China Government and Politics

China’s political system is an indication of how the state of China is organized. After the constitution of 1982, China is a unified state people ‘s republic. The Communist Party of China is the state party, and state agencies have parallel party bodies at all levels.

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The formally supreme state body is the National People’s Congress. The country’s head of state is the president. The government is led by a prime minister, but largely functions through a permanent committee, a kind of internal cabinet.

The formally supreme party body is the National Party Congress, which meets every five years and selects a Central Committee, which meets once a year. The leader of the party has the title of Secretary General.

The dual political structure makes the Chinese political system very large and heavy-rooted. The division of labor between the two bodies is that the Communist Party should formulate the policy, while the state apparatus should implement it. Since 1992, the practice has been that the Secretary-General also takes over the position of President.

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Constitution and political system

Following the Constitution of 1982, last revised in 2004, China is a single-state people’s republic, with the Communist Party as the state party (although the party is not mentioned in the Constitution). There are a few other parties that are allowed under the control of the Communist Party. China has an institutional bipartisan political system: state agencies and administration have parallel party bodies at all levels. This means that at all administrative levels, from local, through village/city, regional to national level, there is, on the one hand, an administration that implements political decisions and governs the area. Parallel to these, there are at all levels local, regional, national branches of the Communist Party that largely determine what is to be implemented by the executive unit.

State organs

The formally supreme state body is the National People’s Congress. This is elected for five years by the congresses of the provinces and the other administrative units, as well as representatives of the People’s Liberation Army. The National Congress of approximately 3000 (from the 2007/2008 election: 2987) members only meets for a short session once a year. In fact, it plays little role, although it has strengthened its importance since the reform period began in 1978. From this year Deng Xiaoping started its reform policy that gave greater financial freedom to both private and state companies. The reform policy was called “The Four Modernizations” and aimed to modernize industry, agriculture, defense and science/technology. The state’s control over the business sector was reduced, but not removed. In addition, there was an opening to the outside world and foreign companies could invest in Chinese companies or add production to China. This first happened in special economic zones that were created, among other things, for this purpose. Four zones were created in 1979: Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Shantou and Xiamen. With these experiences, a number of cities across the country later gained the same status, most of them along the coast.

Between the congressional sessions, the functions are attended by its standing committee of 177 members (161 congressmen, congress president, 13 vice presidents and the secretary general).

On the state side, the formal power lies with the president and the government (the government). Both the president and the council are formally elected by Congress, but the decisions on who to elect are made either in the central state or party organs. The president is the country’s head of state; his role has varied widely. The government is led by a prime minister, but largely functions through a permanent committee, a kind of internal cabinet.

Party organs

On the party side, the national supreme body is formally the national party congress with more than 1500 delegates. It meets every five years and selects a central committee of over 200 (from the 2017 Congress: 205) members, 172 candidate members and a political bureau of 26 full members. The Central Committee meets once a year. From five to nine members of the police bureau are members of a standing committee that in practice acts as the country’s top leadership. Since 1982, the party’s leader has held the title of secretary general, and he is the highest-ranking member of the Politburo. The decisions of these bodies are put into effect by a secretariat, headed by the Secretary-General.

The party is governed from the top down, also so that elections at a lower level are decided through nominations from the level above. The party is also represented in the armed forces, in all companies and institutions and runs mass organizations, including the trade union movement. The party is the largest in the world with about 90 million members (2019). The large number of members is not primarily due to an ideological commitment among the members, but rather the extended career opportunities that the party membership brings.

The dual political structure makes the Chinese political system very large and heavy-rooted. The division of labor between the two bodies is for the Communist Party to formulate the policy while the state apparatus is to implement it. Since 1992, the practice has been that the Secretary-General also takes over the position of President. This will reduce tensions between the party apparatus and the state apparatus while raising the status of the presidential office. The Prime Minister normally sits in the Politburo and is usually ranked second or third highest in the Communist Party.

A third important body of power is the Central Military Committee. This actually consists of two committees, which also reflect the parallel hierarchy: one belonging to the party and one belonging to the state apparatus. The chairman of these committees in practice acts as commander-in-chief of the military forces. Deng Xiaoping was China’s de facto leader from the late 1970s to the first half of the 1990s without having any formal leadership other than chairman of the military committees until 1989 and then no formal office. From 2004/2005 a practice has been established in which the Secretary-General also holds the position of chairman of the military committees.

From the start of the reform period, there have been constant tensions between the Conservatives in the party and the more pragmatic who have seen the need for China to open and modernize. In 1989, tensions arose as a result of the economy being liberalized without being followed up by political liberalization; these tensions developed into demonstrations at the Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Since the authorities’ violent reaction showed that they did not tolerate political opposition outside the control of the Communist Party, the party’s authority has not been seriously challenged. The leaders of Deng Xiaoping have tried to renew the party’s ideology, among other things, with new slogans to show the main focus areas for the party: Jiang Zemin with “The Three Representations”, Hu Jintao with “The Three Superiors” and Xi Jinping with “The Four-Comprehensive Strategy”.

By downplaying the meaning of the ideology, which happens in school and in the media, the basis for the party’s demand for enmity also weakens. Internal national tensions and relations with other countries also influence the regime’s policies.

