Backgrounders October 8, 2022


by Siddhant Nair

Power Structure of the Communist Party of China under Xi Jinping


The National Party Congress (NPC) convenes once every five years to discuss the report of the Central Committee, and approve a new Central Committee. Despite the high stature of the Party Congress, it only serves as a platform to publicly announce pre- decided agenda based on informal meetings and sessions such as the Beidaihe meeting. The Central Committee is one of the most powerful political organs of the Party, selecting and approving members of the Politburo, the Politburo Standing Committee, and the Central Military Commission.



The Communist Party of China under the leadership of Xi Jinping is preparing to hold the 20th Party Congress from 16th October. It is dubbed as “a major event in the political life of the Party and the country” by Xi Jinping. He is expected to continue with his third term as leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and make changes to the Politburo Standing Committee and the Politburo that will reflect his authority and control over the Party. Therefore, it is necessary to dive deeply into the functions, procedures and norms that the National Party Congress (NPC) follows.

What is the National Party Congress?

The National Party Congress brings together around 2300 delegates from all across China. Delegates of the NPC serve many functions, such as electing new candidates for the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee (see fig:1), discussing the political report released by the General Secretary, and discussing proposed amendments put forward in the report. The NPC also lays down objectives and goals for the Party to be achieved in the next five years. The first Party Congress was held in 1921 and its successive iterations continued irregularly until 1977. However, since the 11th Party Congress in 1977, it has been regularly held every five years.

Despite the importance given to the Party Congress, usually, the National Congress serves as a platform to proclaim the policies and objectives of the Party for domestic and global audiences.. Many of these decisions, ranging from personnel appointments to policy recommendations, are already taken in informal meetings, way ahead of Party Congress. Beidaihe meeting is one such event, where present and former leaders of the Party meet to discuss national-level policies, recommend changes, and discuss new appointments within the Party. The Beidaihe meeting provides a private space to leaders for debate, allowing the Party to coordinate views of different leaders and demonstrate a public image of unity during the Congress.

Appointment of NPC Delegates

Delegates are carefully hand-picked from across China to be part of the National Party Congress. The preparatory committee under General Secretary, established approximately a year before the Congress, is responsible for appointing delegates at the National Party Congress. The committee selects candidates who have shown “unshakeable belief” in the Party and ’appropriate political position’. With Xi in power, the focus has changed to ‘unshakeable belief in the Party with ‘Xi Jinping at the core’. The committee is also tasked with drawing up the report that the General Secretary delivers at the upcoming NPC which highlights the party’s achievements in the past five years. The preparatory committee also creates a group responsible for proposing changes to the Party Constitution.

Amendments of the Party Constitution

Since the founding of the Communist Party of China, every Party Congress has followed major themes that define the goals the Party wishes to accomplish. The first National Party Congress was held secretly in July 1921 in Shanghai and it was attended by 12 out of the 50 members of the Party. This Congress focused on rebuilding the country by overthrowing the bourgeoisie, eliminating classes and ownership, and establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat. In the following Party Congress, held in July 1922, the Party formulated its plans and principles for establishing a communist society, while maintaining national unity.

The seventh Party Congress in 1945 made Mao Zedong Thought Party’s guide to action, whereas the twelfth Party Congress in 1982 brought “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” into the Party Constitution. Similarly, each Party Congress theme ushered in changes and revisions to the Party Constitution. The fourteenth Party Congress added “Deng Xiaoping's theory of building socialism with Chinese characteristics” to the Party Constitution. The most recent Party Congress, despite it not being a major revision, added “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” to the Constitution.

Established Norms regarding Appointments

Despite the CCP system being opaque, there have been various identifiable customs and norms that the Party leaders have followed for years. However, there are exceptions and variations to these practices. Some of these practices include:

  • Top leader of the Party serves no more than two terms as the CCP General Secretary. His successor shall be publicly identifiable as someone who holds an important role in the Politburo Standing Committee after the first term of the General Secretary is over.

  • When the top leader leaves his post, his guiding ideology will be enshrined in the Party Constitution.

  • Age of potential candidates will determine their position in different CCP bodies. Party officials aged 68 or above are expected to step down, whereas 67 or younger will be considered as eligible candidates. This norm is known as “seven up, eight down” ( 七上⼋下). Article 38 of the Party Constitution also suggests that Officials whose age and health make them unfit to continue working should retire according to state regulations.

  • Politburo candidates, chosen from the Central Committee, must work their way up the political ladder before being considered eligible to be part of the Politburo.

Ever since Xi Jinping has come to power, many of these norms have been undermined by him in order to consolidate his power. Term limits were introduced by Deng Xiaoping in an attempt to avoid the centralization of power and autocratic tendencies present during Mao Zedong’s rule. Through term limits and retirement rules, Deng attempted to avoid absolute power in the hands of top leaders. Deng’s successors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao followed Deng’s procedures, institutionalising his political process, which are now undermined by Xi.

