THE power structure in mainland China may be likened, in a simplified manner, to the form of a pyramid. At the top is the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party (C.C.P.) and its inner core, the Central Secretariat. At the second level are men in key posts in the central government, regional Party leaders, top military commanders and political commissars of the field armies. The third layer includes Party secretaries in the provinces, top personnel of the major mass organizations, and second echelon army commanders. The fourth consists of professional people, managerial personnel and technicians. Next to the bottom we find local government and Party officials, and other junior cadres. The base of this pyramid rests on what the Communists call the masses. These may be subdivided into organized groups of soldiers, youth leaguers, labor union men, members of women's federations, members of coöperatives, and so on; and at the very bottom are the unorganized individuals whose number is ever decreasing.

However, the exercise of power is never static, least of all in a Communist state, and the actual planes of power do not necessarily correspond to the simplified version. And personalities play a great part; there are always men coming up and men going down. The first and most important center of power is, of course, the Politburo of the Communist Party and its Central Secretariat. Available information indicates that there are at present 13 members of the Politburo. They are: Mao Tse-tung (Chairman), Liu Shao-ch'i (Vice-Chairman), Chou En-lai, Chuou En-lai, Chu Teh, Ch'en Yün, K'ang Sheng, P'eng Chen, Tung Pi-wu, Lin Po-ch'ü, Chang Wen-t'ien, P'eng Te-huai, Lin Piao and Teng Hsiao-p'ing. The first Big Five constitute the omnipotent Central Secretariat, with Mao automatically the chairman. Kao Kang, once an important member, was dropped in 1954 from the Politburo and the Central Committee for "conspiratorial activities" and was reported to have committed suicide.

The second major places of power are found in a number of key Party and national government posts. In addition to those positions held by the Politburo members, such as the Chairmanship of the People's Republic, Premier of the State Council, etc., the others probably include the following: (1) Secretary-General of the Central Secretariat, C.C.P. This significant post is now held by Teng Hsiao-p'ing, who was elected to the Politburo in March 1955. Concurrently serving as the fifth Vice-Premier of the State Council, a Vice-Chairman of the National Defense Council and a delegate to the All-China People's Congress, Teng is in a position to coördinate the work of the Party, the government and the military forces. (2) Deputy chief of the organizational bureau of the Central Committee. This is the traditional avenue through which Party men (like Stalin and Liu Shao-ch'i) rose to power. (3) Chairman of the United Front Workers Department of the Central Committee. Li Wei-han has been in charge of this vital organ ever since the late thirties. (4) Ten Vice-Premiers in the State Council. (5) Procurator-General, Central People's Government. (6) Chairman of the State Planning Commission. (7) Chairman of the National Construction Commission. (8) Some key ministries in the Central People's Government like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Heavy Industry, Ministry of Public Security, and others, generally headed by members of the Central Committee. (9) Other high government posts which carry considerable prestige and authority such as the Vice-Chairmanships of the All-China People's Congress.[i]

A third group of centers of power is formed by the regional Party secretaries, top army commanders, and their political commissars. Often one man serves concurrently in several of these offices. Since the recall to Peking in 1953 of all the commanding generals of the four field armies, the relative weight of field army commanders has perhaps decreased. The top political commissars of these field forces were also transferred to central government assignments. However, Party bosses in various regions, army commanders and political commissars still hold considerable power and can be coming men.

As the top military figures are recalled from the field to Peking, the commanding posts in the People's Liberation Army become even more important. These include the Chief of General Staff, the Training Bureau, the Political Department, the Supervisory Bureau, the Supplies Department and the Finance Bureau. The National Defense Council, legally the supreme military organ of the nation, has become so large that membership in it is, for practical purposes, a prestige office. Among its 15 Vice-Chairmen are four ex-Kuomintang generals, and among its 81 members are 26 former Kuomintang officers.

Regional and local power generally lies with the Party secretaries of the areas concerned. Certain key districts like Peking, Mukden, Shanghai, Wuhan, Canton, Tientsin, Anshan, Dairen, Port Arthur and Chungking are particularly the places to look for middle-echelon Party men marked for promotion and national rôles.

