Organizational Principles & Institutions of the CPC

Marxist, XXXI 4, October–December 2015


Zhang Rongchen


Organizational Principles and Institutions of the Communist Party of China


How does the Communist Party of China organize itself and carry out its activities?1 The Party Constitution stipulates: The Party is an integral body organized under its program and Constitution based on the principle of democratic centralism. This means democratic centralism is the CPC’s fundamental organizational principle. This reflects the laws of activities of Marxist political party, and provides an organizational guarantee for the Party to maintain and develop its vanguard character and play its role as the core of leadership in revolution, construction and reform.

Organizational Building of the Party from a New Starting Point

The Communist Party of China as a political organization is the largest in the world in terms of membership and governs the most populous country in the world. In 2011 as the CPC marked its 90th founding anniversary, the Party was at anew starting point. In his speech marking the anniversary, (the then) General Secretary Hu Jintao says: The profundity and the political and social impact of the changes that have taken place in the Chinese society and in the destiny of the Chinese people over the past 90 years are rare in the history of human development. What has happened shows that in the great cause of China’s social development and progress since modern times, history and the people have chosen the CPC, Marxism, the socialist road, and the reform and opening up policy. History has also fully shown that the CPC truly deserves to be called a great, glorious and correct Marxist political party and the core force leading the Chinese people in breaking new ground in development. Looking back at China’s development and progress over the past 90 years, we have naturally come to this basic conclusion: Success in China hinges on the Party. 

The entire Party must be keenly aware that at a time of profound changes in global, national and intra-Party conditions, we are now faced with many new developments, problems, and challenges in our effort to enhance the Party’s leadership and governance and its ability to resist corruption and degeneration and to withstand risks, and strengthen its governance capacity and advanced nature. We are facing long-term, complicated and severe tests in governing the country, in implementing reform and opening up and in developing the market economy, as well as tests in the external environment. And the whole Party is confronted with growing danger of lacking in drive, incompetence, divorce from the people, lacking in initiative, and corruption. It has thus become even more important and urgent than ever before for the Party to police itself and impose strict discipline on its members. 

We must recognize the new realities, continue to guide Party building with scientific theories, study and solve major theoretical and practical issues in Party building in a spirit of reform and innovation, focus on building a moderately prosperous society in all respects and accelerating socialist modernization, fully appreciate and apply the law governing the development of Marxist ruling parties, promote comprehensive progress in the great new undertaking of Party building, and make Party building more scientific. 

Place power, Party affairs, and Party members under institutional safeguards

To make Party building more scientific under the new historical conditions, we must place power, Party affairs, and Party members under institutional safeguards, improve democratic centralism, and promote Party building in an institutionalized and standardized way and through due process.

Hu Jintao notes: The growth of the Party over the past 90 years shows that Party institutions are of fundamental importance in building and running a party with several dozen million members, as such institutions bear closely on the Party’s long-term and overall performance and its stable growth. Institutional building must be fully integrated with our efforts to strengthen the Party ideologically and organizationally, improve its style of work, combat corruption and ensure the integrity of the Party. In improving Party institutions, we must set out clear priorities, take a holistic approach, carry on fine traditions while innovating boldly. Our goal is to establish a system of Party institutions which are well coordinated in terms of scope, comprehensive and effective and are governed by rigorous procedures.

In enhancing the building of Party institutions, we should follow the Party Constitution, exercise democratic centralism, adhere to and improve the Party’s leadership system, reform and improve its leadership and governance. We should develop intra-Party democracy, promote transparency in Party affairs in an active yet prudent manner, ensure the principal status and democratic rights of Party members, improve the system of Party congresses and the intra-Party electoral system, and improve the mechanism for democratic decision making in the Party. We must safeguard the solidarity and unity of the Party and enhance its creativity. We must fight arbitrary behavior by individuals, which violates the principle of democratic centralism, and overcome weakness and laxity. All the comrades in the Party should bear in mind that all people are equal before the law, that no one has the privilege to overstep institutions and that no exception should be made in enforcing institutional safeguards. We should familiarize ourselves with, strictly apply and conscientiously safeguard Party institutions. 

Build high-caliber ranks of cadres

Generally speaking, in the ranks of cadres of the Communist Party of China, those who were recruited before the founding of New China in 1949 have mostly retired, and those recruited during eh early years of the People’s Republic are retiring. As a result of this, the Party is facing and will continue to face the heavy task of the new cooperating with and replacing the old, in its ranks of cadres.

The high-caliber ranks of cadres in the CPC comprise people of political integrity and professional competence headed by those who have the quality of socialist statesmen. They include Party and government officials, business managers, scientists and technicians, and professionals in other fields. The political and professional qualities of the ranks and cadres in the new historical period include the following: First, they must have the lofty ideal of communism, adhere to a correct political orientation, persist in building socialism with Chinese characteristics, and resolutely implement the Party’s basic theory, basic line, principles and policies. Second, they must carry out the Party’s fundamental principle of serving the people wholeheartedly, maintain close ties with the masses, especially workers and farmers, and safeguard the interests of the people. Third, they must think more freely, seek truth from facts, be practical and good at exploration, and think and work in a dialectically materialist way. Fourth, they must observe discipline and laws in an exemplary way, remain clean, honest and hard working, and fight corruption, Fifth, they must study and work wholeheartedly to accumulate knowledge and experience, and master the professional expertise and ability required in their work.

