Cadre system of the Chinese Communist Party

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The cadre system of the Chinese Communist Party entails the methods and institutions employed by Chinese Communist Party (CCP, officially the Communist Party of China or CPC) to train, organize, appoint, and oversee personnel to fulfill a wide range of civil service-type roles in Party, state, military, business, and other organizations across the country. The system is composed of the several million full-time, professional staff, the cadres (simplified Chinese: 干部; traditional Chinese: 幹部; pinyin: gànbù).

China is a one-party state under the CPC. The management of cadres is one of the ways the CPC controls the state and influences wider society. Personnel must be loyal to the CPC, but are not always members themselves. Cadres are not only trained to be competent administrators, but also ideologically faithful to the party and its pursuit of Socialism with Chinese characteristics.[1]


The word cadre most broadly refers to the staff that are tasked with the management of state and/or party affairs. Based on the Leninist concept of vanguardism, a cadre is a full-time, professional revolutionary dedicated to the goals of a communist party, who works at the discretion of its leadership.[2] This stands in contrast to ordinary members not involved in the running of the party on a day-to-day basis. The term was first used by the Chinese Communist Party at the 2nd National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in July 1922.[3]

The term in Chinese today generally extends to any person in a position of certain authority or responsibility subject to CCP oversight, whether or not they are members of the Party. Professor John P. Burns of the University of Hong Kong defines a cadre as "the managers, administrators and professionals found in all sectors of the economy including enterprises, in administrative bodies including government, and in public service units."[4] The definition of the term has broadened significantly since the first decade of the People's Republic of China, spanning from its highest leadership down to relatively low-level positions.[5] Personnel in many positions of state-owned enterprises and other government-affiliated institutions are also referred to as cadres. These individuals are generally paid by the state.[6][7]


At the national level, cadres in China generally are divided into six categories:[8][3]

  • Leadership and staff of national bodies (e.g. government agencies, National People's Congress, etc.)
  • Leadership and staff of the Chinese Communist Party or affiliated democratic parties and their organs
  • Active-duty military personnel ranking platoon-level or higher (like a political commissar)
  • Leadership and staff of social-political and mass organizations (e.g., the All-China Women's Federation)
  • Professional and technical cadres (according to Zhong 2003, specialists such as "engineers, doctors, professors, and artists"[9])
  • Management personnel in state-owned enterprises or other public institutions

Leading cadres[edit]

An additional distinction is made in China between leading cadres (simplified Chinese: 领导干部; traditional Chinese: 領導幹部; pinyin: Lǐngdǎo gànbù) and non-leading cadres. This distinction was first articulated in civil service reforms starting in 1993.[10] Leading cadre status is not dependent on rank, as many high-ranking cadres may nevertheless not be in what is considered a leading position. Leading cadre appointments are governed by the Organization Department of the Chinese Communist Party, whereas non-leading positions are generally managed by the personnel and human resources departments of their respective work units and organizations.[11] Organization Department branches at all levels keep a "leading cadre reserve list" (Chinese: 领导干部候补名单; pinyin: Lǐngdǎo gànbù hòubǔ míngdān) from which capable cadres may be selected to fill leading positions as they become vacant. These lists are maintained by the next-highest level Organization Department (that is, a township-level list would be maintained by the county-level Organization Department, and so on).[12]

While concise statistics are not published, Chan and Gao 2018 estimated that there were roughly two million leading cadres.[13]



The Chinese Communist Party expanded rapidly in the initial years following its founding in 1921. After being driven back to Yan'an during the Long March, Mao Zedong focused on consolidating and expanding the Party, whose membership had fallen from 300,000 to 40,000. Taking advantage of the Second Sino-Japanese War, which commanded the majority of the ruling Kuomintang's attention, the Party grew massively over the next several years as it entered Japanese-occupied territory and recruited there. It relied heavily on its Red Army to establish power in these liberated territories and identify outstanding activists for recruitment. By 1939, it controlled over 150 counties with a population of over 100 million.[14]

