China (PRC)

views updated

China (PRC)

China, or the People's Republic of China (PRC), is a country located in East Asia, bordering countries such as Russia, North Korea, Vietnam, India and Afghanistan. China is the world's largest country by population (1.28 billion) and the third largest by area, at 9.59 million square kilometers (3.7 million square miles).

Geographically, China is placed in the agricultural region irrigated by three great rivers: Pearl River in the south, Yangtze River in the central, and Yellow River in the north. Varying terrains in this country include not only fertile plains, farmlands, and valleys but also high mountains, vast plateaus, and wide deserts that are much less populated and cultivated.

There are many ethnic groups living in China, which recognizes fifty-five national minorities, including Miao, Mongols, Zhuang, Uighurs, Tibetans, Yi, and many other smaller ethnic groups. Although more than 90 percent of the population is ethnic Han Chinese, there are regional linguistic differences among the ethnic Han. The common language, called Putonghua (Mandarin), is taught in schools and used by official organizations and mass media, yet local dialects in different provinces and counties are often mutually incomprehensible. The existence of a unified linguistic system in China is due to the logographic writing system . This system uses characters that represent words instead of pronunciation, making it possible for all local dialects to be written in the same way. This writing system created more than two thousand years ago greatly helps communication throughout China.

brief history

Historically, China was the leading civilization in East Asia. Its many neighbors—namely, Japan, Korea, Tibet, Mongolia, and Vietnam—were strongly influenced by China. To various extents these civilizations adopted the Chinese written language, technology, food, philosophy, religion, art, culture, government, and law. From the seventh through the fourteenth century, China qualified as one of the world's most advanced civilizations and military superpowers. However, after centuries of political feudalism and economic stagnation, China failed to catch the trend of industrialization that signified the success of Western countries in the modern times. After continuous internal revolts and foreign encroachment, China's last dynasty, Qing (1644–1911), was drastically weakened in the nineteenth century and finally overthrown by Chinese nationalists in 1911. But the establishment of the nationalist government did not lead China toward peace and prosperity. The nationalist government was a one-party dictatorship that never gained full control of China. In fact, the nationalist government only controlled small parts of urban China.

Over the course of several decades, the country was torn apart by Japanese invasion, local warlords , and a civil war between the communists and the nationalists. In 1949 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which had garnered strong popular support in rural China, won the civil war and established the PRC regime in Beijing, also the capital of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties. The Chinese nationalists fled to the island province of Taiwan and reestablished the nationalist government, the Republic of China. In the early twenty-first century most countries recognize the PRC on the mainland as the official government of China.

major political leaders

The communist rule in China began under the leadership of Mao Tse-tung (1893–1976), an experienced revolutionary and the Chairman of the CCP. Mao and his followers ruled China until the late 1970s. After that, the reformist Deng Xiaoping (1904–1997) became the top leader of the country and later an

influential behind-the-scenes person (from 1978 until his death in 1997), even though he never held any top official position in either the CCP or the government. After 1997, Jiang Zemin (b. 1926), the former mayor of Shanghai, the largest city of China, and a long-time follower of Deng became the "thirdgeneration" communist leader until his retirement in 2003. On March 15, 2003, Hu Jintao (b. 1942) became the president of the country. He also served as the general secretary of the CCP and the chairman of the Central Military Committee.

socioeconomic conditions

From 1949 to 1952, the new government led by the CCP established tight control over China and promoted the recovery of the country's economy that had been shattered by successive foreign invasions and civil wars. However, radical campaigns in the late 1950s and 1960s, such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, led to disastrous results and the death of millions. Beginning in the late 1970s, under Deng's leadership, the government launched economic reforms that reversed some of the earlier central planning policies. Without fundamentally changing the existing political structure, the reforms have gradually loosened the government's control of the economy, allowing some aspects of a market economy and encouraging foreign investment. This socialist market economy, as it is called, emphasizes the liberalization of foreign investment and international trade while strictly regulating currency exchange, the financial sector, and the running of state-owned enterprises.

Although China remains a poor country by world standards, the economy has grown dramatically as a result of the economic reforms of the 1980s and 1990s. China's economy grew at an average annual rate of around 9 percent between 1994 and 2004 to become the world's second largest economy (based on purchasing power).

