Gregory Fant, Ph.D., M.P.A., M.S.P.H.
Adjunct Professor, Political Science
POL 310, Comparative Political Systems
Administratively, The People’s Republic of China is made up of twenty-two provinces, five autonomous regions, and four centrally administered cities, and one Special Administrative Region.
The Making of the Modern Chinese State
The PRC is one of only a few countries in the world that is still a Communist party-state. This is a political system which the ruling Communist Party holds a monopoly on political power, claims the right to lead or control all government and social institutions, and proclaims allegiance (at least officially) to the ideology of Marxism-Leninism.
The PRC can be compared with other Communist party-states with which it shares or has shared many political and ideological features. Napoleon Bonaparte, emperor of France in the early nineteenth century, is said to have remarked “Let China sleep. For when China wakes, it will shake the world.”
The growth of China’s economy, since Deng Xiaoping began his market-oriented reforms in the late 1970s, has been called “one of the century’s greatest economic miracles,” which has, in turn, led to “one of the biggest improvements in human welfare anywhere at any time.” During the same period, the average income of the Chinese people quadrupled, and although there are still many very poor people in China, more than 200 million have been lifted from living in absolute poverty to a level where they have a minimally adequate supply of food, clothing and shelter.
The PRC by far the most important in terms of size and power. The underlying political and ideological principles of party-state organization are clearly laid out in China’s current constitution.
The government of the PRC is organizationally and functionally distinct from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The power of the Communist Party—particularly the nearly unchecked power of the top twenty-five or thirty leaders—is at the heart of governance and policy-making in China. Party domination, however, does not mean that the system “operates in a monolithic way”. In fact, the system “wriggles with politics” of many kinds, formal and informal.
The CCP describes the government of the People’s Republic as a socialist democracy, which it claims is superior to democracy in a capitalist country. The formal structures of the Chinese political system are designed more to extend state control of political life than to facilitate citizen participation in politics. Therefore, people make extensive use of their personal connections based on kinship, friendship, and other ties (guanxi) to help ease their contacts with the bureaucrats and party officials who wield such enormous power over so many aspects of their lives.
There are deep doubts about the ability of the CCP to continue to manage the economy effectively because of its reluctance to make even more fundamental changes, such as extending the market reforms to sectors of the economy that remain under state control, like banking and the production of steel and oil. Beyond money, the Internet is also spurring a sense of nationalism among many of the Net entrepreneurs. They think the Internet can help them draw level with the West. “This is the first time we see a way we Chinese can catch up,” says Jack Ma, head of Alibaba.com, an e-commerce site based in Hangzhou.
Economic reform in China has already created groups and processes, interests and ideas that are likely to become sources of pressure for more and faster political change. The experience of the newly industrializing countries and other developing countries suggest that such pressures are likely to intensify as the economy and society continue to modernize. Consequently, at some point in the not-too-distant future, the CCP may again face the challenge of the democratic idea.
Kesselman, Mark and Joel Krieger, William Joseph. Introduction to Comparative Politics. Boston, MA; Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000.
McCarthy, Terry. “China’s Internet Gold Rush.” Time Magazine. (28 February 2000); p. 50-51.