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Four The Party Leadership System
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Politburo Leadership Arrangements

The work arrangements of the Politburo remained the heart of the leadership system—in terms of both power politics and policy coordination—throughout the 1980s. Despite instability in the system and changes over time, elements of pattern regularity or "norms" for Politburo behavior were discernible that will continue to shape China's future into the post-Deng era. The select group of Politburo standing committee members and elders who oversee broad arenas of specialized responsibilities rely to a great extent on personal leadership of the Politburo commissions and


LGs to do this. The Military Commission and the Discipline Inspection Commission are the only functional groups established by the Party constitution, but they appear to play roles in the leadership arrangement similar to that of the other groups, which are established and defined by policy directives.

These organs thus are a prime focus of the constant maneuvering for power. And the organizational norms shape the unwritten rules of behavior. An important but largely invisible strategic aim of the power game is to "lock up" one or more policy arenas under sole control of yourself and your supporters, while making sure the control of the others is divided among two or more individuals, preferably also including your own supporters. Creating, abolishing, reorganizing, and renaming leading organs is a favorite tactic. Enhancing the authority or scope of a policy arena increases the status of its leader, and vice versa. But all of this politicking must be done without blatantly violating the rules of collective leadership and informal requirements that leaders and members of LGs have some relevant functional experience and expertise. To inhibit monopolies of functional power, the norms require dual or even multiple lines of authority, a practice endemic throughout the political system.

The preeminent power of the senior leader can here be seen in practical institutional terms, for he exercises a great deal of discretion in assigning the functional responsibilities within the Politburo and intervening in any policy arena. But ideological and institutional norms provide a means of checking his power as well, although they are weak. The top leader is constrained to balance appointments at this level among factions based on personal loyalties. The chronic nature of the problem of succession is also easily understood in institutional terms. An aspiring successor seeks to place loyalists in positions of influence in all arenas, as Hu Yaobang sought to do in 1985–86, and Zhao Ziyang in 1987–88. But in doing so, he must avoid either threatening the power of the incumbent leader or galvanizing opposition from rivals claiming the high moral ground of collective leadership—nearly impossible tasks.

The flexibility, ambiguity, fluidity, and personal nature of these lines of authority thus should be underscored, but a general outline sketch of the unwritten norm follows.[23]

1. National security (guojia anchuan ) affairs. This arena usually is kept in the hands of the top leader as chairman of the Military Affairs Commission (Deng, like Mao before him). Little is known about this powerful arena, but it seems that at times it may have had wideranging authority for both military affairs and internal security.

2. Political-legal (zheng[zhi] fa[lu] ) affairs. Normally, internal security,


along with the legislative and judicial functions, is channeled through a Political and Legal Affairs Commission or LG, which oversees the National People's Congress, the procuratorate and court systems, as well as the police and intelligence forces. Currently, the ministries of state security, justice, public security, and probably civil affairs and supervision are in this arena, judging from official cabinet lists. In the 1960s this arena included the Party's Investigation Department.

3. Party (dangwu ) affairs. These normally are overseen by the top Party executive—now the general secretary, perhaps with a senior deputy. Intra-Party communication, record keeping, and research is the responsibility of the General Office.

Closely coordinated supervision over propaganda and personnel work—what is often referred to in the Chinese press as "ideological-political work"—is sometimes channeled directly through the Propaganda and Organization Departments and sometimes first through a Propaganda and Ideology (xuanquan sixiang ) LG and an Organization and Personnel (zuzhi renshi ) LG. The former group has had a variety of names over the years; the latter group may have been reconstituted only recently or may function only prior to national Party meetings, which confirm high-level appointments. For an unknown length of time after 1969, the two were combined. The Discipline Inspection Commission and various temporary organs, such as the Rectification Commission (1983–87), have served as overlapping (sometimes competing) forums for oversight of cadre.

A United Front (tong[yi] zhan[xian] ) LG oversees both reunification work (through the Taiwan Work LG and the Hong Kong—Macao Work Committee) and domestic "united front" relations with non-Party groups. The United Front Work Department oversees the People's Political Consultative Conference, the noncommunist parties, policy toward intellectuals, and government and social organs for religious and minority affairs.

