance and stability is the paramount task," Mr Hu told hand-picked party members inside Beijing's cavernous Great Hall of the People, in a speech carried live on state television. "Without stability, nothing can be accomplished, and the achievements that we have made will be lost. All of the party's comrade's must take this message to heart, and they must also lead all the people to take this to heart...Only by promoting both healthy and fast economic development can we secure a strong material foundation for the great revival of the Chinese nation."

Reuters reported: “China launched a wave of propaganda in the weeks leading up to the anniversary, producing slick films and decking out Beijing with banners lauding party rule and the progress the country has made since the 1949 revolution. While premier Wen Jiabao, who is also preparing to retire, has made a habit recently of more directly calling for political reform than his more cautious comrades, the party appears in no mood to listen.” "Looking back at the progress that China has made over 90 years, we can reach one fundamental conclusion - that the key to properly managing China's affairs lies in the party," Hu said. "We have every reason to be proud of what the party and the people have achieved, but we have no reason to be complacent. We must not and will never rest on our laurels." [Source: Reuters, July 1, 2011]

“After some muted moves to give citizens stronger legal protections early in his time as president, Mr Hu has made enforcing firmer control over China's increasingly diverse and fractious society a feature of his time in power. The last few months have been marked by arrests and detentions of dissidents, human rights lawyers and long-time protesters, following calls online for Arab-style "Jasmine protests" in China.” [Ibid]

Chinese Communist Party at 90

On the Chinese Communist Party’s marking its 90th anniversary, David Shambaugh of George Washington University wrote in the New York Times, “All the hoopla cannot conceal the party’s insecure state. Central China Television (CCTV) has been airing long narrative documentaries about the party’s history; bookstores are full of red-covered histories; museums have mounted special exhibitions “including the new National Museum’s “Road to Rejuvenation.” The main theme in all these celebrations has been that the party has provided China prosperity and dignity following a “century of shame and humiliation.” The narrative of past aggression and aggrievement is pervasive, as is the affirmation that the party has rebuilt Chinese society and restored China’s rightful place in the world. [Source: David Shambaugh, New York Times June 30, 2011]

Since the autumn of 2009, following the Fourth Plenary Session of the 17th Central Committee, China and the world have witnessed a more repressive and insecure Communist Party, including a slowing of some political reforms undertaken from 1997-2009. Despite the political stagnation, three sets of reforms have continued: expanding multi-candidate elections to local level party committees; increased transparency in local budgeting and resource allocation; and efforts to improve meritocracy at all levels of the party and government. But efforts to make central policy making more transparent, to prosecute pervasive corruption, to improve “intra-party democracy”and “extra-party supervision,” and to open up the media have all stagnated.

These reforms all grew out of the party’s study of the collapse of the Soviet Union and other one-party regimes. The main lesson the Chinese Communist Party drew from these foreign examples was to be proactive, flexible and adaptive, and to manage political change from above. Stasis and dogmatism were seen as recipes for stagnation and collapse.

What we are witnessing as the party turns 90, however, is the opposite. Instead of being secure and confident, it is seemingly frozen in fear of the future, unsure about its grip over ethnic regions (Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia), afraid of rising social unrest and ad hoc demonstrations, worried about the macro-economy and foreign relations, and on the cusp of a major leadership transition in 2012. Moreover, a coalition of internal security forces, giant state-owned corporations, the propaganda apparatus, and the military have joined with hard-line elements in the party to pull back from reforms. Yet there is a reformist wing in the party, led by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, which advocates more open politics. But it does not have the resources or allies to re-ignite political reforms.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated November 2012

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