Prepared and researched by – Rahul Karan Reddy

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The Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is a political body that acts like the board of directors for the CCP and is the centre of political power in China. It is composed of 371 members – 205 full and 171 alternate members – elected every 5 years by the National Party Congress (NPC). The next NPC will be held in October 2022 to select the 20th Central Committee as the 19th Central Committee finishes its tenure. The Central Committee (CC) includes ministers, provincial party secretaries, military leaders and regulatory officials that are vested with the power to select (approve) the 25-member Politburo, the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), the General Secretary and the Central Military Commission (CMC), according to Article 23 of the Party Constitution.

The Central Committee is required to meet in plenary session at least once a year convened by the Politburo. It plays an important role in deciding its current and future leadership and is considered the Party’s highest leading body, according to Article 10 of the Party Constitution.  Article 16 of the Party Constitution also vests only the Central Committee with the power to make decisions on major national policies.

The current 19th Central Committee will give way to the 20th Central Committee at the NPC in October 2022, where Xi Jinping is expected to receive the party’s endorsement for a third term as General Secretary of the CCP. The 20th CC will also bring a wave of personnel changes that deliver several new layers to the composition of China’s top decision-making organisations. This multi-part series on CCP’s Central Committee will detail the composition of the 19th CC and unpack the changes set to take place in October 2022.

Full and Alternate CC

The Central Committee (CC) is composed of two parts: the Full and Alternate Committees. Of the 371 members in the CC, 203 members belong to the Full Committee and 168 to the Alternate Committee. The most significant difference between the two committees is that Full CC members have voting power and alternate members do not. The number of full and alternate members is determined by the NPC and alternate members fill vacancies in the Full Committee in the order of the number of votes by which they were elected. Both Full and Alternate members are required to be members of the CCP for at least 5 years prior to becoming CC members. Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee members are chosen from the Full Committee.

Gender and Ethnicity

The 19th Central Committee is mostly composed of males (91.9%), while women account for 8.09% (30) of members. The imbalance in representation is greater in the Full Committee, where the percentage of women drops to less than 5% (10 members). The representation of women is highest in the Alternate Committee, double the number of women in the Full Committee, 20 compared to 10. There is only one woman in the Politburo, Sun Chunlan, and none on the PSC.

In terms of ethnic groups, the 19th CC is composed of 18 ethnic groups including the Han majority, which accounts for 88.6% of all members. Other ethnic groups account for just over 11% of CC members, with Mongols constituting the largest share of non-Han minorities, followed by Tibetans, Zhuang and Hui. The Han majority rises to 92% in the Full CC and the number of ethnic groups is fewer in the Full CC. The Alternate CC has  a greater number  of ethnic minorities and minority groups, while the Politburo and PSC have no ethnic minorities at all.

Although President Xi Jinping has employed the phrase ‘no ethnic group should be left behind’ and the Party has attempted to systematically promote elites from ethnic minorities, there are no ethnic minorities at the highest levels of the CCP.. Interestingly, the representation of ethnic minorities in the 19th CC is slightly higher than in the 18th CC, over 11% compared to 10.37%. This trend is magnified when it relates to full members of the 19th CC in which ethnic minorities account for 7.39% of members compared to 4.9% of Full members in the 18th CC.

Provincial Distribution

CC members are also identified by the place of ancestry – ‘jiguan’, defined as the long-term residence of one’s paternal grandfather. The provincial distribution of CC members is largely in line with the population of provinces in China. Some of China’s most populated provinces have the highest number of CC members – Shandong has the most number of CC members, followed by Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Henan and Hebei. Surprisingly, Guangdong, which is China’s most populated province has only 5 CC members.

The provincial distribution of CC members also reveals a concentration of members in coastal provinces (9 provinces) which account for 181 members, nearly 50% of the CC. Of the five most represented provinces in the CC, four are coastal provinces and the five most represented cities/towns are coastal cities/towns: Rongcheng, Nantong, Qingdao, Linyi and Dalian. Compared to inland provinces, coastal provinces are wealthier, contribute more to GDP and have more robust external engagements, which could explain their prominence

Age Groups/Generations

The age of leaders is a significant indicator of their seniority and prospects of promotions/retirement, also revealing the ideological beliefs and values that motivate party leaders from different generations. Age is also the basis for informal rules and norms that govern the appointment of party leaders to key positions. The 19th CC is mostly dominated by members from the 1950s and 1960s, with leaders from the 1950’s comprising the majority of the members of the Full CC. More than 71% of the leaders in the Full CC are from the 1950s generation and the rest are from the 1960’s generation. None of the members of the 70s generation are part of the Full CC. On the other hand, the composition of the Alternate CC indicates the arrival of a new generation of leaders set to join the Full CC: more than 86% of members in the Alternate CC are part of the 60s generation, who will become Full members of the 20th CC. It is clear that the 20th CC will usher in a new generation of leaders to the Central Committee.

This is the first part of a two-part series mapping the 19th Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. The second part can be accessed here.