Traditionally, Party work includes rural policy—originally conceived of as "peasant organization work" in the broadest sense, and thus covering rural population control, youth-to-the-countryside work, rural education, and so forth.[24] There are specialized youth,


labor, and women's organizations. Political reform, too, appeared to be a policy arena tightly controlled by party organs.[25]

4. Foreign affairs (waishi ) work. This arena often has been narrowly conceived as diplomatic relations and is supervised by the Foreign Affairs LG. Under both Mao and Deng the senior leader has retained responsibility for China's overall foreign policy orientation, including relations with the superpowers. This would be a logical duty for the "commander-in-chief." Geographic or functional responsibilities in foreign affairs are delegated to other senior leaders, and decisions for foreign military, Party, cultural, and economic relations are shared with the appropriate functional LGs.[26]

5. Government (zhengfu ) affairs. Traditionally, these have been conceived of largely as economic affairs and normally are run by the top economic administrator (premier), often with another leader (ranking vice-premier).[27] This work is channeled through the Finance and Economics LG and its subordinate specialized leading groups or work groups, and the Science-and-Technology LG.

This outline of leadership organs strongly suggests that much of the actual work of the Politburo is done "in committee," with the functional commissions or LGs serving as forums for policy discussion by the members of the Politburo, supported by advisers and policy research organs. Recent reports of Politburo plenary meetings reveal what most have suspected, that the full body meets briefly and infrequently (now once monthly for a morning) to consider policy options already researched and discussed in the LGs, approved by members of the Standing Committee and privileged elders, and then packaged for ratification by the Politburo.

The importance of knowing the unofficial divisions of labor at the top


is reflected in comments by economic specialist Ma Hong, while visiting Japan in April 1987: "As Party general secretary, Hu Yaobang was only in charge of Party affairs. He was not involved in the business of economic reform. Comrade Deng Xiaoping and Premier Zhao Ziyang have been leading economic reform. I myself never discussed reform plans with Mr. Hu. It seems that people in Japan were unaware of the parameters of his job. It is wrong to think that he had overall authority."[28]

Hu Yaobang ran into political difficulty by 1986 in part because he sought to expand control beyond Party affairs, thereby encroaching on the turf of key elders. And Zhao Ziyang's irregular practice of retaining control of economic affairs after leaving the premiership was one source of his problems in 1988–89 (along with his efforts to restrict interference from "retired" elders). It was widely assumed that he was forced to share more of his economic authority with Li Peng and Yao Yilin in late 1988. Thus, the norms of functional divisions of power continued to play a critical role in Chinese politics.

The Sub-Politburo Leadership Structure

The normal membership of a central leading group or commission comprises (a) the group head; (b) usually a deputy or even two; (c) statutory members (defined by regulations) who sit on the LG because of formally assigned functional duties in the bureaucracy; and (d) discretionary members such as advisers, who are often outgoing retirees, or a secretary-general chosen personally by the leader. The head and the deputies are most likely appointed by the senior leader or general secretary, no doubt through an arduous process of political balancing and compromise with other factional leaders. An LG typically brings together all the senior officials in China with responsibility for different aspects of a comprehensive functional arena.

An important question for further research is the extent of involvement in LG deliberations—as full or "ex officio" members, advisers, and observers—by elders seemingly "retired" to the Central Advisory Commission or to the NPC standing committee. Deng Xiaoping in 1980 envisaged that both the Discipline Inspection Commission and the Central Advisory Commission would give "guidance, advice, and supervision," and the NPC constitutionally supervises the State Council. The definition and scope of these duties is unclear.[29]

A report by Bo Yibo on the work of the advisory commission in 1983 revealed that a number of its standing committee members had been assigned specific leadership duties much beyond the level of mere ad-


vice.[30] This type of involvement may have helped to set the stage for the "comebacks" of the elders in 1987 and 1989, including membership in leading groups responsible for preparing the Thirteenth Party Congress, when they recommended key organizational and personnel changes.[31]

The staff work for an LG may be done either through a section of the relevant General Office or a separate office (bangongshi ) that has a ministry-level or vice-ministry-level ranking.[32] The staff will be located in the Party, the government, or the military, depending on the post of the leader assigned. For example, when Zhao Ziyang gave up the premiership after the Thirteenth Congress, he retained control of the Finance and Economics LG. However, its office in the State Council was abolished, and a new section opened up in the Party's General Office, with new personnel. The office physically moved from the State Council section to the Party section of the Zhongnanhai compound.[33]