Reform and Improve the Party’s leadership system
and working mechanism

The Communist Party of China stresses that to reform and improve the Party’s leadership system and working mechanism, it is necessary to study new conditions and solve new problems to promote innovation in the Party’s theory on leadership, leadership system and working mechanism.

As far as the leadership system is concerned, the Party must uphold the leadership of Party organizations over all other organizations at the same level, and allow various organizations to play their roles independently within a legal framework. In Chinese society, there are numerous organizations. As the Communist Party of China is at the core of national leadership, Party organizations at all levels must play a key role and exercise leadership over all other organizations at the corresponding levels. Therefore, Party committees must be the core of leadership and all non-Party organizations, as they are needed in social development and have their peculiar functions and rights, must be allowed to give full play to their initiative and creativity.

In working mechanism, the Party must adhere to the principle of the Party commanding the overall situation and coordinating the efforts of all quarters. They Party as the leadership must be good at commanding the overall situation, promote the work of all levels and coordinate the relations of all subsystems, and ensure harmony in the development of the Party and all other systems. In discussing and making decisions on major issues, the Party committees must follow the principle of collective leadership, democratic centralism, individual consultation and decision by meetings. The whole Party must uphold the authority of the central leadership, and leading cadres at all levels must carry out the work arrangements of the central authorities, and implement the Party’s line, principles and policies, as well as the decisions of the Party committees.

To reform and improve the Party’s leadership system and working mechanism, it is necessary to improve the decision-making mechanism. The Party must gradually form a decision-making mechanism that is based on a full understanding of popular sentiment and a reflection of popular will. It must also promote responsible and democratic decision making, and raise the quality of decision making and work efficiency.

Strengthen the building of primary Party
organizations and the ranks of Party members

The Communist Party of China holds that primary Party organizations are the foundation of all its work and its combat readiness. As this foundation determines the governing capability of the Party, primary Party organizations constitute an essential element of Party building. With the advance of reform, opening and socialist modernization, the economy and society are in a period of profound transformation, which has brought about both new opportunities and new challenges to the building of primary Party organizations. To maintain its vanguard character, the Party must build its primary organizations well and give full play to the role of its organizations and members.

The Party’s governing capability depends on its organizational effectiveness. It is organization that gives the Party its combat readiness, cohesion and creativity. The building of primary Party organizations must follow the Party’s basic line and serve its central tasks. The Party must study new conditions and new issues in the context of reform, constantly expand the fields of work of primary Party organizations and improve the working mechanism for the building of primary Party organizations. Under the guidance of the thought of “Three Represents”, the Party must keep pace with the times and persist in reform and innovation to provide organizational guarantees for the country’s reform, development and stability, thus enhancing its capacity to govern.

Develop intra-Party democracy and
enhance intra-Party supervision

It should be noted that intra-Party democracy is an inherent character of a Communist Party, as decided by the nature of the Party and the historic mission it shoulders, and not an external abstract principle of democracy imposed on the Party. Intra-Party democracy is a form of democracy, it is not an equivalent of general democracy, and it has its own form of expression and peculiar content. The essence of intra-Party democracy lies in the right of the Party members as equals to decide, directly or indirectly, all major issues inside the Party, as reflected in the Party’s institutions and activities. Intra-Party democracy as an important factor deciding the vanguard character of the Party must prevail in Party building and its whole life.

The historical experience and lessons of the CPC in developing intra-Party democracy since the founding of the Party show that intra-Party democracy must not be regarded merely as a style of work, but must be established through reform as an institution that fully reflects the will of Party organizations and Party members. To institutionalize intra-Party democracy, it is necessary to establish and improve intra-Party rules and regulations and strictly enforce Party discipline, so that intra-Party democracy will gradually become standardized, scientific and institutionalized.

The resolution adopted at the fourth plenary session of the Seventeenth Central Committee in 2009 says: Intra-Party democracy is the life of the Party, and centralism and unity guarantees the strength of the Party. The Party must uphold the combination of centralism on the basis of democracy and democracy under centralized guidance, and promote intra-Party democracy by safeguarding the democratic rights of the Party members and enhancing democracy in primary Party organizations, so as to build consensus and arouse the enthusiasm, initiative and creativity of Party organizations at all levels and all the Party members and safeguard the Party’s centralism and unity. In this way, intra-Party democracy will help promote people’s democracy, and solidarity of the Party will ensure the solidarity of the Chinese people of all ethnic groups.

