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China: Institutionalizing Collective Leadership
Country Study > Chapter 11 > The Political Process > Political Realignments at the Party Center > Institutionalizing Collective Leadership


Following the Third Plenum, one of Deng Xiaoping's major reform goals had been to produce an institutionalized and stable political system that could promote economic development. Economic reform was to be accompanied by political reform that would permit a greater range of personal and intellectual choices and include the opening up of debate on key issues of local and national concern.

A major part of this political reform had to do with implementing the concept of collective leadership. The cult of personality cultivated by Mao and those associated with him had made Chinese society subject to the whim of an aging and increasingly irrational revolutionary personality. To counter this style and project an image of political maturity and regularity, Deng declined to assume the party chairmanship. Even Hua Guofeng's demotion from senior leadership positions was done gradually and was cushioned by allowing Hua to retain his membership on the Central Committee. Overall, Deng's objective was to invert the practice of having power vested more in individuals than in institutions and to modify a decision-making process that operated by fiat, without regular procedures or an adequate information base.

A major step toward institutionalizing collective leadership was taken with the re-establishment of the party Secretariat in 1980. Its formation permitted the emplacement of promising younger leaders to manage and master dayto -day party affairs. Having supervisory authority over the various Central Committee departments, the Secretariat could provide the Political Bureau and its presiding Standing Committee with additional expertise in making decisions. By 1987 the Secretariat included eleven members, six of whom also served on the Political Bureau. The broad experience of its membership covered all major substantive areas, including party, government, and military affairs, agriculture, the national economy and planning, culture and propaganda, and industry and trade. In addition to drafting the major policy resolutions for Political Bureau deliberation and then supervising the implementation of party policy, the Secretariat used its expertise and organizational standing to exert pressure on the cumbersome Chinese bureaucracy to achieve the desired results.

The 1982 Party Constitution abolished the post of party chairman and expanded the base of political authority to include the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau, party general secretary, chairman of the party's Central Military Commission, first secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, and chairman of the Central Advisory Commission. The premier also served on the Standing Committee, which thus included in its policy-making ranks representatives of the three major institutions -- party, government, and military.

Another measure that promoted a more balanced distribution of power was the strengthening of senior governmental bodies. As premier, Zhao Ziyang presided over the State Council, a body crucial to the implementation of economic reform measures and, like the party Secretariat, supported by an abundance of research institutions to aid in decision making. By 1987 the State Council, the chief administrative organization of government and clearinghouse for government actions, was composed of twenty-two members, including Premier Zhao and five vice premiers who also served on the Political Bureau. Its Standing Committee of seventeen included senior members with long and recognized experience in all aspects of government. The State Council directed the work of the various government ministries, commissions, and agencies and verified that relevant party policies were being implemented.

The process of easing out unwanted leaders was institutionalized at the Twelfth National Party Congress in September 1982. Deng Xiaoping developed and headed the new central body, the party's Central Advisory Commission. Qualified members with at least forty years of party service were honored by being named to this body as consultants to the party and the government. This institutional innovation was intended to remove the superannuated veterans from real power positions while allowing them to remain at least at the fringes of power.

Besides providing for the graceful retirement of old revolutionary heroes and elderly leaders, at the Twelfth National Party Congress the reform leadership successfully consolidated its control of the party. Sixty percent of the members and alternate members on the newly elected Central Committee were newcomers and probable supporters of the reform program. Most of those elected had professional and technical qualifications, fulfilling another reform goal of infusing the bureaucracy with competent and talented officials.

Data as of July 1987

Last Updated: July 1987

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for China was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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