Both LGs and offices are subdivided functionally. For example, in the Finance and Economics LG before the Thirteenth Congress Li Peng was in charge of "such industrial sectors as energy, transportation and raw material supply."[34] The office had three sections: policy investigation and research; daily work (administration); and Party affairs (propaganda and personnel).[35] In the State Council, the deputy secretaries-general each have responsibility for the sectoral LG offices or sections of the General Office.[36]


Politburo members have their own personal sources of policy information and advice, of course. But there is also an extensive system of policy research offices (zhengce yanjiushi ) and investigation-and-research small groups (diaocha yanjiu xiaozu ), sometimes referred to as "brain trusts" (zhinengtuan ), operating at several levels within this leadership system. These organs and their personnel probably would be comanaged by the Propaganda LG and the relevant LG's office staffers responsible for research. For instance, in 1979 four research small groups were organized for the new State Finance and Economics Commission (functioning as an LG) by Party propaganda specialist Deng Liqun under the supervision of Politburo member Hu Qiaomu, but they were also responsible to the commission's secretary-general, Yao Yilin. At the same time, all government organs were told to create policy-research offices.[37]

I suspect that a desire to "liberate" policy-research specialists from the propaganda czars partly explained the proliferation in the 1980s of research centers answering to Zhao Ziyang's office in the State Council and to the various LGs rather than to the Secretariat. Examples included the State Council's General Office policy-research office; the Economic, Technical, and Social Development Research Center under the Finance and Economics LG; the S & T Development Research Center jointly under the Science and Technology Commission and the S & T LG; and the Economic System Reform Institute under the Reform Commission, which serves the Economic Reform LG.

Following the retirement of Hu Qiaomu and Deng Liqun in late 1987, as decision-making power had been shifted back from the Secretariat to the Politburo, the Secretariat's policy-research office was disbanded and new research organs were set up under the Politburo. There was mention of an investigation and studies room of the Party General Office.[38] The structure and membership of many such research groups is fluid, with individuals pulled in from permanent bodies, such as the Academy of Social Sciences or the research sections of commissions and ministries. Staffers from the general offices and these research organs together provide most members for temporary drafting groups (qicao xiaozu , or weiyuanhui , or tanzi ) set up to draft policy documents.


A Working Model

On March 6, 1958, a joint circular from the Central Committee and the State Council established a Central Foreign Affairs Small Group (zhonggong zhongyang waishi xiaozu ) and a State Council Foreign Affairs Office. This directive can serve as a simplified basic model of the normative structure and function of LGs.[39] Chen Yi, Politburo member, vice-premier, and foreign minister, became director (zu zhang ) of both organs, with responsibility for "leading all aspects of foreign affairs work."

Other LG members were the Politburo alternate and vice-foreign minister Zhang Wentian; Secretariat member Wang Jiaxiang; vice-foreign minister (and probably also a leader in the Party's Investigation Department), Li Kenong; head of the State Council's Overseas Chinese Affairs Office and deputy director of its Foreign Affairs Office, Liao Chengzhi; deputy director of the State Council Foreign Trade Office and president of the Chinese People's Institute for Foreign Affairs, Liu Ningyi.

Foreign military and Party relations were represented respectively by Chen Yi as a marshal and member of the Military Commission, and by Wang Jiaxiang, who oversaw the Party's International Liaison Department. In recent years the statutory members of the LG have included the equivalents to those of 1958 but have been expanded to include official representatives from the International Liaison Department, the Ministry of National Defense, and the NPC's Foreign Affairs Committee.[40]

The 1958 circular went on to specify that the State Council Foreign Affairs Office was to be the "working body" (banshi jigou ) of the LG and the "general coordinating point" (zong kou zi ) for the State Council's management of foreign affairs work. All the (meager) evidence thus far suggests that staff offices are fairly small, ranging from ten to forty staffers.[41] Actual administrative responsibilities are handled by the organs with formal responsibility. Thus, in 1958 management duties for international activities of the government and mass organizations were assigned to six lower-level coordination points (kou zi ).[42]

The circular called on the localities to set up corresponding systems to "unify the leadership over foreign affairs work." At the local level, military relations are included, but not Party ties, which are likely handled through parallel Party staffing and administrative organs.