Intra-Party supervision means to supervise Party organizations and Party members through ideological, organizational and disciplinary means, urging them to implement the Party’s line, principles and policies, correctly use the power invested in them by the people, and strictly observe the institutions of democratic centralism. Intra-Party supervision and intra-Party democracy are closely related, as scientific and effective intra-Party supervision constitutes an important part of intra-Party democracy. Only by developing intra-Party democracy, can intra-Party supervision be full of vigor, sound and effective. Therefore, enhancing intra-Party democracy to safeguard the Party’s solidarity and unity is a necessity for developing intra-Party democracy, upholding the Party’s nature and purposes, and enabling the Party to serve public interest and govern the country for the people.

Intra-Party supervision aims to oversee Party organizations and Party members in performing the following: observe the Party Constitution and intra-Party rules and regulations, uphold the authority of the central leadership, and implement the Party’s line, principles and policies as well as decisions made and tasks assigned by higher Party organizations; observe the state Constitution and laws and persist in law-based governance; implement democratic centralism; protect the rights of Party members; observe relevant Party and government rules and regulations in selecting and appointing cadres; maintain close ties with the people and work to realize, safeguard and develop the fundamental interests of the people; and implement self-discipline to remain clean and fight corruption.

Since reform and opening began in the late 1970s, the Communist Party of China has established many systems for intra-Party supervision, such as the democratic assessment of Party members and leading Party cadres, leading bodies’ meeting for criticism and self-criticism, inspection of the Party’s work style and discipline, making reports to request instructions, and inspection and supervision. In 2004 the Central Committee promulgated the Regulations of the Communist Party of China on Intra-Party Supervision (for Trial Use). To deal with the difficulties and weak links in intra-Party supervision, the regulation emphasizes supervision over leading bodies and leading cadres, especially chiefs of leading bodies. The promulgation of the Regulations marked a major step forward in the building of the Party.

Democratic Centralism, fundamental organizational principle for the Party

Democratic centralism is the fundamental institution of organization for political parties of the working class, as required by the vanguard nature and world outlook of this class. In 1847, when Karl Marx and Frederick Engels founded the Communist League, the first political party of the proletariat, they did not talk about “democratic centralism” due to the social and historical conditions and the tasks faced by the party. What they stressed was the principle of democracy, which held that all organs of the League must be elected, and the electors may remove any leaders proven to be unqualified.

Historically it was Vladimir Lenin who initiated the concept of democratic centralism and made it the organizational principle for a political party. Lenin held that strict centralism was needed in the party when Russia was under Tsarist autocracy and when there were ideological differences and loose organizations in the party. But this must be democratic centralism, not an autocratic one. This concept of democratic centralism was first used in December 1905 in the resolution on the party’s organization adopted at the First Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. In April 1906 the Fourth (unified) RSDLP Congress put it down in the Party’s constitution as proposed by Lenin. Since then, democratic centralism has been a fundamental principle of party building. The Communist International was set up in 1919. In July 1920 the Second Congress of the Communist International decided, “For a party to become a member of the Communist International, the party must be founded on the principle of democratic centralism”. Since then, communist parties in various countries have followed this fundamental organizational principle.

Even since its founding in 1921, the Communist Party of China has implemented democratic centralism as its fundamental organizational principle and innovatively formulated principles and institutions based on democratic centralism for regulating its political activities and internal relations. This principle has become a salient feature of Party building. After the CPC became the governing party, it has applied this principle to state organs.

What is democratic centralism? The Party Constitution states that: “Democratic centralism is a combination of centralism on the basis of democracy and democracy under centralized guidance”. Under this principle, democracy means Party members and organizations can fully express their wishes and proposals and give full play to their initiative and creativity, while centralism means concentrating the will and wisdom of the whole Party for concerted action. Both democracy and centralism must be combined to form an integral entity.

According to the Party Constitution, the principle of democratic centralism consists of the following:

(1) Individual Party members are subordinate to the Party organization, the minority is subordinate to the majority, the lower Party organizations are subordinate to the higher Party organizations, and all the constituent organizations and members of the Party are subordinate to the National Congress and the Central Committee of the Party.

(2) The Party’s leading bodies at all levels are elected except for the representative organs dispatched by them and the leading Party members’ groups in non-Party organizations.

(3) The highest leading body of the Party is the National Congress and the Central Committee elected by it. The leading bodies of local Party organizations are the Party congresses at their respective levels and the Party committees elected by them. Party committees are responsible, and report their work, to the Party congresses at their respective levels.

(4) Higher Party organizations shall pay constant attention to the views of lower organizations and rank-and-file Party members, and solve the questions they raise in a timely fashion. Lower Party organizations shall report on their work to, and request instructions from higher Party organizations; at the same time, they shall handle, independently and in a responsible manner, matters within their jurisdiction. Higher and lower Party organizations should exchange information and support and supervise each other. Party organizations at levels should enable Party members to remain well informed of intra-Party affairs and to have as many opportunities as possible to involve themselves in them.

(5) Party committees at all levels function on the principle of combining collective leadership with individual responsibility based on division of labor. All major issues shall be decided upon by the Party committees after discussion by the collective leadership based on the principle of democratic centralism, collective leadership, individual consultation and decisions by meetings. The members of the Party committees should earnestly perform their duties in accordance with the collective decisions taken and the division of labor.