The Party's territorial growth necessitated more members to serve as cadres, and the Party accordingly relaxed somewhat its membership restrictions on intellectuals, former left-wing Kuomintang officers, and others not of a purely working peasant background.[15] Peasants and laborers, while forming the core ideological base of the Party, were largely illiterate and uneducated, and thus not well suited for the work of some higher-level cadre positions. Consequently, at the county level and above, the majority of cadres were composed of educated individuals. In contrast, branch and district Party cadres were overwhelmingly composed of local laborers and peasants, who knew local conditions well and could better form relationships with the community.[16] Still, despite the need for some educated cadres, during the Civil War era, the Party focused mainly on recruiting peasants for guerrilla warfare. Thus, among the cadres, ability to lead and command fighters was generally more important than ability to manage occupied areas.[17]

After the Surrender of Japan and the resumption of active hostilities in the Chinese Civil War, Party membership continued to swell as it further advanced against the Kuomintang, reaching three million members by 1948. Much of this growth was driven by the occupation of Manchuria following Imperial Japan's withdrawal; the Party dispatched 100,000 troops and 20,000 cadres to establish control over the territory.[18] While nationwide data does not exist on the breakdown of cadre versus non-cadre membership, it appears that a large number of Party members were considered cadres at that time.[19]

By the end of the Civil War, the Chinese Communist Party had established an organizational structure capable of governing the Party itself and the non-Party people and organizations it oversaw in occupied territories. Its focus, however, had been warfare, as opposed to statecraft, administration and economic development, and thus it soon faced a serious administrative manpower shortage.[20]

Mao-era cadres[edit]

On 1 October 1949, having driven the Kuomintang out of Mainland China, Mao Zedong gave the Proclamation of the People's Republic of China at Tiananmen Square.

The Communist Party at the time faced an acute shortage of qualified personnel to the fill over 2.7 million public positions needed to govern the country.[21] By 1955, the CCP had established a system of appointments to fill positions modeled closely after the nomenklatura system of the Soviet Union.[22] Due to the high demand for manpower, the Party was forced to rely on former Kuomintang officials to fill many of these positions as low-level, non-party cadres, which helped alleviate the shortage by 1952. By 1956, in part due to the Three-anti and Five-anti Campaigns, most of these former officials had been dismissed.[23]

The government of China in its early years also drew upon intellectuals (those with a high school or above education) to fill the gaps in its cadres. Older intellectuals were viewed as more susceptible to influences of bourgeois ideology, but their specialized skills make them useful. Younger intellectuals (new graduates around the time of the founding of the People's Republic) were similarly useful, and could claim they were less influenced by bourgeois thought than their older predecessors.[24] Even so, Mao's eventually grew suspicious of this group, and he eventually initiated the Socialist Education Movement in 1963 to purge perceived intellectual reactionaries from cadre ranks.

"Old cadres"—those who had joined the CCP before the founding of the People's Republic—maintained an outsize influence on governance in the years following 1949. They occupied the leadership positions of party committees at all levels, but were largely uneducated and lacked the administrative or other specialized skill of their ex-Kuomintang counterparts.[25] Broadly speaking, party loyalty took precedence over educational background for the promotion of cadres to high-level administrative positions in Maoist China. A college education did not become necessary to attain such positions until after the death of Mao.[26]

During the Cultural Revolution, the general disorganization of the Party and China made limited any effective use of the system. Appointments to leadership positions became highly irregular, and the Central Organization Department was not mentioned in Chinese press at all from 1967 to 1972.[27]

Reform era cadres[edit]

Following the death of Mao Zedong and the sidelining of Hua Guofeng, China began to embark upon a series of systemic economic reforms under Deng Xiaoping. By 1980, efforts began to re-institutionalize the cadre system after the discord of the Cultural Revolution, so that the Party would be able to effectively carry out the modernization of China.[27] These efforts particularly focused on a strengthened ideological education of cadres to reinforce understanding of their own role in the mass line connecting the people and the Party.[28]

In August 1984, the system was reformed to decentralize authority, in part because the Central Organization Department was unable to keep up with the nearly 13,000 positions it was nominally in charge of.[29] These reforms drastically reduced the number of positions on the central nomenklatura, transferring their management to provincial authorities. In turn, these positions were further devolved to lower authorities.[29] The total number of cadre positions—estimated at over 8.1 million in 1982[30] (cf. 6,932,000 in 2007 per Li 2007)[31]—stayed the same, but overall control by local authorities increased.[29]