The fourth key place of power lies in the hierarchies of the major mass organizations which serve as primary instruments for carrying out government and Party programs. Under this category are the labor unions, the youth organizations and the women's federations.[ii]

The above centers of power are, of course, closely coördinated. Almost all the occupants of key positions are members of the Central Committee, for example. Yet, membership in the Central Committee is not in itself a sign of possession of power. Important as the Committee is, its 43 regular and 27 alternate members were elected ten years ago (June 1945). At that time the Communists controlled only a fraction of the territory and population of China; a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. A few regular members of the Central Committee have faded from the political limelight, a few others seem never to have played prominent rôles. On the other hand, a score or more of Party men like Li Wei-han, Chia T'o-fu, Lai Jo-yü, Hu Yaopang, Liao Lu-yen and Tao Chu have come into positions of real power, and most, if not all of them, will probably be elevated to Central Committee membership at the next Party Congress. The infrequency of meetings of the Committee also diminishes its effectiveness as an instrument for the actual exercise of power. The Party Constitution stipulates that a plenary session is to be convened every six months, but only four meetings are known to have been held since June 1945--an average of one every 30 months.

The Politburo, together with a few individuals in key positions, decides major issues and controls policies, and only members of the Politburo could tell the full story of the techniques which are used to govern mainland China. A few known facts permit certain guesses, however. As has been noted above, in the case of Teng Hsiao-p'ing, various organs of the government as well as the major mass organizations are coördinated through a maze of interlocking directorships. Liao Ch'eng-chih, to give another example, is a member of the Central Committee, C.C.P., Chairman of the Federation of Democratic Youth, Vice-Chairman of the Youth League, a member of the Standing Committee of the All-China People's Congress, First Deputy Chairman of the Commission on Overseas Chinese Affairs, Vice-Chairman of the National Committee for the Welfare of Children, a member of the Standing Committee on World Peace, and a member of the Executive Committee of the Sino-Soviet Friendship Association. Officials of less exalted standing are also busy, though in 1953 there was an "anti-five-too-many movement," which, translated, meant that the Party warned that there were too many tasks, meetings, documents, forms, organizations and concurrent posts. Multiple directorships among the lower ranks in the government and mass organizations have since been reduced.

Policy decisions are made at Party caucuses at various levels and carried out by Party personnel in the government, army and mass organizations, who receive and implement Party directives. For example, the National Constitution which was legally adopted by the All-China People's Congress in September 1954 was drafted by the Central Committee of the C.C.P.

The Communists have also shown great dexterity in the use of non-Party political leaders, professional people and intellectuals in general. Leaders of the coalition parties, and other non-Communists of some reputation, are offered high but non-vital government posts. Most of the leaders in the "democratic parties" are aged men, or the widows of past national figures. They are respected by the Chinese people and hence confer prestige on the new régime, and they are not persons of a type likely to challenge the power of the Party. It is perhaps unnecessary to point out that all activities of these non-Communist office holders are known to the Party. Many of them no doubt sincerely support the programs of Peking, as they have always been leftists and in opposition to the Kuomintang régime.

"Organization" is, of course, the key word in any description of methods of Communist rule. The backbone of the power of the Party and the government are the professional and devoted organizers who also serve as the reserve army for higher posts. One of the organizational techniques is to expand the central organs of various government and mass organizations, as a means of training more leaders. Thus the number of vice-premiers was increased from four to five in 1953, and to ten in 1954. The new hierarchies of major mass organizations set up in the summer of 1953 showed a similar trend.

Another tactic is the setting up of front groups. They serve as a double political weapon: to absorb and indoctrinate those persons who are able or ambitious but not quite ready to accept unreservedly the Party ideology; and to present to the public and the outside world a show of unity and popular support. The People's Congresses and various associations of professional people exemplify this approach. Still another technique employed by the Party in the power game is to remove persons from key centers of strength by kicking them upstairs--with all ceremony, of course.