(6) The Party forbids all forms of personality cult, it is necessary to ensure that the activities of the Party leaders are subject to the supervision of the Party and the people, and at the same time to uphold the prestige of all leaders who represent the interests of the Party and the people.

These six principles are a summary of the experience of the CPC in implementing democratic centralism since its founding.

There are four reasons for the Communist Party to make democratic centralism its fundamental organizational principle:

First, organized under democratic centralism, the Party becomes an integral body and a unified force. For a political party to become powerful, it needs tightly knitted organization as well as ideological and political unity. The Party must set up a top-to-bottom organizational system and establish strict institutions for its organizations at all levels so that it can coordinate the activities of its organizations and exercise centralized leadership over all its work.

Second, organized under democratic centralism, the Party can better handle its internal relations and maintain the unity and cohesion of the Party. Organized in a multi-level structure, the Party consists of central, local and primary organizations, as well as individual members. Democratic centralism is the basic principle for correctly handling the relations between individual Party members and Party organization, between the minority and the majority, between lower organizations and higher ones, and between all the constituent organizations and members of the Party and the National Congress and the Central Committee of the Party.

Third, organized based on democratic centralism, the Party can exercise correct leadership by combating the highly unified organization of the Party with the initiative and creativity of all its constituent organizations and members. Under democratic centralism, Party members can take part in democratic discussion of Party affairs, air their views, and give full play to their initiative and creativity. By pooling the views and wisdom of its members, the Party can make sound decisions that accord with reality and ensure correct and effective leadership.

Fourth, the Party is founded and developed to exercise effective leadership over the cause of revolution and construction. To realize this, it is necessary to establish scientific systems of leadership and work so that the Party can formulate a correct line and correct principles and policies and mobilize the whole membership to realize its propositions. Such scientific systems of leadership and work can only be based on democratic centralism.

Operation of democratic centralism in
the Party’s internal life

As the organizational principle of the Party, democratic centralism includes both democracy and centralism, which are dialectically related. In the Party’s internal life, both democracy and centralism are indispensable: they are in both contradiction and unity, they are interdependent, and they constrain and supplement each other. Democracy should be under centralized guidance, and centralism should be based on democracy. In the Party’s internal life, the separation of democracy and centralism is harmful to the Party’s organization.

As the Party’s organizational principle should help to fulfill its political tasks, either democracy or centralism should meet the requirements of the situation and the Party’s political tasks. The relationship between intra-Party democracy and centralism should be correctly handled in the light of the historical conditions and the reality of the Party’s political activities.

Under democratic centralism individual Party members must be subordinate to the Party organization, because only by doing so can the Party become an integral body. If Party members can do what they like with the Party organization’s decisions and if they do not observe Party discipline, the Party will be deprived of its combat capacity. In the Party’s political activities, the decisions of the Party organization usually reflect and embody the demands and views of the majority of party members. Therefore, obeying the organization’s decisions means to follow what is correct or comparatively correct. Sometimes a Party member may have disagreement with the Party organization and it may be difficult to decide which side is correct. In that case, the individual Party member is required to follow the decision of the Party organization so as to safeguard the cohesion and unity of the Party organization. The Party member is allowed to make reservations and present his views to Party organizations at higher levels even up to the Central Committee. This will ensure unity in action for the Party and prevent the possible suppression of the correct views of any Party member.

The subordination of individual Party members to the Party organization, of lower Party organizations to higher ones and of all constituent organizations and members to the central authorities implies the subordination of the minority to the majority. It is natural that different views may arise in Party organizations as Party members may have different understandings of issues under discussion due to their personal perspectives. As one decision rather than several different ones has to be made on an issue for all Party members to follow, the principle of the minority being subordinate to the majority must be applied to achieve unity in thinking and action. Party members in the minority are allowed to make reservations when their views are rejected, but they must recognize and implement the decision adopted by the majority. Even if the views of those in the minority are correct, they must first implement the decision of the majority and then make explanations in accordance with the Party’s organizational principle and procedures so that the majority may recognize and accept their correct views. Only by doing so can the minority reserve their differing views while the Party maintains its unity in terms of organization and action.

In the Party, higher organizations lead lower ones. Lower Party organizations must firmly implement the instructions and decisions of higher Party organizations, and they are not allowed to practice opportunism. The subordination of lower Party organizations to higher ones also means subordination to the majority. Although both lower and higher Party organizations pool and reflect the views of Party members, higher Party organizations have a much wider membership and more information and are normally wiser than lower Party organizations in terms of analyzing the situation and making decisions. If a lower Party organization considers that an instruction or decision by a higher Party organization does not suit the specific conditions of the locality, the lower Party organization may present its views to higher Party organizations but it can only adjust or modify the decision after receiving approval from the higher Party organization. In emergencies where a lower Party organization must take immediate decisions and there is no time to ask for instructions from higher Party organizations, the lower Party organization may take action and, in the meantime, report it to the higher Party organization, or ask for retrospective approval after the event. Sometimes the implementation of a decision by a higher Party organization may not be fully in the interests of a lower Party organization but in the interests of the Party as a whole from a long-term and overall perspective. In that case, the lower Party organization must subordinate itself to the higher Party organization.