Zhao Ziyang, elected General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in January 1987, made a proposal for deep reform of the cadre system as a part of his address to the 13th Party Congress. Zhao sought to establish a more independent civil service not completely dependent upon the Communist Party, and thus reform the relationship between the Party and the Chinese state.[32] Zhao envisioned a system wherein administrative cadres (i.e. civil servants) would be managed by their respective government bodies themselves, instead of the Organization Department of the Communist Party, which would in turn shift toward a research and policy-focused role as opposed to one of personnel management and selection. Government recruitment and promotion would be merit-based, relying heavily on standardized examinations, and civil servants would receive a degree of protection from arbitrary dismissal.[33] Deng Xiaoping shared a dissatisfaction with the personnel system at that time, and also pushed for separation of the state and Party at the time.[10]

In the aftermath of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, Zhao and other reformists fell from power and the civil service reform project denounced by remaining Party leaders.[34] Zhao's proposals were subsequently heavily modified and implemented as the "Provisional Regulations on State Civil Servants" in 1993, albeit on a much less comprehensive scale. The Regulations formally differentiated civil servants and cadres in certain state entities like hospitals, schools, and state-owned enterprises. It did, however, contain provisions for the systematic use of examinations, but only in recruitment for non-leading positions.[35] The Provisional Regulations established the first formal civil service in China since the founding of the People's Republic.[36]

Reform since the 2000s[edit]

The 1993 Provisional Regulations on State Civil Servants were deliberately narrow, a reflection of the desires of more conservative Politburo members, particularly Li Peng.[37] In 1995, the Ministry of Personnel released a report arguing that the Regulations needed to be expanded to include areas of state authority that were not included originally, such as the judicial system.[37]

Training and ideology[edit]

Ideal cadre traits[edit]

In 1937, Mao outlined a broad vision of cadres as quality personnel capable of linking the Party with the masses in the places where they worked. This vision was eventually included in the Little Red Book:[38]

Our Party organizations must be extended all over the country and we must purposefully train tens of thousands of cadres and hundreds of first-rate mass leaders. They must be cadres and leaders versed in Marxism-Leninism, politically far-sighted, competent in work, full of the spirit of self-sacrifice, capable of tackling problems on their own, steadfast in the midst of difficulties and loyal and devoted in serving the nation, the class and the Party. It is on these cadres and leaders that the Party relies for its links with the membership and the masses, and it is by relying on their firm leadership of the masses that the Party can succeed in defeating the enemy. Such cadres and leaders must be free from selfishness, from individualistic heroism, ostentation, sloth, passivity, and arrogant sectarianism, and they must be selfless national and class heroes; such are the qualities and the style of work demanded of the members, cadres and leaders of our Party.

Cadres at Xinhua News attend a 19th Party Congress study session

The Party in particular sought to avoid any manifestation of "bureaucratism" (simplified Chinese: 官僚主义; traditional Chinese: 官僚主義; pinyin: guānliáo zhǔyì), a general term referring to potentially undesirable traits that would hinder cadres' ability to effectively work toward achieving socialism.[39] Mao further expanded upon the list of these traits in his 1970 essay, "Twenty Manifestations Of Bureaucracy," including factionalism, stupidity, and reliance on excessive red tape.[40]

Party schools[edit]

The CCP runs party schools (Chinese: 党校; pinyin: dǎngxiào) that provide training and education to mid-career Party cadres, as well as some military, government, and business cadres.[41] The highest of these are run by the Central Party Committee and cater to cadres from across the country. The foremost party schools include:[42]

  • The Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing, with a focus on Marxist theory for high-level cadres
  • The China National School of Administration in Beijing, which aims to "improv[e] administrative capacity of government staff"
  • The Chinese Business Executive Academy in Dalian, with a focus on management and economics for state-owned enterprise leaders
  • The China Pudong Executive Leadership Academy in Shanghai, which focuses on international affairs
  • The China Yan'an Executive Leadership Academy in Yan'an, and the China Jinggangshan Executive Leadership Academy in Jinggangshan, both of which provide "training on revolutionary traditions and conditions" in China.

