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Inside China's ruling party

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Communist Party

The Communist Party’s 66-million membership makes it the biggest political party in the world.

Its tight organisation and ruthlessness help explain why it is also still in power.

The Party oversees and influences many aspects of people’s lives - what they learn at school and watch on TV, their jobs and housing, even the number of children they are allowed.

It is an elite group made up largely of government officials, army officers and model workers.

As such, it is unrepresentative of China as a whole. Only 17% of members are women and 78% are over 35 years old, though efforts are under way to broaden its membership and attract more young people.

It is also obsessive about control, regularly showing itself capable of great brutality in suppressing dissent or any challenge.

Party perks

Joining the Party brings significant privileges, which explains why membership continues to rise. Members get access to better information, their children get better schooling, and many jobs are only open to members.

Most significantly in China, where personal relationships are often more important than ability, members get to network with decision-makers influencing their careers, lives or businesses.

To join, applicants need the backing of existing members and to undergo exhaustive checks and examination by their local Party branch. They then face a year’s probation, again involving assessments and training.

The Party’s basic principle of control is “democratic centralism”, which makes each member subordinate to the Party organisation. It has a pyramid structure resting on millions of local-level Party organisations across the country and reaching all the way up to the highest decision-making bodies in Beijing.

In theory, the top of the pyramid is the National Party Congress, which is convened once every five years and brings together more than 2,000 delegates from Party organisations across the country.

It is this body which is due to meet from 8 November 2002 for the 16th Party Congress.

The Congress’ main function is to “elect” a Central Committee of 200 full members and 150 lower-ranking or "alternate" members, though in fact almost all of these people are approved in advance.

In turn, the Central Committee’s main job is to elect a new Politburo and its smaller Standing Committee, where real decision-making powers lie.

Other important Party bodies include the Secretariat, which is the Politburo’s administrative arm, and the Organisation Department, which oversees the careers of thousands of Party officials, keeping files on their performance and deciding on promotions.


Party members subordinate to organisations

Minority is subordinate to the majority

Lower organisations subordinate to higher

All members and organs subordinate to the Party's Central Committee

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