Finally, the Party endeavors to enhance its power through control and indoctrination at the grass roots. Individuals are enrolled in a great variety of groups. Every kind of mass media, traditional and improvised, is used to carry on propaganda. No aspect of life is left outside Communist teaching. For example, a document issued by the New Democratic Youth League states that:

The work style and group life within the League must not rely on abstract political talk, nor the preaching of dry dogma. The League should use Marxism-Leninism to analyze correctly and solve the problems that are closely related to the interests of the youth such as the following: the problems of wages, health, job, sports and recreations, learning scientific knowledge, raising the cultural standard, tuition fees, student loans, examination system, love and social activities, family affairs, methodology in learning, books and texts, and the suitable distribution of time for work and for study. . . . All the meetings convened by the League for Youth must be lively and concrete. . . .

Directives frequently quote cases to explain how some model groups successfully accomplish their mission by using practical approaches to programs and by consulting the local people. There is a constant appeal to cherished values such as security, national honor, prosperity, peace and personal prestige.

Since Mao Tse-tung assumed formal leadership of the Party at the Tsunyi Conference in January 1935, there seems to have been no serious challenge to his authority. The half-dozen men who were veteran Politburo members when Mao was only a regional Party leader in his native province of Hunan are today either his faithful lieutenants or powerless and inactive. Since 1935, there have been two expulsions from the Politburo--that of Chang Kuo-t'ao in 1938, and of Kao Kang in 1954--but they were followed by no large-scale desertions or mass purges of Party leaders of importance except in the case of Jao Shu-shih, former Central Committee member. Mao maintains close ties with the top military commanders; and he takes pains to see that the close-knit and highly centralized Party leadership does not isolate itself from the masses. The 69 members of the Central Committee have a relatively representative social background. According to one analysis made in 1953, 37 percent are from middle class families, 23 percent from poor peasant or worker stock, and 40 percent of upper class origin--officials, landlords, businessmen, professional people, army officers, etc. It is significant to note that from two-thirds to three-quarters of the members were of rural origin, whereas the ratio was reversed for the Kuomintang Central Executive Committee.[iii] According to Communist sources, some 50,000 persons graduated in 1953 from 60 training schools of the trade unions, and 15,000 persons were sent by the basic trade-union branches to the Party or government organs. Between April 1949 and June 1953, more than 1,000,000 Youth Leaguers entered the Party and government; among these, 40,000 served in posts above the ch'ü (district) level.[iv]

What is the possibility of schism in the power structure of mainland China? A number of American analysts of contemporary Chinese problems, while agreeing that there is a high degree of cohesion in the Party under Mao Tse-tung, point out that the succession to a monolithic dictatorship is unlikely to be peaceful. They therefore maintain that cleavage will occur after the exit of Mao, particularly on the question of succession. But no challenger is yet in sight. At the Seventh Congress of the Chinese Communist Party held at Yenan in 1945, Liu Shao-ch'i was officially made second in command to Mao. Chu Teh was made the Vice-Chairman of the People's Republic of China in September 1954, but he is now 69 years old, and his position is probably mainly an honorary one. Liu, who might otherwise have been the logical candidate for that post, fills the important job of Chairman of the Standing Committee of the All-China People's Congress. Presumably, if Liu is slated to succeed to the chairmanship when Mao dies, Chu will resign and let Liu be elected by the People's Congress. Chou En-lai, now 57, is about the same age as Liu, but he has always been content to play a secondary though indispensable rôle to the number-one man in the Party. The head of the Party is expected to combine the rôles of theoretician, political leader and military strategist; next to Mao, Liu is believed to possess these qualities most plainly. At the Fourth Plenum of the Central Committee in February 1954 there was an interesting mention of "collective leadership," but what collective leadership actually means in a Communist country we do not yet know.

