The government of the People's Republic of China is based on a system of people's congress within the parameters of a Marxism–Leninist state, in which the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) enacts its policies through people's congresses. This system is based on the principle of unitary power, also termed unified state power, in which the legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC), is constitutionally enshrined as "the highest state organ of power." As China's political system has no separation of powers, there is only one branch of government which is represented by the legislature. The CCP through the NPC enacts unified leadership, which requires that all state organs, from the Supreme People's Court to the President of the People's Republic of China, are elected by, answerable to, and have no separate powers than those granted to them by the NPC. The CCP controls appointments in all state bodies through a two-thirds majority in the NPC. The remaining seats are held by nominally independent delegates and eight minor political parties, which are non-oppositional and support the CCP. All government bodies and state-owned enterprises have internal CCP committees that lead the decision-making in these institutions.
|Formation||1 October 1949|
|Legislature||National People's Congress|
|Party||Chinese Communist Party|
|General Secretary||Xi Jinping|
(Li Qiang Government)
|Paramount leader[note 1]||Xi Jinping|
|Congress Chairman||Zhao Leji|
|Conference Chairman||Wang Huning|
|Supervisory Director||Liu Jinguo|
|Chief Justice||Zhang Jun|
|Procurator General||Ying Yong|
|Vice President||Han Zheng|
|Military||People's Liberation Army|
People's Armed Police
|Military Chairman||Xi Jinping|
|Government of the People's Republic of China|
|Government of China|
The NPC meets annually for about two weeks in March to review and approve major new policy directions, and in between those sessions, delegates its powers to the working legislature, the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC). This organ adopts most national legislation, interprets the constitution and laws, and conducts constitutional reviews, and is headed by the chairman, one of China's top officials. The president represents China abroad, though since the 1990s, the presidency has always been held by the CCP general secretary. Elected separately by the NPC, the vice president has no power other than what the president bestowed on them but assists the president. The head of the State Council, the NPC's executive organ, is the premier. The CCP general secretary is China's leading official since the CCP is tasked with formulating and setting national policy which the state, after being adopted by the NPC or relevant state organ, is responsible for implementing.
The State Council, also referred to as the Central People's Government, consists of, besides the Premier, a variable number of vice premiers, five state councilors (protocol equal of vice premiers but with narrower portfolios), the secretary-general, and 26 ministers and other cabinet-level department heads. It consists of ministries and agencies with specific portfolios. The State Council presents most initiatives to the NPCSC for consideration after previous endorsement by the CCP's Politburo Standing Committee.
China's judicial organs are political organs that perform prosecutorial and court functions. Because of their political nature, China does not have judicial independence. China's courts are supervised by the Supreme People's Court (SPC), which answers to the NPC. The Supreme People's Procuratorate (SPP) is responsible for prosecutions and supervises procuracies at the provincial, prefecture, and county levels. At the same administrative ranking as the SPC and SPP, the National Supervisory Commission (NSC) was established in 2018 to investigate corruption within the CCP and state organs. All courts and their personnel are subject to the effective control of the CCP's Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission.
Relationship with the Chinese Communist Party
All government bodies in China are under the control of the CCP, with the CCP constitution declaring that the party is the "highest force for political leadership". Senior government officials throughout the country are appointed by the CCP, and are mostly CCP members. All government departments, state-owned enterprises and public institutes include CCP committees, from the village level to the national level. The CCP committees in government bodies largely supervise and lead the bodies, with the State Council mostly dealing with economic matters. As outlined by the CCP constitution: "Government, the military, society and schools, north, south, east and west – the party leads them all."
Under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, there were proposals to increase the separation of the state and the party, especially advocated by more liberal officials such as Zhao Ziyang. The proposals included abolishing CCP committees from some government departments, increasing the influence of the State Council, and having professional managers leader SOEs instead of CCP committees. However, these proposals were eventually abandoned after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre.