The Communist Party of China is an integral body consisting of all levels of organizations, from the central to localities. The highest leading body of the Party is the National Congress and the Central Committee elected by it. When the National Congress is not in session, the Central Committee carries out its decisions, directs the entire work of the Party and represents the Communist Party of China in its external relations. The Central Committee is the centralized representative of the interests and will of the whole Party, and the highest authority guiding the action of the whole Party. Only the Central Committee of the Party has the power to make decisions on major principles and policies of a national character. Party organizations of various departments and localities may make suggestions with regard to such issues to the Central Committee, but they are not authorized to make any decisions and shall not publicize outside the Party any views inconsistent with those of the Central Committee. Only when all constituent organizations and members of the Party are subordinate to the Central Committee, can the Party fulfill its functions and safeguard the interests of the Party as a whole. Therefore, all constituent organizations and members of the Party must be subordinate to the Central Committee and rally around it, so as to ensure a high degree of unity in ideology, politics and action.

The historical experiences of the Communist Party of China prove that the principle of democratic centralism has a direct bearing on the political life and destiny of the Party and the state. In the history of the Party, there have both been cases of inadequate democracy and cases of inadequate centralization, which had a negative impact on the building of the Party. The CPC has stressed that the Party must always uphold the principle of democratic centralism in building socialism with Chinese characteristics. This fundamental organizational principle may not be undermined or weakened at any time or under any circumstances. On the contrary, the Party must improve and develop the theory and method of democratic centralism in new practices.

Adhere to and improve democratic centralism

The Constitution of the Party stipulates: Democratic centralism is a combination of centralism on the basis of democracy under centralized guidance. It is the fundamental organizational principle of the Party and is also the mass line applied in the Party’s political activities. The Party must fully expand intra-Party democracy, safeguard the democratic rights of its members, and give play to the initiative and creativity of Party organizations at all levels as well as its members. Correct centralism must be practiced so as to ensure the solidarity, unity and concerted action in the whole Party and prompt and effective implementation of its decisions.

Why does the Communist Party of China emphasize adhering to democratic centralism while giving full play to democracy? It is because some deficiencies and even serious problems still remain in the implementation of this principle, which is affecting Party building. The problems include both inadequate democracy and insufficient centralization, with the former being more serious. These problems are found in the following:

First, in the decision-making process there is a tendency towards stressing the will of an individual leader while neglecting the views of others. Some leaders are reluctant to solicit opinions from others in intra-Party activities, especially in selecting cadres; some make arbitrary decisions on major economic issues without democratic discussion and scientific assessment; and some stress that they are the one who is responsible in the leadership, unwilling to give full play to the role of other members in the leading body. Such practices hinder intra-Party democracy and affect the objectivity and accuracy of centralization.

Second, some Party members dare not air their own views. In intra-Party life, they are reluctant to raise their own views or suggestions, which may differ from other’s, and choose to be obedient.

Third, a few people refuse to execute decisions on major issues made collectively through discussion. Some Party members refuse to follow the decisions of the Party, failing to correctly handle the relationship between an individual Party member and the Party organization. Some Party members show feign compliance when their own views are in disaccord with the collective decisions, making it impossible for the decisions to be executed.

Fourth, some leaders put the interests of localities or departments over the general interests of the Party. Some leaders fail to have a correct understanding of the relations between the interests of their localities or departments and the general interests of the Party and between the immediate interests and the long-term interests. In their work arrangements they attack excessive importance to local or departmental interests, and in implementing decisions made by higher authorities they choose to follow what is conducive to their localities or departments and neglect what may not be. Such practices affect the overall work of the Party.

The fundamental way to solve these problems is to enhance the Party’s institutional building. Deng Xiaoping said, “It is true that the errors we made in the past were partly attributable to the way of thinking and style of work of some leaders. But they were even more attributable to the problems in our organizational and working systems”. The Party’s institutional building calls for summarizing the experience and lessons learned from previous work of leadership and intra-Party life and then working out rules and regulations for all Party members to observe. These rules and regulations will govern intra-Party relations, guide intra-Party life and control the behaviours of leaders to ensure smooth development of the Party’s cause.

As fundamental institutions that cover all aspects of Party life, the various systems of the Party are based on the Party Constitution, and they must be stable and of a long-term nature. The systems may be divided into two categories: the leadership systems and the systems of intra-Party life. To be more specific, they include: the system of leadership over state organs and other non-Party organizations, collective leadership system, system of Party organization, system of Party cadres, system of intra-Party supervision, and system of intra-Party statistical work. The institutional building should be integrated with the ideological and organizational building of the Party and the improvement of the Party’s style of work; it should make constant progress and timely solve outstanding problems of a given period.