The quality of life in China has gradually improved because of the growing economy. In 1949 China's average life expectancy was forty-five years; by 2002 the average had risen to seventy-two years. Despite its rapidly increasing population, in 1999 China had one physician for every 717 inhabitants whereas there was only one physician for every 27,000 in 1949. Clinics usually are found at the village and district levels and hospitals and medical centers at the city and county levels.

The reforms have also caused problems for China's economic planners. Income gaps have widened, unemployment has increased, and inflation has gone up as the result of the extremely rapid and unbalanced development. These byproducts have become significant problems that could potentially lead to social discontent, instability, and even threat to the rule of the CCP. Another serious problem is the rampant official corruption in China, which aggravates the problems of income disparity, high inflation, and unemployment. Government approvals are still required for many things from changes in residence to building factories or establishing joint ventures. Therefore, government officials responsible for granting those approvals wield a great deal of power. Many bureaucrats abuse their power and expect favors in return. Capital flight has also become a serious problem as many corrupted officials send their money abroad. So far, the government's efforts to solve these problems have been largely ineffective.

the constitution

The first constitution of the PRC took effect in 1954. It designed the structure of the government and citizens' rights and duties. In 1957, 1978, and 1982, the Chinese government adopted three new constitutions. Each constitution mirrored the ideological concerns and policy priorities of the time, although there was fundamentally no change in the government structure. The most recent constitution, which was adopted in 1982, echoes the form of the first, reflecting an ideological return to the concept of rule of law .

The fourth constitution of the PRC adopted in 1982 formally vests all national legislative power in the NPC. The State Council and its Standing Committee, by contrast, are made responsible for executing rather than ratifying the laws. This division of power is specified for each of the territorial divisions—provinces, counties, and so forth—with the condition that at each level the latitude available to the authority is limited to that specified by law.

The Chinese constitution nominally centralizes power in the National People's Congress (NPC), the highest representative body in China, giving it power to assign and oversee the top officials of both the executive and the judicial branches. However, based on the Leninist-Marxist tradition, the constitution makes it clear that China is a dictatorship of the proletariat , led by the CCP in a united front with other parties. Thus, the Chinese constitution simultaneously reflects the importance of democracy ruled by people's will and the supremacy of the Communist Party, which is essentially nondemocratic.

The current constitution of the Chinese Communist Party was approved in 1997 at the Fifteenth National Party Congress. The function and organization of the CCP are stipulated in the party's constitution. The National Party Congress is the highest organ of the CCP, although it only meets once every few years. When the party congress is not in session, which is most of the time, the Central Committee, a smaller organ that is elected by the National Party Congress, serves as the party's highest body. This Central Committee elects two working groups: the Politburo and the Standing Committee of the Politburo. The Standing Committee of the Politburo consists of the most influential party members. The Central Committee elects the party general secretary. The outcomes of these elections are determined by negotiations, not voting, among party leaders, especially the members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo.

Despite its large size, the PRC is a unitary state instead of a federal system. To maintain its control, the regime has established parallel party positions alongside administrative posts extending from Beijing down to local levels. The state apparatus is controlled by ministries, agencies, and commissions under the State Council on the government side and Central Committee departments on the CCP side. This complex structure is intended to coordinate national policy on a territorial basis and allow the CCP to direct the government at all levels, from national to local.

The primary feature of this parallel system is that the CCP dominates policy making and policy execution through its members in the government. The CCP has restricted political activities that promote views contrary to the party's objectives, in effect allowing no significant opposition to emerge. This parallel system is not isolated from the society. Instead, the ruling body is assisted by various mass organizations, such as the Communist Youth League, women's associations, the national trade union, writers' and other professional associations, that include much of the population. Overall, the one-party political system virtually controls the entire population in China.

political life

All citizens of China over eighteen years old who have not been deprived of their political rights are permitted to vote. The direct popular suffrage is used to elect People's Congress members only up to the county level. Above the counties, delegates at each level elect those who will serve at the People's Congress of the next higher level. Were this constitution an accurate reflection of the real workings of the system, the People's Congresses and their various committees would have been the critical organs in the Chinese political system. However, in reality, they are not.