Structure and organization[edit]

While the government of China and its legislature have technical authority to manage cadres, in practice, this is the sole purview of the Party. Party committees at all levels (broadly, local, provincial, and national levels) take responsibility for cadre management, usually through the Organization Department, and generally one or two administrative levels lower than the committee.[43] Thus, the national Party body, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, will manage cadres at or above the provincial or equivalent level, and provincial Party committees will manage prefectures and prefecture-level cities, which in turn manage county-level cadres. County Party committees manage town and township cadres, which manage grassroots cadres.[44] The Central Committee itself only manages an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 cadre positions directly, including figures such as the provincial governors and deputy governors, chairmen of provincial People's Congresses, and chief procurators in the judicial system.[45]

All cadres have a specific grade (simplified Chinese: 级别; traditional Chinese: 級別; pinyin: jíbié) that designates their relative seniority at a national level. Grade also determines an individual's pay, with variation regionally and across different organizations.[11] A cadre's grade corresponds with the rank (simplified Chinese: 职务; traditional Chinese: 職務; pinyin: zhíwù; lit. 'post, position') they occupy. Rank and grade are nationally standardized, allowing for cadres from different places to easily determine their position and authority relative to others.[46]

The administration of Deng Xiaoping made cadre system reform a component of overall Chinese economic reform. Cadres under Mao were often appointed based on revolutionary fervor as opposed to technical competence, and many were uneducated.[47]

Certain cadres have access to a special supply system for foodstuffs called tegong.[48]


