China's government, Politics
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CPC or CCP? Party structure and the Who’s who.

This is the second post in a series about China’s governance. If you’re confused about the structure and function of China’s government, you’re not alone. China’s government bodies differ from the parliaments, cabinets, senates, and congresses familiar in the rest of the world, and the translation of their Chinese names is often inconsistent. Sorting out China’s government structure becomes a colossal study of language and translation! The dizzying use of initialisms (CPC, NPC, PRC, CCP, CPPCC, NDRC, etc.) makes the confusion worse, not better.

Read first: China’s Government: What are the NPC and the CPPCC?

Although the National People’s Congress is the highest organ of state power, the highest political power in China rests in the Communist Party of China (CPC), which has over 89 million members. If China was on Facebook, its relationship status with the CPC would be: “It’s complicated.” And is it CPC or CCP? Outside of China, news media and researchers often refer to China’s official ruling party as the Chinese Communist Party or CCP, but the preferred name within China is the CPC. The photo above is of Zhongnanhai in Beijing, the official headquarters for the CPC. In speech, “Zhongnanhai” is China’s equivalent to America’s “White House”.

The CPC officially oversees China’s governance from the NPC to grassroots organizations in villages, companies, and factories.  The CPC became the founding party of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 after the victory of the New Democratic Revolution struggle against (in the words of the CPC) “imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat-capitalism.”[1] China’s constitution guarantees that the CPC will continue to be the ruling party of the People’s Republic of China, although it might surprise you to know that the CPC is not the only active political party in China (see here). In the recent amendment to the Constitution, Article 36 secures the role of the CPC in China’s governance and reads: the “Leadership by the Communist Party of China is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics.” (More on that coming up!)

Below are some helpful visuals of the CPC bodies and structure.

Organization of the Party’s Leading Bodies. Source: Xinhua.net
Party hierarchical structure from Standing Committee to grassroots

Election of Leadership

The most influential people in the CPC are the seven members of the Standing Committee (SC). The seven members are elected by the 25 members of the Political Bureau (Politburo), who themselves are elected by the 200+ members of the Central Committee.  The Central Committee is elected by the 2200+ elected delegates to the National Congress of the CPC, which convenes every five years in autumn to discuss important issues, development plans, and elect leadership.

All levels of leadership are expected to abstain from misconduct by adhering to Party standards for ethics, personal conduct, and political conduct; failure may result in discipline from fines to expulsion from the CPC.   The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CDI) is the party organization responsible for internal legal and ethics enforcement. Recently, the CDI’s function and investigative methods have become a hot topic in foreign news media.

Heading the Party is a General Secretary who is chosen from among the members of the Standing Committee.  The current General Secretary is Xi Jinping, and recent former General Secretaries include Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin. Xi, after taking office in 2013, notably made changes to the CPC by introducing new bodies to focus on national and foreign security policy and to streamline bureaucratic coordination, namely the National Security Commission and the Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reforms.[2] 

The first National Congress took place in 1921 in Shanghai, and the site is an open for tours. Emily Kluge, 2017.

Xi holds three key political positions

In addition to being General Secretary, Xi Jinping also holds the position of Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) and President (elected by the NPC). Although this is often criticized as an unnecessary consolidation of power, it has been the convention for China’s leaders since 1993 (with exceptions).  Each title carries different leadership duties.  Nonetheless, given that the whole government system is united under the leadership of the CPC, it is unsurprising that the top leader would hold all three positions.  

Another key figure alongside General Secretary Xi is Premier Li Keqiang, who serves as a member of the SC and heads the State Council.  ‘Premier’ is the highest administrative position in China’s government and the second most influential position in government.


[1] Paragraph 5 of the Preamble to the Constitution of the PRC. Accessed at: http://www.npc.gov.cn/englishnpc/constitution2019/201911/1f65146fb6104dd3a2793875d19b5b29.shtml

[2] Fu, Yiqin, “What will China’s National Security Commission actually do?: the four functions of China’s top national security body,” Foreign Policy (8 May 2014), http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/05/08/what-will-chinas-national-security-commission-actually-do/

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