The foreign affairs system probably has changed less than others over time, but there have been permutations. In 1985 there were two foreign


affairs offices, ranking as "first-level organs directly subordinate to the Central Committee and to the State Council" and, in regard to relevant problems in foreign affairs, they could separately issue documents directly to relevant units.[43]

By the mid-1980s there was a large research apparatus serving the Foreign Affairs LG. This included the small staff of the State Council's International Studies Center, the foreign affairs section of the Secretariat's policy-research office, the Institute of Contemporary International Relations, and the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, for all of which senior adviser and former ambassador Huan Xiang had some responsibility before his death. The Foreign Ministry's Comprehensive Issues Bureau and Institute of International Relations also are used by the LG.

Variations and Conundrums

Variations on the basic LG model have been apparent over time. An obvious one is that some of these functional leading organs are called commissions, and some, LGs. In early 1980 the Political and Legal Affairs Commission replaced the Political and Legal Affairs LG; this was reversed in mid-1988 and was rumored to be changing again in 1990. The use of commission format only for military and for political and legal affairs suggests a throwback to the powerful "political-military commissions" set up in the CCP in the early 1940s, patterned after the Soviet and Comintern system of the 1930s. "Commission" may imply more direct command rather than guidance over subordinate administrative units. This distinction was suggested in a report on the 1988 change in political-legal work, but in fact it has been a distinction without a difference for most of the PRC's history.[44]

At times, leading groups have been established in the name of the State Council rather than the Party. For example, the equivalent of the Finance and Economics LG from 1948 to 1953 and again in 1979 was a state Finance and Economic Commission. The State Council Science and Technology LG, set up in 1982 under Zhao Ziyang's leadership, seemed in every way but name to be a central Party group. I was told by the staff of the Science and Technology Daily that the paper was subordinate to the Central Committee, even though it was officially the newspaper of this "State Council" LG. These anomalies may largely reflect the tactical use of reorganization for specific power or policy purposes.

Regarding the ranking of these leadership organs, the Military Commission both constitutionally and in practice ranks higher than the oth-


ers; for a time, the Party constitution mandated that its leader must be a member of the Politburo Standing Committee. The other LGs are also perceived by Chinese officials to differ in power and influence, but it seems that this depends largely on the personal status of the group leader.[45] For example, Zhao Ziyang automatically gave extra clout to the Finance and Economics LG by remaining its leader for a time after he was appointed general secretary, just as he effectively upgraded the S & T LG and the Economic System Reform Commission by heading them as premier.

Other, more specialized LGs, headed by lesser-ranked vice-premiers or state councillors, would appear to be subordinate to the more comprehensive LGs, although the exact relationship is not known. Obvious examples are the Foreign Investment LG and the Electronics LG; directors of both were also members of the Finance and Economics LG, responsible, respectively, for foreign economic relations and for industry and communications.

Other variations in the model, which may in part reflect the relative importance of a given arena, include the size, number, and stature of the staff office(s) and the addition of an administrative layer, such as a small group or a working group in between the LG and its office or offices.[46] As an example, in 1986 the Finance and Economics LG set up a State Council economic-reform-plan work group headed by Tian Jiyun, served by an existing economic-reform planning office with its six subgroups for reform in prices, finance and taxation, investment, monetary policy, wages, and foreign trade.[47]

Another point of confusion is the exact relationship of LGs to the Secretariat and the Politburo, and their relationship to each other. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Secretariat appeared to operate as a central layer in a vertical line of authority running from the Politburo


down to the State Council, but in the early 1980s the Secretariat and the State Council appeared more equal in stature. Barnett in 1985 referred to the Foreign Affairs LG as belonging to the Secretariat even though it has always been headed by a member of the Politburo Standing Committee.[48] One possible explanation for this seeming contradiction would be dual leadership; one media article said that LGs answer to "the Secretariat and Politburo." Another possibility is that Barnett's findings reflected a temporary de facto shift of decision making from the (increasingly aging and inactive) Politburo to the Secretariat as of 1984, a trend reversed at the Thirteenth Congress in 1987.

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Four The Party Leadership System
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