The Committee By the Numbers

The 19th Central Committee, composed of 376 full and alternate members, represents the epitome of political power in the Chinese system. But rather than viewing this Party body as merely a collective of politicians and power brokers, it is worth digging deeper into the composition and paths to power of the current Central Committee.

The average age of both the full and alternate members is largely what one would expect, with a roughly five-year difference between the two cohorts. Although General Secretary Xi Jinping’s abolition of presidential term limits and tinkering of other longstanding norms may mean that age will matter less in the current environment, the Party-state nonetheless is still generally guided by age and generational cohorts in terms of career prospects and promotions. For the alternate members, who are largely in their early to mid-50s, they will be essentially entering their “peak career” period in Chinese politics over the next ten years.

Beyond age, scratching beneath the surface of an ostensibly united and solidified Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of nearly 90 million members reveals distinctive pathways, backgrounds, and orientations. What emerges is a CCP that has long sought to accommodate and balance various constituencies, even as it monopolizes political power and presents an outwardly singular posture. This is evident in the Central Committee full member roster, as different interest groups are represented in this elite political body. The obvious and paramount interests include the Party apparatus, the military, and the state (see Figure 1). Combined, these three political and professional constituencies make up nearly 60% of Central Committee full members.

Figure 1. Key Constituencies among Central Committee Full Members

Note: Military representation includes both those affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army and the People’s Armed Police.

Reflecting the longstanding promotional criteria of having significant executive experience at the provincial level, every provincial Party Secretary (31 in total) is included as Central Committee full members. Governors of provinces, who are almost always the Deputy Party Secretary, or number two in the provincial political hierarchy, are also well represented (these include the key municipalities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, that have a bureaucratic rank equal to provinces). In fact, only four provincial and municipal leaders—Heilongjiang, Fujian, Chongqing, and Liaoning—are not full members and currently sit as alternate members. However, current Fujian Party Secretary Yu Weiguo, who was a Xi confidante when he ruled the southern province, is a full member.

Extensive provincial-level experience of course extends all the way up to the Party’s upper most Politburo Standing Committee, where 6 of the 7 members have governed major provinces on their way to the top of the CCP totem pole. Whatever “norms” Xi has altered, being a Party Secretary of a major province—and demonstrating some success at it—is still a relatively reliable predictor of future political potential. And based on the numbers alone, provincial leaders are a larger cohort than either the military or State Council representation on the Central Committee.

Although members occupying State Council jobs comprise the smallest of the three main constituencies—perhaps a reflection of the recent weakening of the bureaucracy under Xi—ministers and vice ministers drawn from roles in state agencies also make a reputable showing as full members. One exception is the newest Governor of the People’s Bank of China (PBOC), Yi Gang, who remains an alternate member. This is likely one major reason that Guo Shuqing, a full member of the Central Committee and head of the new financial system supervisory commission, has been made Party Secretary of the PBOC, a somewhat peculiar dual-headed leadership structure at the central bank that deserves to be watched (in future analysis, The Committee will delve deeper into the bureaucracy and attendant interest-driven politics).

In addition to the three core constituencies, state firms and academic institutions are also represented on the Central Committee, particularly among the alternate members (see Box 1). Three main state research institutes are represented among the full members: the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).

The first two of these institutions are integral to China’s science/technology and education ecosystem and act as basically a feeder system for scientists and engineers to work on various technology development projects or inside state-owned enterprises (SOEs), or to become heads of major research universities. They also receive ample research and development funding from the Chinese government to engage in both basic and applied research across the web of labs and research institutes they manage—their research output has always had both civilian and military applications. For instance, President Xi recently visited a CAS research institute in southern China where it is leading in the development of underwater submersible vehicles and drones.

As far as CASS is concerned, it is the leading state-backed social sciences research organization, housing a number of research institutes that cover the gamut from macroeconomics to foreign affairs. It is leaned on heavily by the central government to come up with research and policy ideas that address the numerous socioeconomic challenges that China confronts. Its current head, Xie Fuzhan, was the former Party Secretary of Henan and did stints at the National Bureau of Statistics.

Box 1. Heads of Key Academic Institutes on Alternate Member List

On the alternate members roster, by far the most dominant constituency are Party secretaries of major cities within provinces and provincial deputy party secretaries (see Figure 2). At the provincial level, governing a major city, especially if it is the provincial capital (e.g. Harbin in Heilongjiang), is typically considered a significant stepping stone toward higher office. These lower-ranked provincial officials constitute about a quarter of the alternate members.

Figure 2. Key Constituencies Represented on Alternates List

Note: Military representation includes both those affiliated with the PLA and PAP.

Comprising another quarter of the alternates is a combination of military personnel and the heads of Party apparatuses at the provincial level—namely the Organization, Propaganda, and United Front Departments. These are key sources of CCP power at the central level, thus serving as heads of those organizations at the provincial level trains cadres in the requisite political work and organizational acumen needed to manage mammoth bureaucracies and personnel as he or she moves up the career ladder. Those who can distinguish themselves in these positions have a good shot of being plucked to serve in central organizations in Beijing.

Finally, while no SOE executive made it onto the full member roster, more than a dozen state firm heads serve as alternates. These executives hail from diverse industries, most of which are considered the commanding heights of the economy, such as shipbuilding, aviation, machinery, and even cloud computing. It is certainly no coincidence that these state firms’ representation on the alternates roster also align with priority industries that Beijing supports, some of which fall under the highly controversial “Made in China 2025” industrial policy. Moreover, a number of such central SOEs evolved from ministries closely involved with weapons production.

In terms of gender representation, the Central Committee remains highly unbalanced—as does Chinese politics generally. Although Sun Chunlan assumed the position of one of four Vice Premiers and is the only female in the role, overall female representation on the Central Committee is below 10% (see Figure 3). However, female representation among alternate members is more than twice as high as that in the full member roster, which stands at just 5%.

Figure 3. Female Representation on Central Committee

Interestingly, about half of the women who are alternate members serve in the aforementioned party apparatuses at the provincial level, such as the United Front and Propaganda Departments. The rest serve in Party-affiliated organizations, such as literary associations, women’s federations, the National People’s Congress, or retain less senior executive roles at the provincial level.

Finally, the Central Committee also contains members that have either played important roles but flown below the radar or who may seem like odd choices, at least to outside observers, for China’s most powerful political body (see Box 2). Some of these surprising members may shed light on the priorities of, and the importance of certain constituencies to, the CCP.

Box 2: Did You Know?

Get Our Stuff