The political system of the People’s Republic of China (PRC or China) defies easy categorization. China is both a nation state and a Leninist “Party-state,” with the Party being the Communist Party of China (CPC or Party), also known as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The political system operates under two “constitutions,” one for the Party, China’s dominant political institution, and one for the state.1 State institutions operate fundamentally differently from their Western counterparts. In the case of China’s national parliament, for example, because China eschews separation of powers, a third of the delegates are sitting senior Party and state officials, with China’s top leader, CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping, among them.2
The parliament, like every other political institution in China, both reports to the Party and includes a Party cell within it. Atop the political system is a leader, Xi, who is not subject to direct or competitive indirect election, and who has signaled an intention to remain in power indefinitely.3
As strategic competition between the United States and China has grown more acute in recent years, Congress has shown a strong interest in understanding China’s political system. In the 116th Congress, Members introduced 99 bills referencing the CPC, six of which were enacted into law.4 More than 100 such bills are pending in the 117th Congress. This report seeks to provide Congress with a detailed understanding of China’s political system ahead of the CPC’s 20th
National Congress, which is scheduled to convene in the second half of 2022.
The report openswith a discussion of how the CPC exercises its self-anointed leadership role in China’s Partystate.
The report then briefly discusses the ways the CPC has embedded its claim to Taiwan within China’s political system.
The main part of the report introduces readers to China’s major political institutions through 16 organization charts and accompanying explanatory text.
All individuals’ names are listed in Chinese style, with family names preceding given names. CRS Visual Information Specialist Mari Y. Lee created all the charts in this report.
Note on Sources and Language
Much of the information in this report is drawn from PRC sources, including Chinese-language official websites and Chinese-language reports from China’s state-controlled media. Where English translations of these sources are known to exist, CRS has endeavored to identify them in the footnotes. Because of the difficulty of tracing Romanized personal names back to their original Chinese characters, and because the names of Chinese political bodies can often be translated into English in multiple ways, CRS has included Chinese characters in the charts in this report for reference.
1. Although in English the Party-state refers to both documents as “constitutions,” the Chinese-language terms are different. The Party document is a “ zhangcheng章程.” The state document is a “ xianfa 宪法.” The Party constitution is also sometimes referred to in English as the Party “charter.” “Constitution of the Communist Party of China,” Xinhua, October 24, 2017, at http://www.xinhuanet.com//english/download/Constitution_of_the_Communist_Party_of_China.pdf; “Constitution of the People’s Republic of China,” at http://www.npc.gov.cn/englishnpc/constitution2019/constitution.shtml.
“领导干部比例降低！一图看懂第十三届全国人大代表构成” (“The Proportion of Leadership Cadres Has Fallen! See the Composition of the 13th NPC Delegates in One Chart”), 新京报(Beijing News) via Huanqiu, March 4, 2018, at https://lianghui.huanqiu.com/article/9CaKrnK6PUS.
3. Chris Buckley and Adam Wu, “Ending Term Limits for China’s Xi Is a Big Deal. Here’s Why,” New York Times, March 10, 2018.
4. The six laws from the 116th Congress referencing the CPC are the Let Everyone Get Involved in Opportunities for National Service Act (P.L. 116-35), the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2020 (P.L. 116-92), the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2020 (P.L. 116-145), the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act (P.L. 116-222), Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (P.L. 116-260 ), and the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 (P.L. 116-283).