Nor, of course, can anyone tell what ambitious man may be waiting in the wings for his entrance cue to the power drama. The record of the Chinese Communist régime seems to suggest that he is unlikely to be a military man. The Chinese Red Army had long been under the complete control of the Party when the Peking Government was established. The People's Liberation Army was founded and brought up on the political as well as the strategical concepts of Mao Tse-tung. Even powerful and popular military leaders like Lin Piao and Ch'en I invariably bow to the wishes of Party directives. And, as noted earlier, the power of the top army men declined when the field commanders were recalled from their regional headquarters to Peking in 1953. Among the 13 Politburo members, there are only three generals and two of them, P'eng Te-huai and Lin Piao, are not known to be on the Central Secretariat. In any case, almost all the key army personnel belong to the close-knit old Yenan group. No antagonism has been detected between the military and the Party functionaries; they have gone through much together during the past 30 years, with little if any factional dissension.

Some observers have suggested that certain non-Communist parties or groups on the Chinese mainland may grow disillusioned and develop into opposition forces. Even if such should be the case, these groups have neither the organization nor the mass base to compete effectively for political power. In 1952 the coalition parties agreed not to campaign for membership among the industrial workers and peasants; they seem thus to have lost any possibility of expanding a mass base. The so-called "third parties" and anti-Communist groups outside mainland China are even more deficient in popularity and do not seem to be a practical alternative to the Peking Government.

Is there a likelihood that the top leaders of the Party may split into hostile factions over differences in basic policies, such as the speed of industrialization and certain agricultural programs? One cannot know what reservations may exist in the minds of members of a monolithic government, but at any rate there is no evidence that leading figures in the Party hierarchy hold divergent stands on basic policies. The Chinese Communists are well disciplined.

There is a possibility of internal conflict, over a period of years, in the potential rivalry between a newly-developed bureaucratic-technician class and the older type of Party bosses. Tremendous emphasis is now laid by Peking on the expansion of technical and managerial personnel. For instance, about half of the 230,000 students at the college level in 1954 were in the field of engineering. Already a number of persons have risen to national prominence on the strength of their professional or technical abilities. When this group becomes sufficiently numerous and strong, it may challenge decisions of the Party hierarchy on economic or technical grounds. Some older Communists who lack technical education may also feel resentful toward these new men because of their privileges and quick promotions.

What of the possibility of internal conflict arising as a result of external causes? If Peking were to join an all-out international war and lose, or if it were to resort to military expansion and suffer a severe setback, then active opposition might arise both within and without the Party. The establishment of a "Free Thai" Government in Yunan suggests that a policy of adventure holds some attractions for the régime. And the situation in the Formosa Strait could still be explosive. However, developments in mainland China seem rather to indicate that Peking is likely to devote its main attention to internal construction; but this of course does not contradict a desire to expand its influence in Asia, politically, economically and culturally.

If the Chinese Communist leadership should prove itself to be working in the interests of Soviet Russia at the expense of China's own national welfare, then either a popular resistance movement would develop or some leaders within the Party would revolt. Both the Party and Moscow seem to be aware of this. The Soviet Union's return of Port Arthur and its relinquishment of Russian mineral rights in Sinkiang in November 1954 indicate the strength of Chinese nationalism. The Party leaders will hardly be so blind as to commit political suicide by going against the nationalist force which contributed so much to the Party's rise to power and has won popularity for the Peking Government among many overseas Chinese.

[i] For a discussion of the structure and personnel of the Central People's Government, see the author's "National Constitution of Mainland China," Far Eastern Survey, October 1954.

[ii] For a discussion of the structure, leadership, programs and problems of the major mass organizations in China, see the author's "Mass Organizations in Mainland China," The American Political Science Review, September 1954.

[iii] Ithiel de Sola Pool, "Oligarchy and Mobility in Political Parties," Center for International Studies, M.I.T., 1953.

[iv]Ta-kung pao, Tientsin, May 1, 1954, p. 2; and Hu Yao-pang, "Call to China's Youth to Build Socialism," New China News Agency, Peking, May 4, 1954.

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  • CHAO KUO-CHUN, Research Associate, Cornell University; author of "Mass Organizations in Mainland China" and a forthcoming volume, "Agrarian Policy of the Chinese Communist Party, 1921-1955."
  • More By Chao Kuo-chün