Strengthen the Party’s solidarity and unity

The Seventeenth Central Committee of the Party stressed in the resolution of its fourth plenary session held in 2009: All Party members must uphold the supremacy of the Party and the people. They must adhere to the principles that individual Party members are subordinate to the Party organization, the minority is subordinate to the majority, the lower Party organizations are subordinate to the higher Party organizations, and all the constituent organizations and members of the Party are subordinate to the National Congress and the Central Committee of the Party. The most important is that the whole Party must be subordinate to the Central Committee. All Party members must always be in agreement with the Central Committee ideologically and politically and in action. The whole Party must give full play to the initiative of localities while safeguarding the authority of the central leadership, and reconcile the interests of the part with those of the whole. All Party members must strictly observe Party discipline, particularly the political discipline, and ensure that instructions of the Central Committee are smoothly carried out. The Party must improve its institutions of regular inspection and supervision on the implementation of major decisions of the Party, and put an end to disobedience. In case of disagreement with a Party resolution or policy, Party members may make reservations and present their views to Party organizations at higher levels even up to the Central Committee, provided that they resolutely carry out the resolution or policy while it is in force; but they are not allowed to air their views that are against the decision of the Party Central Committee. Any violation of the Party’s political discipline must be strictly prosecuted.

The Communist Party of China has gained important experience in its organizational building. The Party can overcome all obstacles on its way forward by adhering to Marxist ideology and theory, strengthening the Party’s solidarity and unity, upholding democratic centralism, persisting in collective leadership, and building an organizational system and a leadership that are closely organized, well-disciplined and with great cohesion and combat readiness.

The Cadres System

The operation of an organization depends on its cadres. Ever since its founding the Communist Party of China has attached importance to the role of its cadres, and it has formulated a complete set of principles and policies on the selection and use of cadres. The CPC’s line and policies on cadres call for appointing people on their merits and selecting cadres of ability and political integrity from all parts of the country, which are the organizational foundation for Party building. At present, the Party’s cadre policies aim to institutionalize and standardize the selection and appointment of cadres.

Building of the Party’s ranks of cadres

What does it mean by appointing people based on their merits? In the words of Mao Zedong, the Communist Party’s standards for cadres are that they should resolutely implement the Party’s line, observe the Party discipline, maintain close ties with the masses, have the ability to work independently, be energetic and hard working, and never seek personal gains. This is the principle of appointing people on their merits.

When China entered a new historical period, Deng Xiaoping raised the principle of making the ranks of cadres more revolutionary, younger, better educated and professionally more competent to meet the needs of socialist modernization. This principle incorporates both political integrity and professional competence. To implement this principle, Deng called for introducing the principles of competition, democracy, openness and legality into the building of the ranks of cadres, and improving the systems for selecting, training, assessing, exchanging and supervising cadres, so as to form a mechanism full of vigor and vitality, which can enable talents to excel.

The resolution adopted at the fourth plenary session of the Seventeenth Central Committee in 2009 stresses: To select and appoint cadres, competence is an important standard, but integrity is even more vital. We must select those who have firm political conviction, outstanding performance, ethical integrity and popular trust. The political and moral standards call for cadres to be loyal to the Party, the country and the people; to have a sound worldview and correct views on power and career; to be hard working, responsible and enterprising, and to be upright, clean and decent. The cadres should be tested in their performance of their duties, in dealing with emergencies and crises, and in their attitude toward personal fame and gain. The selection of cadres should win confidence of Party organizations and satisfaction of the people, and ensure that capable people are given opportunities and well placed, honest persons are not disadvantaged, those who seek personal gains by acting in a calculating way and currying favor will gain nothing.

The Party’s selection of cadres

The Communist Party of China selects cadres in accordance with the Regulations for Selecting and Appointing Party and Government Leading Cadres. It aims to establish a scientific and standardized institution of selection and appointment that is full of vigor and enables talents to come out, so that the ranks of cadres will become more revolutionary, younger in average age, better educated and professionally more competent. In this work the following principles are followed: The Party is in charge of the management of cadres; cadres are appointed based on their merits, and they must have both political integrity and professional competence; cadres must win public recognition through their good performance, the selection and appointment of cadres must be open and fair, and the best must be chosen through competition; democratic centralism must be implemented; all the work must be based on laws.

Cadres to be selected and appointed must have the following qualities: First, they must have a good understanding of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory and the important thought of “Three Represents”, put the Scientific Outlook on Development into practice, apply the Marxist stand, viewpoint and method in analyzing and solving problems, stress the importance of study, political awareness and integrity, and withstand the tests of all storms. Second, they must have the lofty ideal of communism and a firm belief in socialism with Chinese characteristics, firmly implement the Party’s basic line, principles and policies, devote themselves to reform, opening and modernization, and work hard to achieve good results in socialist construction. Third, they must think more freely, seek truth from facts, keep pace with the times, blaze new trails in a pioneering spirit, make serious investigations, and work effectively in applying the Party’s principles and policies in light of the realities of their own localities and departments; they must be honest and pragmatic and guard against formalism. Fourth, they must be enterprising, highly responsible and experienced, and possess the organizational abilities, educational background and professional knowledge required for their posts. Fifth, they must exercise the power entrusted by the people in accordance with the law, be clean and diligent, work hard in an exemplary manner, keep close ties with the people by following the Party’s mass line, voluntarily accept criticism and supervision from the Party and the people, have self-respect, self-examination, self-admonishment and self-encouragement, and oppose bureaucracy and the malpractice of abusing power for personal gains. Sixth, they must uphold democratic centralism, act in a democratic manner, have the overall situation in mind, and be good at absorbing correct views and uniting with their comrades, including those who differ from them in opinion.

