Preferred Citation: Lieberthal, Kenneth G., and David M. Lampton, editors Bureaucracy, Politics, and Decision Making in Post-Mao China. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992.

Four The Party Leadership System

Division of Responsibilities

The central leading groups and commissions and their subordinate bodies typically had sweeping mandates. Detailed descriptions of the work of the Political and Legal Affairs Commission and the Science and Technology LG, for example, revealed similar broad tasks of policy planning, command, and coordination, as well as supervision over personnel and implementation.[6]

The Finance and Economics LG had similar responsibilities, including coordination, investigation, and research, proposing major policies, supervising policy implementation, and sponsoring reform experiments. The Foreign Investment LG was to

(a) draw up policies and plans for using foreign investment and submit these suggestions to the State Council; (b) supervise the work of localities and government departments involved with foreign investment and undertake arbitration and adjustment when major problems arise; (c) and supervise the relevant authorities in their task of drafting investment laws.[7]

Units subordinate to the LGs were responsible for actually carrying out these many varied tasks, since LGs themselves had very small staffs. For example, in 1984 the administrative body for the Foreign Investment LG was upgraded from a "Special Economic Zones (SEZ) work group" in the State Council General Office to an SEZ Office, with a mandate to

(a) research, draft documents for and to manage the SEZs, the implementation of Guangdong and Fujian Provinces' "special policies and flexible measures," and the relevant general programs and policies of development and construction of Hainan Island and the opening up of coastal cities; (b) coordinate and resolve contradictions that appear in implementation; (c) examine and study the situations and experiences of all countries concerning the running of economic development zones, export processing zones [etc.]; and (d) to assume the burden of other matters assigned by the Central Committee and State Council pertaining to the work of opening to the outside.[8]

A number of tentative conclusions can be drawn regarding the policy process according to the system of LGs:


"Central authorities," meaning the Politburo, reserved the ultimate right to determine general programs and major policies.

[6] See Appendix A for details, which were taken from Chronicle (PLC, 376; S & T LG, 487; and the SEZ Office, 543).

[7] China Business Review , January–February 1987, 10, citing the National Council for U.S.–China Trade files.

[8] Ibid.


These high-level decisions probably were made most often at the Politburo standing committee level, which met once each week.[9] Decisions were heavily influenced by information and recommendations brought to it by the responsible head of the LG or commission involved. He would be held responsible by peers and elders for developments in his policy arena.

The full memberships of the Politburo and of the State Council met only about once a month, in plenary session, judging from official Chinese press reports on their activities that were released regularly for a time after the Thirteenth Congress. Their agendas appeared to include only the most major issues, such as the coastal development strategy or the reorganization of the State Council. Their executive bodies—the standing committees—probably met once or even twice each week, for several hours at a time. Each time, the agenda was likely to be limited to one or two major topics for discussion, perhaps with minor issues presented for pro forma approval. Given the heavy work load, it is quite likely that much of the thorough consideration of policy was done by the LGs, while the drafting and shaping of policy documents was done by their staff offices.[10]

The frequency of LG meetings was unclear. A. Doak Barnett's study of the foreign affairs apparatus indicated that the Foreign Affairs LG had no regular schedule for its meetings, but met "fairly frequently," and at times "as often as once a week."[11] Outside specialists on an LG agenda topic were often invited to provide briefings or even join in the discussion. The openness of discussions in LGs may well have differed markedly, depending on the personal style of the leader. Barnett was told that Li Xiannian was "fairly permissive," thus creating an atmosphere for genuine discussion in the Foreign Affairs LG. Others have said that Zhao Ziyang often would come to the Foreign Affairs LG meetings with decisions already made at higher levels, just informing them and giving directions for implementation. This LG might not be typical, however, given the sensitivity of the issues and the limited distribution of information. The business of the other LGs might have been more open.

There was a tradition of annual meetings convened by LGs as part of

[9] A high-level Party official, in an interview with Doak Barnett, summer 1988.

[10] For example, in 1988 the State Council discussed and approved provisional regulations on leasing small-scale state enterprises. These regulations (8 chapters and 40 articles) presumably were drafted by the government's staff office for the Finance and Economics LG, following a decision—presumably at the Politburo level—several years earlier to allow the practice.

[11] A. Doak Barnett, The Making of Foreign Policy in China: Structure and Process (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press; and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, Foreign Policy Institute: SAIS Papers in International Affairs, 1985).


the annual planning process. These meetings passed on instructions and vetted the opinions of lower-level units in a given functional system. Such sessions were probably used to discuss longer-term plans as well. The Foreign Affairs LG brought ambassadors home each summer for a wide-ranging discussion and briefing session with Beijing-based staff. The national political and legal affairs conference usually was held in March. Some functional national conferences, however, were very irregular. The Science and Technology (S & T) conference met only in 1985 and 1988.

The LG offices were responsible for delegating the task of "fleshing out" general policy guidelines as specific, concrete policy work plans and supervising their implementation. Staff offices did not make formal policy decisions but rather coordinated policy research and experiments, channeled information and draft policy papers, and made the formal assignments for actual implementation by the relevant organs. And of course, as in any bureaucracy, many policy adjustments no doubt were made "on the ground," in the very process of guiding daily operations at lower levels.


The LGs through their staff offices were supposed to perform a wide variety of tasks that would protect burdened (and often elderly) decision-makers. They were troubleshooters, problem-solvers, and arbitrators, particularly for complex, major issues that crossed geographic and bureaucratic lines of responsibility. If the Planning and Economics commissions failed to resolve a policy disagreement, for example, something all too common in fact, it was bucked up to the Finance and Economics LG staff office or higher.


LGs and their offices were clearly much more than coordinating bodies, however, since they were tasked with coming up with new ideas and future plans and with conducting experiments with policy. They were responsible too for recommending organizational changes to improve management.


Major crises would either come to an LG or prompt the creation of a special temporary LG or commission. An example in early 1988 was the investigation group under state councillor and secretary-general of the Finance and Economics LG, Zhang Jingfu, that looked into an air crash and a train accident. The group investigated, assigned blame, and recommended both remedial measures and punishment for those responsible—including the resignation of the new Central Committee alternate and minister of railways, Ding Guangen.



In the course of carrying out their duties, LGs touched on many personnel issues: coordinating more rational assignments; checking on the ideological and organizational environment of cadre; and inspecting and chastising irresponsible officials. We know that the Organization Department shared some of its personnel responsibilities with both the United Front Work Department[12] and the Propaganda Department.[13] It seemed probable that the LGs also would have had at least an advisory or veto role in assignments of leading officials in the organs under their supervision. The fact that control over LGs was such a sought-after political prize for senior leaders tended to corroborate their influence over personnel and organization decisions as well as financial and material resources within their arena.

Four The Party Leadership System

Preferred Citation: Lieberthal, Kenneth G., and David M. Lampton, editors Bureaucracy, Politics, and Decision Making in Post-Mao China. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992.