  1. ^ Pieke 2009, pp. 29–30: "The recruitment and deployment of cadres is one of the most important ways in which the party-state integrates itself with society and guides and directs the project of socialist transformation. ... The cadre system, as the party's main instrument, also continues to impinge equally on all these branches of the party's domain of governance. Appointments to all institutions of governance continue to be managed as part of one comprehensive system, and individual cadres move freely from posts in government to party positions and appointments in legislative and united front branches."
  2. ^ Peter Walter Angerer (2008). Un petit peu Trotskyist (Diplomarbeit).
  3. ^ a b "选贤任能——干部选拔任命制度 [Choosing the Worthy and Appointing the Capable: The Cadre Selection and Appointment System]". Academy of Chinese Studies. 21 April 2020. Retrieved 4 July 2020.
  4. ^ Burns 2007, p. 23.
  5. ^ Chan & Li 2007, p. 396: "'Cadre' originally referred to personnel with leadership and authority as distinct from workers, peasants, and ordinary people. Since the 1950s, this term has been applied to an increasingly larger group of people (Barnett 1967, 39). As both a concept and a practice in China, cadre represents a status conferred upon an individual by the party state. The acquisition of cadre status is a prerequisite for appointment in the public sector. The premier at the pinnacle of the hierarchy and the clerk at the base are both called cadres."
  6. ^ Pieke 2009, pp. 28–29.
  7. ^ Yu 2010, p. 42: "现实生活中,一个人是不是干部主要指他是否具有干部身份,中国具有干部身份的群体范围较大,除了政府部门的工作人员外,更涉及到党务、事业和企业系统的人员,几乎包括了所有国家控制的部门中有一定层次的人员。本文将干部界定为:在1949年后的中国大陆,由国家财政或企业支付报酬,并被纳入政府人事部门干部编制的党政机关、企事业部门、民主党派和人民团体机关的工作人员及各类专业技术人员。" ["In everyday terms, whether someone is a cadre generally refers to whether they possess cadres status. Those with cadre status in China are rather broad as a group; in addition to workers in government ministries and departments, it can include personnel [involved in] party affairs, institutions, or enterprise systems, more or less encompassing all personnel of certain level in state-controlled ministries and departments. This text defines a cadre as: All kinds of working and specialist personnel after 1949 in the Chinese Mainland, remunerated through national finances or other enterprises, integrated into Party organs, enterprise or institution departments, democratic parties and civilian groups through personnel offices."]
  8. ^ Yang n.d.
  9. ^ Zhong 2003, p. 95.
  10. ^ a b Doyon 2012, p. 91.
  11. ^ a b Pieke 2009, p. 30.
  12. ^ Zhong 2003, pp. 107–108.
  13. ^ Chan & Gao 2018.
  14. ^ Lee 1990, pp. 26–30.
  15. ^ Lee 1990, p. 26.
  16. ^ Lee 1990, pp. 32–33.
  17. ^ Lee 1990, p. 47: "The type of leaders needed by the party at that time was a heroic, selfless guerrilla fighter dedicated to the cause, rather than an educated professional with specialized knowledge or administrative skills. An effective guerrilla commander had to take care of all the needs of a given base area's members by mobilizing the support of the available sources. The peasant youth could readily provide these leadership qualities."
  18. ^ Lee 1990, p. 37.
  19. ^ Lee 1990, pp. 45–46: "Although we do not have national aggregate data showing the percentage of party members holding cadre positions, it is fair to assume that the rate was very high at that time and that those without official positions became cadres after 1949. For instance, in a Heilongjiang county with 600 party members, the "cadres-party members" constituted 95 percent. These figures are extremely high for a time when only 0.65 percent of the rural population and about 0.2 percent of the urban population were party members."
  20. ^ Lee 1990, pp. 45–48.
  21. ^ Lee 1990, p. 48: "Despite the heavy reliance on military personnel, the CCP encountered a keen shortage of qualified personnel to fill 2.7 million positions when the People's Republic of China was founded. The problem was particularly serious at the local level."
  22. ^ Burns 1987, p. 36.
  23. ^ Lee 1990, p. 49-50.
  24. ^ Lee 1990, p. 51.
  25. ^ Lee 1990, p. 50.
  26. ^ Walder, Li & Treiman 2000, p. 206-207.
  27. ^ a b Burns 1987, p. 37.
  28. ^ Burns 1983, p. 700.
  29. ^ a b c Burns 1987, p. 38.
  30. ^ Burns 1987, p. 46.
  31. ^ Li 2007, p. 50.
  32. ^ Lam & Chan 1996, pp. 772–73.
  33. ^ Lam & Chan 1996, pp. 775–77, 783.
  34. ^ Lam & Chan 1996, p. 777.
  35. ^ Lam & Chan 1996, pp. 780–781.
  36. ^ Chan & Li 2007, p. 383.
  37. ^ a b Chan & Li 2007, p. 388.
  38. ^ Mao, Zedong (7 May 1937). "Win the Masses in Their Millions for the Anti-Japanese National United Front." Quoted in Mao (1966) Quotations from Mao Tse Tung, Chapter 29. Beijing: Peking Foreign Language Press.
  39. ^ Burns 1983, p. 693-94.
  40. ^ Mao, Zedong (February 1970). "Twenty Manifestations Of Bureaucracy". Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung, Volume IX. Hyderabad: Sramikavarga Prachuranalu. Retrieved 30 March 2020.
  41. ^ Shambaugh, David (2008). "Training China's Political Elite: The Party School System". The China Quarterly. 196 (196): 827–844. doi:10.1017/S0305741008001148. ISSN 0305-7410. JSTOR 20192269. S2CID 154609177.
  42. ^ Wu, Jiao (17 October 2007). "Cadre training comes into focus". China Daily. Retrieved 4 July 2020.
  43. ^ Li, Suizhou (September–December 2007). "The CCP, the State and the Cadres in China". Chinese Public Administration Review. 4 (1/2): 47–56. doi:10.22140/CPAR.V4I1/2.73. S2CID 159798022.
  44. ^ Li 2007, pp. 47–8.
  45. ^ Li 2007, p. 52.
  46. ^ Pieke 2009, p. 31.
  47. ^ Pieke 2009, p. 32.
  48. ^ Tsai, Wen-Hsuan (June 2016). "Delicacies for a Privileged Class in a Risk Society: The Chinese Communist Party's Special Supplies Food System". Issues & Studies. 52 (2): 1650005. doi:10.1142/S1013251116500053. ISSN 1013-2511.

Further reading[edit]