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Politics and Political Parties in China

After its founding in July 1921, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had only 57 members and little influence, but by 2005 the CCP had 70.8 million members and controlled all political, governmental, and military organs. Although political reform was not one of the Four Modernizations promulgated so earnestly after 1978, the CCP has allowed greater participation by nonparty members in economic and social developments. Within the party, the CCP practices what it calls “democratic centralism,” which, in effect, means that the minority follows the decisions of the majority, each level follows the directives of the next highest level, and all follow the lead of the party’s center. Constitutionally, the CCP’s national congress is the party’s highest body.

It is convened every five years, usually prior to the National People’s Congress. However, to operate, it elects a Central Committee, which in turn elects (or approves) the members of the Political Bureau and that organ’s even more elite Standing Committee. The current Central Committee has 198 members and 158 alternate members. The Political Bureau has 24 members and one alternate member, and its Standing Committee has nine members, including Hu Jintao, who became CCP general secretary in November 2002, succeeding Jiang Zemin. Of its 66.4 million members, 16.6 percent are women, only 6.1 percent members of minority nationalities, and 23.1 percent under age 35. Unlike the largely peasant, worker, and military veteran party of the past, 29.2 percent are high-school graduates, 17.8 percent of CCP members have undergraduate degrees, and 0.5 percent have graduate degrees.

When Mao led the party from 1935 to his death in 1976, he held the position of CCP chairman. His immediate and short-term successor Hua Guofeng also held the title of chairman, as did Hua’s successor when he took office in 1981, Hu Yaobang, who held the title for a short time until the position was then abolished at the CCP Twelfth Party Congress in September 1982, endowing the general secretary as the most powerful position in the party.

Deng Xiaoping, despite being the paramount leader in China in the post-Mao era, never held the top party or state positions. Instead, he allowed more junior leaders to hold these positions. When Deng’s longestterm successor, Jiang Zemin, retired in stages between 2002 and 2004, he appeared to have assumed a similar behind-the-throne position of influence.

Day-to-day management of the CCP is carried out by a central secretariat and various functional departments: the International Liaison Department, United Front Work Department, Organization Department, Propaganda Department, and Party Central Academy. Party secretaries are found at all levels of government and the military and in industries, academia, and other parts of society. In 2004 the CCP reported more than 3.3 million party branches throughout the nation. Its main organs are the daily newspaper Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily) and the semimonthly theoretical journal Qiu Shi (Seeking Truth, formerly titled Hongqi, or Red Flag).

China also has titular “democratic” parties that were loyal to the CCP in the pre-1949 period and continue to function within the structure of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), namely, the China Association for Promoting Democracy, China Democratic League, China Democratic National Construction Association, China Zhigongdang (Party for Public Interest), Chinese Peasants’ and Workers’ Democratic Party, Jiusan (September Third—a reference to the date of the defeat of Japan in 1945) Society, Guomindang Revolutionary Committee, and Taiwan Self-Government League.

An independent opposition party, the China Democracy Party, has been banned since 1998 and its leaders arrested.

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