Central Committee of the Communist Party of China
|Central Committee of the Communist Party of China|
|Literal meaning||Chinese-Communist Central|
|Literal meaning||Party Central|
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The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China is a political body that comprises the top leaders of the Communist Party of China. It is currently composed of 205 full members and 171 alternate members (see list). Members are elected once every five years by the National Congress of the Communist Party of China.
The Central Committee is, formally, the "party's highest organ of authority" when the National Congress is not in session. According to the Party Constitution, it is vested with the power to elect the General Secretary and the members of the Politburo, its Standing Committee, and the Central Military Commission, and to endorse the composition of the Secretariat and the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. It also oversees work of various powerful national organs of the party.
The Committee convenes at least once a year at a plenary session ("plenum"), and functions as a top forum for discussion about relevant policy issues. The Committee operates, however, on the principle of democratic centralism; i.e., once a decision is made, the entire body speaks with one voice. The role of the Central Committee has varied throughout history. While it generally exercises power through formal procedures defined in the party constitution, the ability for it to affect outcomes of national-level personnel decisions is limited, as that function has generally been, in practice, carried out by the Politburo and retired party elders who retain influence. Nonetheless, Central Committee plenums function as venues whereby policy is discussed, fine-tuned, and publicly released in the form of "resolutions" or "decisions".
According to the Constitution of the Communist Party of China, the Central Committee is tasked with "carrying out the decisions of the National Congress, leading the work of the party, and representing the party internationally." The Central Committee is therefore technically the "party's highest organ of authority" when the National Congress is not in session. The National Congress is convened only once every five years, so the Central Committee can be called upon in the interim to make extremely far-reaching decisions, or at least legitimize a change in direction mandated by the Politburo or other party leaders. The Central Committee must also be theoretically convened to prepare for a National Congress; for example, to determine its dates, delegate selection, agenda, and so on.
The Central Committee has the power to elect the General Secretary and the members of the Politburo, its Standing Committee, and the Central Military Commission. These elections take place in the form of confirmation votes; i.e., there is only one candidate, a delegate can choose to vote for or against or abstain for that candidate. In some instances write-in candidates may also be allowed. In practice, for important posts such as the General Secretary or the Politburo Standing Committee, there is no known occasion since 1949 where the Central Committee voted against a candidate already vetted by the top party leadership in advance.
The Central Committee also confirms membership of the Secretariat, the organ in charge of executing party policy, whose membership is determined through nomination by the Politburo. The Central Committee oversees the work of many powerful national organizations of the party, including the Propaganda, Organization, International Liaison, and United Front departments, among others.
The Central Committee's role has varied throughout history. It was founded in 1927 as a successor organization to the "Central Executive Committee" (中央执行委员会), a group of party leaders charged with executing party work during the pre-revolutionary days of the CPC. Over the next several decades it served to confirm the party leadership lineup and legitimize military, strategic, and foreign relations decisions of the party. In practice, power was concentrated in a small group of military and political leaders (the Secretariat or the Politburo), and, beginning at the Zunyi Conference in 1935, Mao held great power personally. Moreover, during the Second Sino-Japanese war and the Chinese Civil War between 1937 and 1949, the Central Committee rarely convened, partly because of the logistical difficulties of bringing together leading cadres involved in different theatres of war and agitation.
Beginning in 1949 at the founding of the People's Republic of China, the Central Committee gradually transformed from a revolutionary organ to a governing one, though again the day-to-day work and most political power resided with a few leaders, most notably the Politburo, then de facto chaired by Liu Shaoqi, and the Secretariat, then under Deng Xiaoping. Although the Central Committee was required to convene at least once a year, it did not convene at all in 1951–53, 1960, 1963–65, and 1967. Informal and 'extraordinary' mechanisms were sometimes used for the purposes of discussing party policy, for example, the Seven Thousand Cadres Conference in 1962, meant to be a summation of the lessons of the Great Leap Forward. Mao did not hold absolute power over the Central Committee, as evidenced by the debates surrounding the policies of the Great Leap Forward, as well as the economic policies of the early 1960s. However, Mao used Central Committee meetings as a platform to project authority or legitimize decisions which have been made in advance, such as at the Lushan Conference of 1959, when the Central Committee ratified the decision to denounce Peng Dehuai, who had spoken out in opposition of the Great Leap Forward.