On the relationship between the government and the CCP, James Palmer, writing for Foreign Policy, states that, "[t]he Chinese government is essentially the shadow of the Communist Party, moving as the party does, and consequently government roles matter far less than party ones." According to The Economist, "[e]specially when meeting foreigners, officials may present name cards bearing government titles but stay quiet about party positions which may or may not outrank their state jobs." According to scholar Rush Doshi, "[t]he Party sits above the state, runs parallel to the state, and is enmeshed in every level of the state.": 35
The integration of the CCP and the state has accelerated under Xi Jinping, chairing eight party commissions that direct government bodies. Under Xi, several government and party bodies have also merged, with one party organization having an external state government name under the "one institution with two names" system, further blurring the lines between the party and the state.
The Constitution of the PRC was first created on 20 September 1954, before which an interim constitution-like document created by the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference was in force. The second promulgation in 1975 shortened the constitution to just about 30 articles, containing CCP slogans and revolutionary language throughout. The role of courts was slashed, and the Presidency was gone. The 3rd promulgation in 1978 expanded the number of articles, but was still under the influence of the very-recent Cultural Revolution.
The current constitution is the PRC's fourth promulgation, declared on 4 December 1982, and has served as a stable constitution for 30 years. The legal power of the CCP is guaranteed by the PRC Constitution and its position as the supreme political authority in the People's Republic of China is put in practice through its comprehensive control of the state, military, and media.
National People's Congress
The National People's Congress (NPC) is the national legislature of China. With 2,977 members in 2023, it is the largest parliamentary body in the world. Under China's current Constitution, the NPC is structured as a unicameral legislature, with the power to legislate, to oversee the operations of the government, and to elect the major officials of state. Its delegates are elected for a five-year term through a multi-tiered electoral system. According to the Constitution, the NPC is the highest state institution within China's political system.: 78
The NPC and the National Committee of the People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a consultative body whose members represent various people's organizations, are the main deliberative bodies of China, and are often referred to as the Two Sessions. Aside from the CCP, eight minor political parties participate, but are non-oppositional and have no real power. They must accept the primacy of the CCP to exist and their members are preapproved by the CCP's United Front Work Department.
The NPC, elected for a term of five years, holds annual sessions every spring, usually lasting from 10 to 14 days, in the Great Hall of the People on the west side of Tiananmen Square, Beijing. These annual meetings are usually timed to occur with the meetings of the CPPCC, providing an opportunity for the officers of state to review past policies and present future plans to the nation. The fourth session of the 12th NPC was held from 5 to 16 March 2016.[non-primary source needed]
The NPC generally has a reputation of approving the work of the State Council and not engaging in overmuch drafting of laws itself. However, it and its Standing Committee have occasionally asserted themselves. For example, the State Council and the CCP were unable to secure passage of a fuel tax in 2009 to finance the construction of expressways. The NPC Standing Committee is more assertive than the NPC itself and has vetoed proposed laws.: 79
The CCP Politburo Standing Committee consists of the government's top leadership. Historically it has had five to nine members, and currently has seven members. Its officially mandated purpose is to conduct policy discussions and make decisions on major issues when the Politburo, a larger decision-making body, is not in session. According to the CCP's constitution, the General Secretary of the Central Committee must also be a member of the CCP Politburo Standing Committee.[better source needed]
The membership of the PSC is strictly ranked in protocol sequence. Historically, the general secretary (or party chairman) has been ranked first; the rankings of other leaders have varied over time. Since the 1990s, the general secretary (also the president), premier, chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, the chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party's top anti-graft body, and the first-ranked secretary of the CCP secretariat have consistently also been members of the Politburo Standing Committee.
Power is concentrated in the "paramount leader," an informal title currently occupied by Xi Jinping, who heads the four most important political and state offices: He is the general secretary of the CCP Central Committee, Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and President of the PRC. Near the end of Hu Jintao's term in office, experts observed growing limitations to the paramount leader's de facto control over the government, but at the 19th Party Congress in October 2017, Xi Jinping's term limits were removed and his powers were expanded.
Under the PRC's constitution, the President of the People's Republic of China is a largely ceremonial office with limited powers. However, since 1993, as a matter of convention, the presidency has been held simultaneously by the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, the top leader in the one-party system. The office is officially regarded as an institution of the state rather than an administrative post; theoretically, the president serves at the pleasure of the National People's Congress, the legislature, and is not legally vested to take executive action on its own prerogative.[note 2] The current president is Xi Jinping, who took office in March 2013.
