Wednesday, 6 July 2022 – 13:08

Explaining Politics in China

China, like Cuba, has been a communist country since a revolution in the middle of the 20th century, with the communist Mao Tse-tung (Chairman Mao) leading the communists to victory in a civil war.

Since then, China has undergone immense political and social transformations that have turned it from one of the world’s poorest nations into the global superpower it is today.

Since 2012, China has been ruled by the controversial Xi Jinping, who in 2018, was given the approval of the Chinese parliament to remove the two-term limit from his leadership, allowing him to become president for life.

The People’s Republic of China is ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the government structure is divided into several different sections. There is the State Council, the military branch, the supervision council, the judicial branch, the National People’s Congress, and the Politburo Standing Committee.


{tab History of Politics In China}

Communist Revolution

Between 1927 and 1949, China found itself intermittently in a state of civil war; the Guomindang government of China found themselves fighting the Chinese Communist Party – bar an interlude during the Sino-Japanese war where they both turned their attention towards a common enemy. The Qing dynasty, that preceded the communist revolution, was considered to be underlined by deep inequality that led to the CCP waging a civil war, but China had also suffered from a ‘century of humiliation’, being defeated in the Opium wars and the Boxer Rebellion. The Xinhai revolution, following the first world war, ended the Qing dynasty, replacing it with the Republic of China, but after limited improvement the Communist Party found themselves growing in support.

The Guomindang (Chinese Nationalists) had an advantage when the civil war broke out, however, following the Sino-Japanese war, were heavily weakened and large portions of China were under CCP control. The communists were provided aid by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union and in 1948, the communists won a decisive battle at Liaohsi in Manchuria, which gave them the upper hand. By 1949, the nationalists, led by Chiang Kai-shek were forced to flee to Taiwan, where they set up a new government and declared independence from mainland China. To this day China attempts to exert influence over the government of Taiwan and sees the island nation as part of its own territory, often seeing heightened tensions in a bid to bring the land under the Chinese mainland.

Following the communist victory, Mao Tse-tung formally proclaimed the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) on 1st October 1949, which the nation remains to this day. After Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan, he declared Taipei, Taiwan, to be the capital of the Peoples Republic of China and some fighting continued between Taiwan’s Guomindang and the CCP until the outbreak of the Korea war in 1950, when the USA stationed part of the navy in Taiwan to prevent further fighting.

After the Revolution

Mao pushed for significant reforms in China following his ascent to the leadership, the most infamous being his Five-Year Plan’s, which aimed to industrialise the nation. The Five-Year Plan was carried out with Soviet support, allowing them to quickly industrialise and become increasingly self-sufficient, the success of which encouraged a second Five-Year Plan to be launched in 1958; China still use these today and as of 2016 were onto the 13th Five-Year Plan. During this time Mao launches the 100 flowers movement, which encouraged different ideals on how the new PRC should be run to be discussed, as well as encouraging criticism of the communist regime. This resulted in quickly rising discontent against the CCP and as a result Mao launched a mass persecution campaign, oppressing as many as 600,000 Chinese people alleged to be critical of the CCP, known as the ‘anti-rightist movement’.

More infamously, Mao’s second Five-Year Plan, known as the Great Leap Forward, was launched in 1958 and was more radical in its attempts to push China towards being a global, industrial power. Similar to Stalin’s collectivisation in the Soviet Union, Mao wished to turn small farms into much larger (and more efficient) communes with much of private farming being band and property being brought under collective ownership. The leadership of the CCP used a variety of new methods to try and increase productivity, but the result of this, and of natural disasters, meant a significant drop in production that resulted in mass famine across China. It is estimated that around 52 million Chinese people died as a result, with 30 million of these occurring between 1959 and the end of the Great Leap forward in 1962. The extent to which Mao knew of one of the world’s worst famines occurring in his country is disputed, with some reports suggesting that upon finding out he stopped eating meat and required his staff to do the same.

