The challenges of the CCP

3 May

China’s Communist Party is the biggest political party in the world and it is still the only ruling party in China since 1949 (BBC News 2002). Although it has proved particularly stable managing dissent and surviving China’s opening to the international market, there have been some challenges which led to think that the CCP was doomed to collapse because of its inflexible structure. The country is basically governed by nine men that have not been elected, showing that the process of democratisation is still particularly slow and there are many problems with this (BBC News 2002). It is well known that China has many issues to deal with, starting from the Taiwan dispute, to Tibet, to pollution, to censorship and many more. However what exactly are the problems that the CCP as a party is facing? And how is this affecting Chinese politics?

Firstly, it is important to realise how the CCP is organised. The CCP is organised through the nomenklatura system which ensures that the personnel is appointed by the CCP with the “two-levels-down” rule, so each level of the party has a say on the appointments of the personnel at two levels below. In this way, as the CCP National Party Congress is at the top of the hierarchy, it can ensure that any decision is taken in line with the Party’s goals (Zheng 2007, 12). Every five years the NPC elects a Central Committee of 200 plus 150 alternate members, whose membership has however previously been approved. The Politburo and the Standing Committee will then be elected by the Central Committee (BBC News 2002). It is clear that, even though there is a system of elections and representation, the whole process happens under the Party’s control and upon its approval. This does not seem to be worrying at a first glance, as one assumes that in every representative system the power will be held by a small elite, however the point is that the party is not particularly representative and tends to reject any quest for democracy.

One of the challenges of a system where there are no elections is mainly that this will be considered, especially from a Western perspective, deeply undemocratic. Some in fact argue that competitive elections between parties are one of the main elements of democracy and it is clear that China’s system is authoritarian. But what are the problems of having an authoritarian system? In the case of China, as the one-party system does not allow for the state and the CCP to be separated from each other, it weakens the chance of having appropriate checks and it makes it easier for leaders to use power for their own interests. Yongnian Zheng explains the relationship between personal power and party power in these terms: “Party Capacity = Institutionalisation / Personalisation”, claiming that personal power can deeply limit the scope of party action (2007, 5,8).

This inevitably leads to the spread of corruption, which is in fact one of the important problems that China is facing. The allegation of corruption and other serious abuses of power that involved Bo Xilai and his wife in 2012 caused general mistrust in the party and party officials, apparently one of the most significant falls in trust after Mao’s leadership (Cheng Li 2012). It is then not surprising that Wen Jiabao, in his leaving speech at the National People’s Congress put corruption as one of the main issues that certainly needed to be tackled during Xi Jinping’s leadership (Branigan 2013).

Thinking back to the problem of authoritarianism, has China learnt any lesson from past experiences? The tragedy of Tiananmen Square in 1989, when the People’s Liberation Army opened fire killing hundreds or thousands of students who were demonstrating for democracy and against dictatorship is a crucial event in Chinese history certainly has been a lesson for the coming political generations who are now concerned about keeping social stability and preventing splits within the party that could weaken the legislature and its reputations (Shrink 2007, 35-78). Hence there are different ways in which the Party aims to prevent unrest. One is certainly the claim that due to its size and variety of the population an authoritarian government is much more efficient for China and democracy is considered impossible (Shirk 2008, 53). Furthermore in order to maintain the supremacy of the party itself it has shifted to a “resilient authoritarianism” which is able to resist and supposedly prevent claims for democracy.

This resilient authoritarianism is in fact a way of governing that implies the continuous adapting of policy and institutions in order to prevent unrest and ensure the smooth running of the government (Cheng Li 2012). There has definitely been a transformation in the Party organisation as it slowly accepting some more democratic changes such as more transparency, more democratic reforms and prevention of corruption. The goal is to get to a more “harmonious society” where social problems have a place on the agenda and social justice is the leading ideology. Global capitalism as well, seems to contribute to a slow shift towards a more democratic way of governing (Zheng 2007).

Some have described the evolution of China’s CCP as “rigid flexibility”, which means that whilst the ideology and the structure is still the same there are constant changes that allow the Party to adapt to the demands of its population and, at the same time, maintain its role of unchallenged leader (Cheng Li 2012).The constant growth of China’s GDP is certainly a sign that the system is efficient and it is managing to react to the various challenges that it has to face.

BBC NEWS  (2002) Inside China’s ruling party. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 23 Apr 2013].

Branigan, T. (2013) China’s Wen Jiabao signs off with growth warning. [online] Available at: [Accessed: 25/04/ 2013].

Cheng Li (2012). The End of the CCP’s Resilient Authoritarianism? A Tripartite Assessment of Shifting Power in China. The China Quarterly, 211, pp 595-623.

Shirk, S. (2008) China, fragile superpower. New York: Oxford University Press

Zheng, Y. (2007) Discussion Paper 22 ‘IS COMMUNIST PARTY RULE SUSTAINABLE IN CHINA?’ University of Nottingham: China Policy Institute. [Accessed: 25/04/13].


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