The office was first established in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China in 1954 and successively held by Mao Zedong and Liu Shaoqi. Liu fell into political disgrace during the Cultural Revolution, after which the office became vacant. The office was abolished under the Constitution of 1975, then reinstated in the Constitution of 1982, but with reduced powers. The official English-language translation of the title was "Chairman"; after 1982, this translation was changed to "President", although the Chinese title remains unchanged.[note 3] In March 2018, presidential term limits were abolished.
The State Council is the cabinet of China. It is officially appointed by the National People's Congress and is chaired by the premier and includes the heads of each governmental department and agency. The premier is assisted by several vice premiers, currently four, each of them overseeing a certain area of administration. The premier, vice premiers and the State Councilors collectively form the inner cabinet that regularly convenes for the State Council Executive Meeting.: 76–80 The State Council includes 26 constituent ministries, and officially oversees the provincial-level governments throughout China.
Central Military Commission
The Central Military Commission (CMC) exercises the supreme command and control over the People's Liberation Army (PLA), the People's Armed Police, and the Militia. It operates within the CCP under the name "Central Military Commission of the Communist Party of China", and as the military arm of the central government under the name "Central Military Commission of the People's Republic of China". Under the arrangement of "one institution with two names", both commissions have identical personnel, organization and function, and operate under both the party and state systems. The commission is headed by the CMC Chairman.
National Supervisory Commission
The National Supervisory Commission (NSC) is the highest state supervisory (anti-corruption) agency of China. At the same administrative ranking as the Supreme People's Court and Supreme People's Procuratorate, it supervises all public officials who exercise public power. It closely operates together with the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the CCP, and effectively acts as the state arm of the CCDI. It replaced the former Ministry of Supervision.
Supreme People's Court and Supreme People's Procuratorate
The Supreme People's Court is the judicial organ of the People's Republic of China and is subject to the control of the CCP's Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission. Hong Kong and Macau, as special administrative regions, have separate judicial systems based on British common law traditions and Portuguese civil-law traditions, respectively. The judges of the Supreme People's Court are appointed by the National People's Congress.
Provincial and local government
The governors of China's provinces and autonomous regions and mayors of its directly administered municipalities are appointed by the State Council after receiving the nominal consent of the National People's Congress (NPC). The Hong Kong and Macau special administrative regions (SARS) have some local autonomy since they have separate governments, legal systems, and basic constitutional laws, but they come under Beijing's control in matters of foreign policy and national security, and their chief executives are effectively handpicked by the CCP Politburo.
Below the provincial level, there are prefectures and counties. Counties are divided into townships and villages. While most are run by appointed officials, some lower-level jurisdictions have direct elections.
While operating under strict control and supervision by the central government, China's local governments manage relatively high share of fiscal revenues and expenditures.
After the Chinese economic reform, China has been characterized by a high degree of political centralization but significant economic decentralization.: 7 The central government sets the strategic direction while local officials carry it out.: 7 New policies are often tested locally before being applied more widely, resulting in a policy process that involves experimentation and feedback.: 14 Generally, high level central government leadership refrains from drafting specific policies, instead using the informal networks and site visits to affirm or suggest changes to the direction of local policy experiments or pilot programs.: 71 The typical approach is that central government leadership begins drafting formal policies, law, or regulations after policy has been developed at local levels.: 71
China's civil service is divided into tiers.: 147 The highest tiers (including department chiefs, deputy department chiefs, and section chiefs) have significant involvement in policy-making.: 147
- The "Paramount leader" is not a formal title, that the leader is usually holding the titles of General Secretary of the Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission.
- It is listed as such in the current Constitution; it is thus equivalent to organs such as the State Council, rather than to offices such as that of the premier.
- In Chinese, the President of the PRC is termed Zhǔxí (主席) while the Presidents of other countries are termed Zǒngtǒng (总统). Furthermore zhǔxí continues to have the meaning of "chairman" in a generic context.
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