During the early stages of the Cultural Revolution, the Central Committee essentially ceased to function; it was convened in August 1966 (11th Plenum of the 8th CC) to cement decisions already made by Mao on launching the Cultural Revolution. Mao faced some opposition at the 11th Plenum but ultimately most delegates were goaded into ratifying Mao's decisions. Many members were politically disgraced or purged thereafter. The Committee was then convened again in October 1968 (12th Plenum) to ratify the decision to expel then head of state Liu Shaoqi from the Party. At the 12th plenum, less than half the members actually attended, as many had fallen victim to the Cultural Revolution. In a letter to Mao "evaluating" the members of the Central Committee at the time, Kang Sheng wrote that some 70% of CC members were considered "traitors, spies, or otherwise politically unreliable". The Central Committee membership at the 9th Party Congress in April 1969 was largely handpicked by Mao and a small group of radical allies. The decisions at the Congress were later deemed to be "wholly and absolutely wrong" by official party historians.
Since economic reforms of 1978
Since economic reforms began in 1978, the Central Committee has usually been composed of the leading figures of the party, government, the provinces, and the military. In contrast to Party Congresses, which have always been essentially ceremonial exercises, full meetings of the Central Committee have occasionally emerged as arenas in which there were substantive debates and decisions on party policy. An example of this was the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee in 1978, at which China formally embarked on a project of economic reform. Deng Xiaoping also attempted to increase the level of "intra party democracy" in the 1980s by introducing so-called "more candidates than seats" election method (Cha'e xuanju). The Cha'e method meant that not everyone who was nominated would be elected to the Central Committee.
Despite experimenting with power separation on a broad scale in the 1980s, including the separation of party and state leadership positions, real decision-making power continued to reside in the hands of a dozen or so party elites, including party elders that formed the Central Advisory Commission (later abolished). For instance, the decision to crack down on the 1989 Tiananmen protests, and on top leadership changes in its aftermath, such as the purge of then General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, were made by "party elders" and a small group of top leaders, without first convening the Central Committee. Zhao questioned the legality of his removal in his memoirs released in 2006.
While Central Committee meetings do not usually serve as forums for substantive debate, they have sometimes 'fine-tuned' the policies agreed upon at the Politburo level. But the Central Committee does not, by convention, overturn policies decided at higher levels. The Central Committee is larger and has a somewhat more diverse ideological spectrum than the Politburo. Since its plenary sessions is a rare event that concentrates almost all of China's top leaders in one location, it could also be seen as a convenient venue for informal deal-making.
Hu Jintao's administration (2002-2012) attempted to embrace collective leadership, as well as more "intra-party democracy"; Hu was not a strong "core" figure in the same sense as Mao or Deng Xiaoping. The Central Committee thus gained more prominence as a bona fide consultation body. In 2003, Hu also cancelled the traditional August leadership retreat at the coastal town of Beidaihe, while giving more media coverage to the Central Committee plenums held in the fall. This was seen as an indication that Hu wanted to eschew informal decision-making by the handful of elites in favour of "inner-party democracy" involving bodies such as the Central Committee. However, the Beidaihe meetings resumed in July 2007, when political jockeying took place in anticipation of the 17th Party Congress; the same Bedaihe retreat also took place in 2011 in anticipation of the 18th Party Congress. This indicated that important personnel and policy decisions continued to be the domain of a small group of elites at the very top of the party hierarchy.
Since the 17th Party Congress, the Central Committee has seen an increase in the number of regional leadership figures. The 17th Central Committee formed with every province-level Party Secretary and Governor gaining a full seat on the Central Committee. The rise of regional party representation came at the expense of that of government ministries. Since Xi Jinping's rise to power at the 18th Party Congress, the Central Committee plenums in 2013 and 2014 were given significant media coverage, as they marked the beginning of another round of comprehensive economic and social reforms (2013) and legal reforms (2014), respectively.
In the 2016 Central Committee plenum, the focus was mainly on in-party discipline and supervision, which gained a significant media coverage in China and abroad. 
Structure and membership selection
The Central Committee has full members (weiyuan) and alternate or candidate members (houbu weiyuan). The practice of having "full" and "alternate" members is consistent with other Leninist parties in history, such as the Communist Party of the Soviet Union or the Communist Party of Vietnam. Members are elected by National Congresses through a confirmation vote (i.e., vote "yes", "no", or abstain) on a candidate list, where the number of candidates exceed the number of available seats. Unlike the Politburo, whose membership has historically been determined by high-level political jockeying by incumbent and retired party leaders, the method of candidate selection for the Central Committee membership is less clear, though it appears to be a largely centralized process. Since the 1980s membership patterns in the Central Committee have gradually stabilized. For example, provincial governors and party secretaries are almost guaranteed a seat on the Central Committee.
