China, a country of more than 1.3 billion people, has been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since 1949. The CPC is the world’s largest political party with more than 80 million members. Within the Chinese system of government, there is a dual track of party and state functions, with the former having precedence over the latter. Let’s take a look at the party track first.
At the very top is the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) which consisted of the highest-ranked party officials. Its number has varied from five to nine throughout its history. The PSC is said to conduct weekly meetings. Its current members, ranked in order of precedence are as follows. (Their main party roles are listed beside them.)
1. Hu Jintao – General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee
2. Wu Bangguo – Party Secretary of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress
3. Wen Jiabao – Party Secretary of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China
4. Jia Qinglin – Party Secretary of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference
5. Li Changchun – Chairman of the CPC Central Guidance Commission for Building Spiritual Civilization
6. Xi Jinping – Secretary of the CPC Central Secretariat and President of the CPC Central Party School
7. Li Keqiang – Deputy Party Secretary of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China
8. He Guoqiang – Secretary of the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection
9. Zhou Yongkang – Secretary of the CPC Central Political and Legislative Committee
Some of these nine individuals also hold state positions, though it is the party position and rank that forms the basis of their power and influence.
After the PSC comes the Politburo, a 25-member body, which includes the nine PSC members. The Politburo meets about once a month, with its meeting agenda determined by the CPC General Secretary. Decisions are made by consensus. Like the PSC, the Politburo members hold top positions either in the state/military hierarchy or the regional/provincial hierarchy. The current members, with their state/military/provincial positions, are as follows.
1. Hu Jintao - President of the People’s Republic of China and Chairman of the Central Military Commission
2. Wu Bangguo – Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress
3. Wen Jiabao - Premier of the State Council
4. Jia Qinglin – Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference
5. Li Changchun – Head of the Ideology and Propaganda Leading Small Group
6. Xi Jinping – Vice President of the People’s Republic of China and Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission
7. Li Keqiang – Vice Premier of the State Council (top-ranked among other Vice Premiers)
8. He Guoqiang – Head of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection
9. Zhou Yongkang – Head of the Political and Legislative Affairs Committee
10. Guo Boxiong – Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission
11. Xu Caihou – Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission
12. Wang Zhaoguo – Vice Chairman of the National People’s Congress
13. Hui Liangyu – Vice Premier of the State Council
14. Wang Qishan – Vice Premier of the State Council
15. Zhang Dejiang – Vice Premier of the State Council
16. Wang Gang – Vice Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference
17. Li Yuanchao – Head of the CPC Organization Department
18. Liu Qi – Party Secretary of Beijing
19. Yu Zhengsheng – Party Secretary of Shanghai
20. Bo Xilai – Party Secretary of Chongqing
21. Zhang Gaoli – Party Secretary of Tianjin
22. Wang Yang – Party Secretary of Guangdong
23. Zhang Chunxian – Party Secretary of Xinjiang
24. Liu Yandong - State Councillor
25. Liu Yunshan – Head of the Propaganda Department of the CPC Central Committee
Below the Politburo is the CPC Central Committee, which comprises about 350 members and alternate members. Likewise, many of the Central Committee members hold key government and military positions, such as ministers, provincial party secretaries, provincial governors and municipal mayors. During the Central Committee meetings, the members conduct real debates on party policies, which are later translated into national decisions.
Because of this dual party-state track, a government minister can be rather low on the table of precedence. While the minister might wield considerable influence in his own administrative domain, his impact on the overall policy-making process is limited by his party position.
Hence, in order to determine the real order of precedence in China, it is better to look at the individual’s party position instead. A simplified order of precedence in the Chinese system is as follows.
1. Politburo Standing Committee members
2. Politburo member
3. Former Politburo Standing Committee members (e.g. former CPC General Secretary Jiang Zemin or former Chairman of the National People’s Congress Li Peng)
4. Central Committee members
5. Central Committee alternate members
6. Government Ministers (if they are not members/alternate members of the Central Committee)
7. Provincial Party Secretaries and Governors (if they are not members/alternate members of the Central Committee)
As mentioned in the beginning, at every administrative level, there will be a party and a state position. Within a province, there is a party secretary who outranks the governor. It is said that the party secretary determines the overall policy decisions and ensures that instructions from the party are carried out, while the governor manages the day-to-day affairs. Within a government ministry, the party secretary outranks the minister. While sometimes to prevent confusion, the minister also wears the hat of the party secretary, though there have been many cases of different people holding these two appointments. In order to ensure full party control of all administrative organs in China, this dual track permeates all the way down to the county and village level.
China is currently due for a leadership transition next year. It is currently expected that CPC General Secretary Hu Jintao, after two five-year terms, will step down at the 18th National Congress of the CPC in the autumn of 2012. The entire PSC, Politburo and Central Committee will also witness an election of new members.
At the March 2013 National People’s Congress, it is widely assumed that President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao will relinquish their state appointments. While Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang are currently touted as the next President and Premier of China respectively, given the unpredictability of politics and the political maneuverings among various factions, how things will unfold remain to be seen.
Article date: 2 November 2011.