Under Mao’s leadership, China became the third biggest power in the world, challenging the Soviet Union as the major communist nation on earth. They played a vital role in the Cold War, with the United States policy of rapprochement being a key moment in the Cold War.

Following Mao’s death, the gang of four rose to assume control of the nation. These were four loyal members of Mao’s government who continued Mao’s second great domestic policy failure, the Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution (1966-76) was an attempt to solidify communism by purging the nation of capitalist tendencies and Chinese traditions. It was an attempt to reassert ‘Maoism’, following a period of less radical reforms as China attempted to recover from the Great Leap Forward. The gang were led by Mao’s last wife Jiang Qing, and they were considered largely as the perpetrators of the cultural revolution (although much was at the direction of Mao), which resulted in an estimated 20 million deaths, although the full toll will likely not be known due to active cover ups of the persecution by the state. Following Mao’s death in 1976, Hua Guofeng rose to become the paramount leader of China, arresting the gang of four and officially marking the end of the Cultural Revolution.

Deng Xiaoping became the ruler of China after Guofeng was ousted in 1978, leading the country through its most significant economic reforms. Xiaoping is known as the architect of modern China for his market-based reforms that seemed to depart from the communist ideology that the PRC was founded upon, bringing about the most significant period of growth felt by any nation in recent history. Xiaoping brought a new brand of socialism to China and did perhaps more than anyone else to turn them into the economic superpower that they are today.

Deng Xiaoping liberalised the nation to an extent, launching the ‘Beijing Spring’ which allowed for criticism of the Cultural Revolution and his reforms significantly improved relations with the United States, although did little to patch the relations that were soured with the USSR through American rapprochement. Den was famously quoted as saying: “it does not matter whether a cat is black or white, if it catches mice, it’s a good cat”. It serves as a good metaphor for Den Xiaoping’s approach to Chinese economic growth and lack of reverence for communism.

Before leaving office – partly as a result of a brutal crackdown against student protesters in Tiananmen Square, which was broadcast across the world in 1989 – he negotiated the transfer of Hong Kong and Macau to Chinese control, which took effect in 1997 and 1999 respectively. The joint declaration with the United Kingdom, which handed over power to China required the nation to respect the British imposed political and economic systems of Hong Kong for at least 50 years.

Den Xiaoping’s successor, Luo Zeming largely maintained the economic reforms of Xiaoping, which have been a feature of modern China since; a quasi-open-market foreign policy with a socialist domestic agenda which has come to be known as ‘Deng Xiaoping theory’. He set a precedent that Chinese leaders would no longer serve for life, a convention that stood until Xi Jinping removed term limits on himself in 2018.

Xi Jinping, who took power in 2012, has offered the first major departure from the legacy of Deng, with sweeping reforms and an increasingly outwardly focused foreign policy, as China looks to increasingly dominate global affairs in the coming decades.


{tab Current Structure of Government in China}

Chinese Government Structure


Like most nation’s on earth, the government of China is formed of three branches: legislature, executive and judiciary. However, the main power rests in the state council (part of the executive branch), which acts akin to a cabinet for the Chinese president.

Ruling over the state of China is President Xi Jinping, who leads the country and is the head of China’s communist party. The head of the government and premiere is Li Keqiang, whose job it is to deal with the government bureaucracy and chair the State Council. As president, Xi Jinping is in charge of the Chinese military and foreign diplomacy, appoints diplomats and the premiere, and can issue presidential pardons. The president and vice president are elected every five years by the newly elected National People’s Congress members, and before the term limit abolishment in 2018, the president and vice president could not serve more than two consecutive terms in office.

In China, there was traditionally no one political office that meant that a person was the nation’s leader, instead it was a more informal position, known as ‘paramount leader’ given to the person who best wielded power over the party and the country. Traditionally this person has been the General Secretary of the communist party or the chairman of the Central Military Commission. Since the nation was founded in 1949, 6 people have held this unofficial title.