Qualifications for cadres to be selected for Party and government leading posts include the following: First, those selected to be county (division) chiefs must have had at least five years of public service and two years of experience working at grassroots level. Second, those selected for posts above the county (division) chief level must normally have served in at no less than two posts at the next lower level. Third, in selecting cadres for posts above the county (division) level, those to be promoted from deputy chief to chief must have served as a deputy chief for at least two years, and those to be promoted from chief at the next lower level to deputy chief must have served at the next lower level post for at least three years. Fourth, they must normally have at least a two-year college education, and those to take posts at prefecture (bureau) chief level must normally have had at least a four-year college education. Fifth, they must have had three months of training at a Party school, a school of administration or other institutions recognized by the organization (personnel) department; should anyone have not had such a training before appointment due to special reasons, the training must be carried out within a year after taking office. Sixth, they must be in good health. Seventh, those to be appointed to posts inside the Party must have met the requirements of Party membership as provided in the Party Constitution. Cadres not meeting these requirements may be promoted by way of exception if they are exceptionally excellent or especially needed for the work, in accordance with relevant rules for exceptional selection and appointment.

The procedures for the selection and appointment include:

(1) Democratic recommendation. Nominees are recommended in a democratic manner through voting at meetings or face-to-face talks presided over by the organization department of the Party committee at the next higher level. Results of the democratic recommendation are valid for one year. The number of nominees to be recommended is decided according to the posts available; when a new leading body is to be elected, the recommendation covers all the posts.

(2) Testing. A number of the nominees are selected for testing. The number is normally greater than that of the posts available. The testing covers political integrity, ability, diligence, work performance, and honesty, with work performance as a priority, in accordance with the selection and appointment standards and the requirements of the posts. The Party committees (leading Party members’ groups) set detailed standards for various posts.

(3) Preliminary discussion. Adequate preliminary discussions are necessary before the testing, deciding on the recommended persons, and reporting the decision to the higher Party organizations. Preliminary discussions are carried out respectively among leading members of Party committees (leading Party members’ groups), standing committees of people’s congresses, governments, or committees of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), according to the Party and government posts to be filled.

(4) Discussion and decision. Within the limits of authority for the management of cadres, the members of a Party committee (leading Party members’ group) collectively discuss and decide on the appointment and removal of Party and government leading cadres, or on recommendations or nominations. The Party committee (leading Party members’ group) may make suggestions on the selection and appointment of leading cadres managed by the higher Party committee (leading Party members’ group).

At least two-thirds of the members of the Party committee (leading Party members’ group) must be present at a meeting for discussing and deciding on the selection and appointment. The members attending the meeting must explicitly express their views: approval, disapproval, or wish for postponement. After adequate discussion, the issue should be submitted to voting: verbal, show of hands, or secret ballot. The issue must be decided by a majority of the members that ought to be present at the meeting.

Should major differences of opinion or questions arise, the voting must be postponed. The problems should be solved after the meeting to avoid a prolonged postponement of the issue.

(5) Assuming office. An appointment must be announced to the public before the appointee formally assumes office. For posts below the prefecture (bureau) level, the intended appointment must be publicized seven to 15 days before the appointment is finalized. If the announcement results in no consequence that may affect the appointment, the appointee is allowed to go through the procedures for assuming office.

A probation system is adopted in appointing Party and government leading cadres. The probationary period is one year for cadres below the prefecture (bureau) level who are appointed rather than elected. When the probation ends, those qualified will remain at their posts and those not qualified will be removed and returned to their previous posts.

Reform of the work of selecting and appointing cadres

The resolution adopted at the fourth plenary session of the Seventeenth Central Committee says: Improve the mechanism for selection and appointment of cadres. Expand democracy in this field and set up a nomination system with well-defined players, procedures and responsibilities. The results from democratic recommendations and assessments should be analyzed and applied in a scientific way to ensure accuracy. Recommendations through various channels are encouraged to expand the sources for selection of cadres of the Party and government. The system for testing cadres should be improved by refining the standards and extending the scope of tests for leading cadres. More competition should be introduced to the selection and recommendation of cadres so that the most qualified are selected to fill the posts. Information concerning the work of cadres should be made more transparent, and supervision and accountability should be enhanced. The principle of the Party in charge of the management of personnel must be upheld, and innovations must be made in this work to enhance its vitality. Methods must be improved to train, attract, use, test and award various kinds of personnel, especially high-caliber and talented people. No dishonest maneuvering, fraud or bribery is allowed in the selection and appointment of cadres.