The actual decision-making authority in China rests in the state's executive organs and in their parallel party organizations. The top government executive organ at the national level is the State Council headed by the premier who exercises major everyday decision-making authority and whose decisions have the force of law. The NPC convenes annually and only ratifies the decisions already made by the State Council. The central leadership of the CCP is parallel to the State Council. Again, the CCP in China is the actual ruling body. Because the CCP has so much control, the general secretary of the CCP usually has the greatest real power over the government. The premier is usually the second most powerful person. Often, although not always, the CCP's general secretary is also the president of the country.

division of powers

The members of the NPC are elected for five-year terms in indirect elections by the provincial congresses. Typically, the provincial congresses choose those delegates recommended by the CCP. The size of the NPC has ranged from 3,000 to 3,500 members. Its size is too large and its annual sessions too short for the NPC to carry out meaningful debates over the legislation, the government reports, or the official appointments and removals. The limited function of the NPC directly benefits the CCP's oneparty system.

The president is the head of state in China. The president is elected to a five-year term by the NPC. The presidency is largely a ceremonial office. The executive power rests within the State Council headed by the premier. The premier is nominated by the president and elected by the NPC to a five-year term. The State Council consists of roughly forty heads of ministries and national-level commissions that are nominated by the premier and elected and ratified by the NPC to five-year terms. Given the nature of parallel system, the NPC elects candidates based on the requests of the CCP.

There are four components in the Chinese legal system: a court system, a public security administration, an office of the public prosecutor, and a system of prisons and labor camps. The Supreme People's Court is the highest court. It supervises the various lower levels of people's courts to administer justice. The Standing Committee of the NPC, instead of the Supreme People's Court, has the power of constitutional supervision. Lower levels of courts, public security offices, and public prosecutors offices exist at provincial, county, and municipal levels. Judges are primarily chosen by the CCP personnel departments and are supervised by the party and the Ministry of Justice.

citizen rights

The poor condition of human rights in China has often been criticized by the international community. According to the Freedom of the World Report 2004, China scored a 7, or "least free" in the category of political rights and a 6, one step away from "least free" in the category of civil liberties. The overall rating of the country falls into the category of "not free." China has long been defined as an authoritarian regime because of its Leninist one-party political system. The CCP fully controls national political activities as party members hold the most important government offices. Under the united front policy, the CCP allows several minor political parties to operate in China although there is no way they can compete with CCP. Similar to the mass organizations, these parties recruit their members mainly from educational, scientific, and cultural circles. No truly independent political parties exist legally. Members of people's congresses are directly elected in tightly controlled elections with limited competition at the two lowest levels of government: the township and county levels.

a modern tibet

Tibet is no longer a poverty-stricken "paradise lost" tilled by rough-hewn farmers and their yaks. Although Chinese occupation forces and the exiled Tibetan government in India still vie for its control, somewhat modern education systems in Tibet and India have fostered the growth of a sizable bilingual population that is skeptical of both Chinese and religious control. Free-thinking young Tibetans and Chinese dissidents in Tibet, India, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and other overseas locations follow domestic political dramas with interest, and they may well exert influence on their homelands' futures.

To avoid possible challenges to its one-party rule, the CCP and its subordinate agencies closely monitor the flow of information, including the Internet and various media outlets. People are not allowed to demonstrate without the government's consent. The CCP also does not allow the forming of independent labor unions and other kinds of independent social organizations that might be considered threatening to the party's rule. In China, it is still difficult to participate in politics without being a member of CCP or supported by CCP.

However, the situation has improved since the advent of the reform era in the 1980s. In particular, greater economic freedom has attracted a tremendous amount of foreign investment, sustained a booming economy, and significantly raised most people's living standards in absolute terms. China has become an active participant in numerous international organizations. As the country becomes increasingly integrated into the international community, the Chinese regime has felt the pressure to improve its human rights records. The reform process has unleashed social forces that the regime might not be able to control in the long run. If China can continue to enjoy a stable international and domestic environment, there will be reasons for cautious optimism that China's political system will eventually become more open.

See also: Dictatorship; Hong Kong and Macau; Taiwan.


China Internet Information Center. China in Brief: 2004.<>.

Constitution of the People's Republic of China, December 4, 1982. <>.

Freedom House. "China." Freedom in the World 2004. New York: Freedom House, 2004. <>.

International Monetary Fund. World Economic Outlook. Washington DC: International Monetary Fund, 2003.

Shirk, Susan. How China Opened Its Door: PRC's Foreign Trade and Investment Reforms. Washington DC: The Brookings Institution, 1994.

World Bank. "China Data Profile." World Development Indicators Database, August 2004.

Cheng Chen