Moreover, “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” was enshrined into the Party Constitution at the end of Xi’s first term. As Xi Jinping continue to consolidate power, the Party Congress and the Party Constitution have called him the “pilot at the helm” (领航掌舵), elevating his status to Mao’s “great helmsman” (伟⼤的舵⼿). Under Xi’s leadership, informal meetings have become increasingly important, and as Xi’s status continues to elevate, the role of collective leadership has diminished in the political landscape of the country.

CCP Central Committee

The Central Committee (CC) of the CCP is composed of nearly 400 members. It is a political body selected by the National Party Congress every five years. As per Article 23 of the Party Constitution, the Politburo, the Politburo Standing Committee, and the General Secretary of the Party, are elected at the Plenary session of the Central Committee. Moreover, the Secretariat of the Central Committee acts as a working body of the Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee. Further, members of the Central Military Commission are also appointed by the Central Committee. The Central Committee also oversees the work of Party organisations working in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

The Central Committee assumes other special roles and duties as well. As per Article 5 of the Party Constitution, which highlights procedures in place that oversee admission of new members into the Party, the Central Committee is allowed to admit a member directly into the Party under exceptional circumstances. Similarly, Article 12 allows the Central Committee to hold a conference of delegates with local Party organs to promptly resolve a major problem. The Central Committee has the prerogative to decide on the composition of this meeting. Article 14 of the CCP Constitution empowers the Central Committee to implement a discipline inspection system at all levels of the Party and the State, whereas Article 16 empowers the Central Committee to take decisions on major national policies. Low-level Party organs must implement these decisions, and can make suggestions for changes to the Central Committee. Thus, the Central Committee acts as the de jure authority for taking important national decisions. Additionally, the Central Committee also carries out the work proposed by the National Congress when it is not in session.

Membership in the Central Committee

Membership in the Central Committee is divided into two categories, full members and alternate members. Full members of the Central Committee have voting powers, whereas alternate members can attend Party meetings but have no voting powers. The 19th Central Committee consisted of 371 members, out of which 203 were full members and 168 were alternate members.

Article 22 of the Party Constitution explains membership of the Central Committee, stating that members of the Central Committee are elected for a of five years, with the length of membership shortened or extended in accordance with tenure of the Party Congress. The NPC also decides the total strength of the Central Committee, and should there be vacant

seats for full members, alternate members of the Central Committee fill those seats based on votes received. Before Xi presided over the 19th Party Congress, the Chinese Communist Party followed a procedure of “democratic recommendation” where members of the Party Congress would vote for 200 candidates through a straw poll election. This method was followed in the 17th and 18th Party Congress. However, the votes did not decide the final list of members of the Central Committee, rather the votes would factor into the final list of candidates considered for the position.

Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, the process of democratic recommendation was discontinued. According to the Party, this method of selection was changed to “voting” based on personal connections and favours. Earlier, many corrupt officials would bribe their way into the Central Committee. Zhou Yongkang, Sun Zhengcai, and Ling Jihua were all senior, corrupt leaders purged from the Party for buying votes. Shifting away from “democratic recommendation”, Xi took a more personal approach to appointments. It involved shortlisting and interviewing candidates one- on-one, and consulting senior officials to determine membership in the Central Committee. Recent Reports suggest that Xi spoke to 57 senior and retired officials to seek their suggestions for potential candidates, and also assigned other senior leaders to meet over 290 ministerial cadres and senior military officers for the upcoming 20th Congress. These candidates were chosen based on their experience, competence, their loyalty to the Party and to Xi Jinping.

In terms of the age-wise composition of the 19th Central Committee, more than 71% of the full members of the Central Committee were born in the 1950s, with officials from the 1960s generation occupying the remaining full member seats. 40% of alternate members are from the 60s generation, and are expected to take on the full members seat at the upcoming 20th Party Congress. Party officials from the 1970s held zero full membership positions in the Central Committee, however, 14% of the alternate members came from the 1970s. With many of the 50s generation leaders set to retire, the 20th National Party Congress will bring forth a new era for the Party, with the transition of power to the 60s generation to the 70s generation.


The 20th Party Congress will see Xi enter his third term as the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and the President of the People’s Republic of China. The 20th Party Congress will provide a roadmap for the Party’s plans for its military, economy, politics and diplomacy, shaping China’s future based on Xi’s vision. The 20th Party Congress will determine the composition of the Party’s elite organs. Appointments will be made to the Central Committee, Politburo and the Politburo Standing Committee, based on informal meetings and lobbying. Looking at the trend, Xi is likely to appoint loyalists in key positions, strengthening his grip over the Party, and blurring lines between different key institutions and state agencies.

Front page image source: Xinhua


Siddhant Nair is a post graduate student in Interdisciplinary Studies and Research, specializing in International Relations. He has previously interned in ORCA, The Gateway House and Chennai Center for China Studies. You can find him on twitter @siddhant__nair

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