Administrative division

China’s administrative division is complicated, but in practice five levels of government can be counted under the national: provinces (sheng), prefectures (diqu), counties (xiàn), municipalities (xiang) and villages (cun). At the provincial level there are 22 provinces, five autonomous regions (zizhiqu) and four directly controlled cities (shì). In addition, mid-level units come; for example, 15 cities are managed at the sub-provincial, or vice-provincial level.

Chinese cities are usually administrative units that, in addition to the urban area itself, manage several rural counties. They are therefore not “cities” in the usual sense. Ethnic groups are granted status as national minorities by Soviet pattern. Along with the autonomous regions, prefectures and counties defined as minority areas have been granted autonomous status with certain formal political and cultural rights.

At all levels there are parallel state and party bodies. Traditionally, the party side has dominated, but under the modernization policy, the state side with the expert bureaucracies has strengthened its position. There has also been some decentralization of authority during this period. At each level there are national congresses. These are chosen in the general and direct elections up to the county level. At the further levels, the representatives from the congresses are elected at the level below.

In addition to the “real” China comes the two special administrative regions of Hong Kong (Xianggang) and Macao (Aomen), both of which are governed as separate political and economic entities under the formula “one country, two systems”. Taiwan is considered by China’s authorities as the country’s 23rd province, although it is ruled as de facto its own country under the name of the Republic of China.


The courts are characterized by the so-called public courts. They are found at all lower levels. At the national level, there is a Supreme People’s Court. Its judges are formally elected by the National People’s Congress or its permanent committee. Similar appointments are also in the lower-level courts. Parallel to the court system, it is a prosecutorial system, with the supreme office of the procurator as the supreme body. Justice under Mao Zedong was a low priority.

The 1982 Constitution established that China should be governed by law, and not by persons, as was the case before. A 2004 constitutional amendment strengthened the guarantees for respect for private property and for human rights. The main problem is that this is not automatically followed by the courts. Among the problems are widespread corruption and the use of informal compounds (guanxi).

The human rights situation has been criticized by several international organizations, and China kills more people every year across the rest of the world, according to Amnesty International. Exact numbers on executions are difficult to find as they are kept secret from the authorities. However, it is considered crucial to the country’s economic modernization that the strengthening of the justice system continues. It is therefore of great importance to educate a professional corps of lawyers. In this way, legal security has improved, but on the other hand, the authorities have taken steps to secure the Communist Party’s control over the judiciary. Among other things, Hu introduced Jintao with his “The Three Supreme Courts” an opportunity for the party to decide leaders in the judiciary. Furthermore, in 2018, Xi Jinping introduced some additions to the 1982 Constitution; most important was that the Communist Party’s leading role be taken into law, as well as the removal of two five-year terms for the president and vice president. In general, Xi Jinping seeks greater influence for the party over the legal system, which is seen as a setback to the distribution of power.

China’s defense

The common designation for the regular armed forces in China is the People’s Liberation Army, founded in 1927 as the Communist Party’s military branch. There is general military duty for men from the age of 18, military service takes place after selection. Service time is two years. Women can do voluntary service in non-combatant units.

The total force figure for China is 2,035,000 active personnel, plus a reserve of about 510,000 personnel (2018, IISS). The semi-military forces, the People’s Armed Police, which has border security and internal security missions, totaled 660,000 personnel.

China has nuclear strategic weapons that can be delivered with intercontinental ballistic and mid-range missiles from land, ballistic missiles from a strategic submarine, and by air.


The army has a workforce of about 975,000 active personnel. Heavy materials include 5700 tanks (of which 1850 type 59, 200 type 79, 300 type 88, 2500 type 96 and 850 type 99 tanks), 550 light tanks (of which 100 type 62, 100 type 63, 250 type 05 and 100 type 15), 5,000 storm tanks and 3950 armored personnel vehicles. In addition, the Army has nine transport aircraft, over 1070 helicopters, of which over 170 combat helicopters (150 WZ-10 and over 120 WZ-19), and light, medium and heavy drones.

Air Force

The Air Force has a workforce of 395,000 active personnel. Materials include 759 fighters (512 J-7, 100 J-8, 95 J-11 and 52 Su-27), 172 bomber central H-6, over 842 combat aircraft (over 403 J-10, 130 J-11, over 60 J-16, 73 Su-30, 24 Su-35, 140 JH-7 and over 12 J-20), 14 EK aircraft, four ELINT aircraft, 13 AEW & C aircraft, 13 tankers, over 335 transport aircraft, over 1000 training aircraft, over 50 helicopters, and heavy drones.

The Navy

The Navy has a workforce of about 250,000 active personnel, of which about 25,000 are Marines. The fleet included four strategic submarines with ballistic missiles, 55 tactical submarines, one aircraft carrier, five dock landing vessels, 27 fighters, 59 frigates, 41 corvettes, over 164 patrol vessels, over 50 minesweepers, 112 landing craft, and 145 logistics and auxiliary vessels.

The Navy’s aircraft include 24 fighter jets (J-8), 31 bombers (H-6), 139 fighter jets (23 J-10, 72 J-11, 20 J-15, 24 Su-30 and 120 JH-7), 38 transport aircraft, over 105 helicopters of various types, and medium and heavy drones.

International operations

China participated in UN operations in 2018, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) with 223 personnel, field hospital and nine observers, in Lebanon (UNIFIL) with 418 personnel, in Mali (MINUSMA) with 403 personnel and field hospital, in the South Sudan (UNMISS) with 1040 personnel, field hospital and five observers, and in Sudan (UNAMID) with 374 personnel.

China Head of Government

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