The National People’s Congress (NPC) membership mostly consists of members of the Communist Party of China (CPC), along with several other parties that act as subordinates to the CPC. The NPC is made up of 2,987 delegates from across China, with the CPC representing 2,119 of those members. This means that all the laws the NPC votes on and who gets appointed to which positions are decided by the CPC, headed by Xi Jinping. The CPC sends pieces of legislation to the NPC for consideration, and in the entire history of the NPC, none of these government proposals have been rejected.

While the NPC members are elected to five-year terms and the body only meets once a year, the Politburo Standing Committee, which meets every few months, has a greater say in the legislation of China. This committee is made up of 25 members and consists of those in charge of the CPC. The Standing Committee decides what legislation gets sent to the NPC for consideration and it requires fierce loyalty to the CPC for anyone to have a shot at being a part of the Standing Committee. 


The judicial aspect of the Chinese government consists of four different levels of courts, from the Basic People’s Court, to the Intermediate People’s Court, the Higher People’s Court, and finally the Supreme People’s Courts. The final level of court has its members elected by the NPC to serve a five-year term and is split into different divisions, such as the criminal division, civil division, and economic division to address different aspects of the cases the Supreme People’s Court hears.

Provincial Governments of China

China is divided into 23 provinces, five regions, two special administrative regions, Hong Kong and Macau, and four municipalities. These areas are governed by 7,000 members of the CPC appointed by the Communist Party, with governors in charge of each of the different provinces. 

Although not a fully federal government, China has a number of special administrative regions that have varying degrees of autonomy and power over their own affairs.

Xinjiang Province

The westernmost province of China, Xinjiang, has been an autonomous region since the communist takeover in 1949. It is predominantly occupied by a Muslim population known as Uighur Muslims, who often refer to the region as ‘East Turkestan’ and often claim its independence from the rest of China.

Xinjiang is governed by the local Chinese communist party, which widely adheres to the central CCP, although does dictate its own policy. However, in recent years the Chinese Communist Party have been trying to bring Xinjiang under more central control, partly due to its rich natural resources being a significant source of potential wealth.

For several years there have been reports that the Xinjiang regions Uighur Muslim population is being persecuted, or even the victim of genocide, with the internment camps holding up to two million Muslims across the region. The west have reacted with sanctions against China over the CCP action against the Uighur population within their own country.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong has been a special administrative region of China since 1997, when power was transferred from Britain – who had held a 99-year lease over the territory since 1898, following the Opium wars.

The nation has a different economic and political system from mainland China, with a far more open, free-market economy, making it one of the world’s most significant financial centres. Hong Kong has the second most billionaires of any city in the world and is considered the fourth most developed place on earth, according to the Human Development Index (HDI).

In recent years, protests have been raging in Hong Kong over increasing Chinese interference into the region’s affairs, resulting in the Occupy Central for Love and Peace protest from 2014-15, later leading to the 2014 Hong Kong protests which called for greater democracy in Hong Kong. More recently, protests have erupted over the implementation of a new security law, which has allegedly been aimed at suppressing any criticism of the Chinese Communist Party. Hong Kong has been increasingly brought under the influence of the central Chinese government in recent years, violating the agreement of the 1997 handover from Britain and resulting in international criticism of China.


Macau (or Macao) is the most densely populated region of the world and sits in the south east of China. A former colony of Portugal, Macau is similar to Hong Kong in that it has a separate economic system from mainland China, however, the relationship with the central Chinese government is considered less contentious.

The territory was leased to Portugal during the Ming dynasty in 1557, remaining under a degree of Portuguese rule until 1999 and sits primarily on reclaimed land, which was built upon as Macau gained wealth as a trading port. It is one of the world’s largest gambling hubs, with a gambling industry 7 times larges than Las Vegas, making it a popular destination for gambling tourism today.





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