(1) Recommendation, nomination and democratic consultation according to law

The Communist Party of China has decided that in recommending candidates to a people’s congress or its standing committee for leading cadres that must be elected, appointed or decided the choice by the people’s congress or its standing committee, a Party committee must first brief the Party organization and Party members of the people’s congress or its standing committee on the recommendation. When the recommendation is for the people’s congress, the Party committee must present a written recommendation, briefing the congress about the person(s) recommended and listing the reasons for the recommendation. When the recommendation is for the standing committee, it must be submitted to the committee before the issue is put on the agenda and necessary briefing must be made. When the Party committee nominates candidates for officials of government departments, the Party committee decided on the nominations after discussion, and the government makes the appointments.

When new leading bodies are to be formed, the Party committee recommends the members of the standing committee of the people’s congress, the government and the CPPCC committee, as well as the leading officials of the people’s court and people’s procuratorate. Before recommendation, the Party committee must brief the leaders of the organizations of fellow democratic parties and the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce and representatives of non-Party personages, and have democratic consultation with them.

When deputies to the people’s congress or members of its standing committee raise objections to any recommended person on discovery of well-proven problems that can affect the election or appointment, the Party committee may propose that the people’s congress or its standing committee postpone the election, appointment or decision on the choice in accordance with relevant procedures, and it may also make new recommendations.


(2) Open selection and competition for office

Open selection and competition for office are used in selecting and appointing leaders of departments of local Party committees and governments, leaders of their subordinate departments, and other suitable leading cadres, or in deciding candidates for such posts. In open selection, the selection is opened to the public; and in competition for office, the competition is limited to the relevant area, department or work system. The normal procedures include: Publicizing the number of posts, qualifications for applicants, and procedures for application; registration of applicants and examination of their qualifications; unified examination (democratic appraisal in competition for office); testing of candidates and nomination after discussion; the Party committee (leading Party members’ group) deciding on the choice after discussion.


(3) Terms of office for leading cadres of the Party and government

A term of office for leading cadres of the Party and government is now temporarily set at five years. When any cadre has served in the same office for two consecutive terms, they are no longer available for recommendation, nomination or appointment to the same office. When any cadre has served consecutively for 15 years at posts at the same level, they are no longer available for recommendation, nomination or appointment to a post at the same level, and proper arrangement is to be made for them in the light of their personal conditions and work requirements.

When a cadre is moved to another office during his term of office, the duration of service for more than three years is counted as one term. If the duration is less than three years, the duration is taken into account but not counted as one term.


(4) Withdrawal of leading cadres from certain offices

Cadres who are spouses, lineal relatives, blood relatives within three generations or close in-laws, are not allowed to serve at posts in the same department directly under one leading cadres, or two consecutive superior or subordinate posts, or posts of organization (personnel), discipline inspection, auditing or financial affairs in a department where one relative is a leading cadre.

When the spouse, a child or child’s spouse of a leading cadre is the sole owner, partner or a major shareholder of a business or a business-like private institution, the leading cadre is not allowed to take a leading post at the supervisory or administrative department that is in charge of the related business lines.

Party regulations do not allow any leading cadre to serve in the area where they grew up as the chief of the Party’s county (city) committee, government, discipline inspection commission, organization department, people’s court, people’s procuratorate, or public security department.


(5) Transfer of leading cadres between different posts

The Party committees (leading Party members’ groups) and their organization (personnel) departments may, within the jurisdiction for the management of cadres, transfer leading cadres of the Party and government between different posts. Such transfers are made when: they are needed in the work, they have to raise their leadership capabilities through transfers, they have served in a locality or department for quite a long time, or when they are required to withdraw from their posts by Party regulations.

Such transfers are made for cadres above county level, including the head and other members of the Party committees and governments, and the chiefs of discipline inspection departments, people’s courts and people’s procuratorates, as well as the heads of some departments of the Party committees and governments. Leading cadres who have been in office for 10 years at the same level in the same region should be transferred.

Newly promoted members of local Party committees and governments above county level should be transferred to other areas in a planned way.

Cadres who have served for 10 years in one of the following offices above county level must be transferred: chief of the discipline inspection (supervision) department, organization department, people’s court, people’s procuratorate, or public security department; those who are newly promoted to such posts usually must be transferred to a new area. Deputy chiefs of such departments who have served in the same leading body for 10 years should be transferred.

Leading cadres above the division level in Party and government departments who have served in the same office for 10 years should be transferred, especially those who are in charge of discipline inspection, law enforcement, cadre and personnel affairs, auditing, approval of projects or allocation of funds.

Leading cadres above county level who lack the experience of working in grassroots units or have only worked in one post should be transferred in a planned way.

Chiefs of local government departments whose personnel are managed by both the local government and relevant government departments at the next higher level should be transferred when they have served in the same leading body for 10 years.


1 Excerpts taken with thanks from Zhang Rongchen, The Communist Party of China: Its Organizations and their Functions, China Intercontinental Press.


Zhang Rongchen
October, 2015 to December, 2015