Lately, it seems like China is a place that somehow feels simultaneously very near and far for those of us based in the U.S. If you’re an American, China and its government has been on the tip of the media’s tongue for most of 2018, yet it somehow remains a country whose political system isn’t widely understood or familiar to many of us.
As of today, China is the most populous country in the world, with a population exceeding 1.4 Billion people. The population of the world in total currently stands at 7.7 Billion people. How does the Chinese government preside over a body of people that comprises about 18% of the world’s total population, and how did they get there in the first place?
China’s Political History Historically, China has been governed under a political system of communism. The communist party began their reign over China in September 1949, after its leader Mao Zedong took the victory in a long civil war against National Chinese forces. The new party was deemed “The People’s Republic of China” and the Nationalist party were forced to flee to Taiwan after their loss. So began the firm-handed reign of the Communist party.
Previous to Mao Zedong’s takeover, the Chinese government was ruled by The Chinese Republic under the leadership of Sun Yat-sen beginning in 1911. The Chinese Republic was underpinned by a spirit of revolution, and many people living in the republic were keen on a full-fledged revolution. As disorder among people and the rise of the communist party took hold, Sun Yat-Sen died and Chiang Kai-shek, a politician and military leader, emerged to the frontlines to lead the Chinese Nationalist Party. The Nationalists fought for nearly twenty years against the communists before Mao Zedong claimed victory and established his reign.
New Growth From 1949 on, the communist party was led by Mao Zedong until his death in 1976. Following his passing came a period of massive economic growth for China, with Deng Xiaoping at the helm. In 1978, Xiaoping became the unofficial new leader of the People’s Republic of China and began to reform their economic system transforming the country into more of the global powerhouse we recognize it as today.
Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, China experienced massive economic growth through the introduction of a market economy. By the mid 1990’s, China was regarded as an affluent society. The market economy created more autonomy for suppliers, and more freedom for customers. This period of reform was due in part by four special economic zones the government established in effort to attract foreign investment, begin the importation of high technology products into the country, and boost exports. Additional reforms were soon set in motion that eventually allowed provincial and local government to individually operate and
compete on free market principles. These reforms overhauled both the Chinese standard of living and paved the way for their current status as the world’s top manufacturing country.
The Branches of Chinese Government Today, the People’s Republic of China is still ruled by the Communist Party. Under the Chinese constitution, the Communist party has complete control of political authority and for this reason is considered a single-party state. The system does, however, distribute power among the legislature known as The national People’s Congress (NPC), the President, and the State Council.
The NPC The NPC is comprised of and controlled entirely by members of the communist party, and their central responsibility as a body is to oversee the operations of the government and to elect all major officers of state. The NPC is considered the most powerful branch of the Chinese government and members elected serve a term of five years. Though the name may suggest it lends power into the hands of the Chinese people, it merely act as a “rubber stamp” for speedy communist party agenda approvals.
The NPC holds a major annual session every spring, and are often scheduled to coincide meetings of another major committee, the National Committee of the People’s Political Consultative Conference. These meetings are held to review past policies and create future plans for the nation. The NPC currently holds 2,980 members, and, according to the International Parliamentary Union, is considered the largest parliamentary body in the world.
The State Council The State Council, also known as the Executive Branch or The Central People’s Government, directly oversees the various People’s Governments in each of China’s provinces and is considered the chief administrative authority over the people’s republic of China. In short, it this branch ensures that the party policy is implemented from a national to a local level. The State Council also controls state budgets and maintains general law and order over the people. This branch of the Chinese government is similar to the United States cabinet, and sits under the leadership of a position known as The Premier, which is currently held by Li Keqiang. The other members included in The State Council are the Vice-Premiers, the State Councillors, the Ministers in charge of commissions, the Ministers in charge of ministries, the Auditor-General, and the Secretary-General. Currently, there are 35 members total in the State Council.
The President The Chinese Government also requires the aid of an elected president, however the president’s role in China is far different than presidents in other countries. Here the presidency is largely a ceremonial role with limited powers to make decisions or enact change. The presidential office
is regarded as an institution of the state rather than an administrative post, and is looked upon as a role meant to serve at the hands of the NPC, and is not legally entrusted to take action on their own decisions. The current Chinese president is Xi Jinping, who took office in March 2013.
Though there are other commissions and branches presiding over the Chinese government, namely the Military Commission, the National Supervisory Commission, and the Supreme People’s court, the three above comprise the strong arm of the government, and collectively create laws and lead the people of China.
The Current Political Landscape Despite the fact that the presidential role in China is one created more for appearances than action, the current President, Xi Jinping, has made great efforts to concentrate power into his hands. Since his reign beginning in March 2013, he has worked to promote China’s interest onto the global stage. In October of 2017, China enshrined Xi Jinping’s into the constitution, cementing him as one of China’s most powerful leaders and elevating him to the same status Mao Zedong enjoyed during his reign. At the start of March 2018, Xi Jinping was elected to his second term as president and the NPC, in their annual meeting, opted to remove the two-term limit on the presidency as per their constitution, which will potentially allow Jinping to serve as China’s president for life.