The primary difference between full members and alternate members is that full members have voting rights. Alternate members attend Central Committee plenary sessions, and can presumably voice their views on issues, but do not have the right to vote. At party plenary sessions, members of the Politburo seats at the front of the auditorium or meeting hall, facing the rest of the Central Committee. Full members are ordered by protocol, and seated, according to "surname stroke order" (xingshi bihua paiming), an impartial ordering system that is roughly equivalent of alphabetizing the names. Alternate members follow a different protocol sequence: they are arranged by the number of votes received when they were elected at the previous Party Congress.
Alternate members may be elevated to full members if a full member dies in office, resigns, or is removed from the body. Priority of ascension to full member status is given to the alternate member who received the highest number of votes in favour at the previous Party Congress.
Membership changes, such as the expulsion of a full member or an elevation of an alternate member, are confirmed through passing a formally adopted resolution at Central Committee plenary sessions.
While it is not a requirement in theory, the body has been customarily composed of officials of provincial-ministerial ranking and above, with a few exceptions. For example, officials holding, or expected to hold the following positions at the time of a new party congress can be generally expected to hold a seat on the Central Committee:
- The party chiefs and governors of provinces (mayors of direct-controlled municipalities and chairpersons of autonomous regions)
- The ministers and minister-level commissioners of the State Council of the People's Republic of China
- The heads of the military-region level organizations of the People's Liberation Army, including the heads of the PLA's main General Departments
- Ministerial-level heads of the party organizations which report directly to the Central Committee, including the chiefs of the General Offices serving major party leading groups
- The national-level heads of state-sponsored civic institutions
Occasionally officials of vice-ministerial rank could also hold membership on the Central Committee, though only in rare and exceptional circumstances. For example, Ma Xingrui, the party chief of Shenzhen (as of 2015), was a member of the 18th Central Committee.
While institutional rules has, since the 1980s, played a major role in the selection of Central Committee members, it does not guarantee that holders of a specific office will gain a seat on the CC. If a CC member is transferred to a different post, they maintain their CC membership. For example, a Governor of Shandong who is transferred to a position of less significance does not lose his seat on the CC, neither will his successor gain a seat on the CC. This has created situations in which individuals who do not sit on the Central Committee assume provincial leadership positions (for example, Wei Hong, governor of Sichuan, and Shohrat Zakir, Chairman of Xinjiang, were not members of the Central Committee).
In contrast to full membership, alternate membership of the Central Committee is more varied in its composition, and there are fewer institutional rules governing its membership list. Generally speaking, since the 1980s, alternate membership in the Central Committee is composed of officials of provincial-ministerial rank or sub-provincial (vice-minister) rank. They are selected based on a combination of experience and the institutions that they represent. Many are heads of provincial party departments or party chiefs of big cities. Prominent academics with no political experience and state-owned enterprise chief executives often hold alternate seats on the Central Committee. Some alternate members therefore hold no other political positions. Younger alternate members are also generally seen to be "up-and-coming" national leaders.
Election of members
Since the 13th Party Congress in 1987, in the spirit of promoting "inner-party democracy", the number of candidates up for election for both full members and alternate members have been greater than the number of available seats. At the 18th Party Congress, a total of 224 candidates stood for election for full membership for a total of 205 seats. A total of 190 candidates stood for election for a total of 171 alternate seats. This meant that 9.3% of full member candidates and 11.1% alternate member candidates were not elected. The current Central Committee has 205 members and 171 alternates and was instated at the 18th National Party Congress.
Age and turnover of membership
Since the 1980s, the membership of the Central Committee has experienced rapid turnover, mostly due to the institutionalization of the system of promotions for party officials as well as an informally mandated retirement age, currently set at 65 for minister-level officials (which comprise the majority of the members of the Central Committee). The average age of members in the 18th Central Committee is 56.1 years. From the 1980s onwards, an average of 62% of the membership of the outgoing Central Committee has been replaced at each party congress. Since most members are at least 50 years old when they enter the body, the mandatory retirement age essentially serves as a 'term limit' on the entire membership of the Central Committee, whereby no member or group of members could conceivably serve longer than three terms on the Central Committee. It also makes forming enduring political factions difficult. Chinese politics analyst Cheng Li noted that this makes the body much more fluid than most national legislatures, for which term limits do not generally apply. This has prevented the emergence of a gerontocracy as was common in the Soviet Union, Cuba, and North Korea; by the same token, officials younger than 45 have next to no chance of being elected onto the body.
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