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Strengthening Central CCP Control of Leadership Selection: The 1990 Nomenklatura*

  • John P. Burns


In the aftermath of their suppression of the democracy movement in June 1989, China's leaders concluded that the Chinese Communist Party's leadership selection system was in serious trouble. The actions of intellectuals and the media during the May-June crisis, measures proposed by former Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang for cadre reform and the results of an earlier decision to decentralize the nomenklatura convinced authorities in Beijing that Party control of leadership selection had decayed and that decentralization of personnel decisions had gone too far. During the next few years China's post-4 June leadership took steps to rectify these problems. One of these was to revise the central Party's nomenklatura, which they subsequently re-issued in 1990.



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1. See especially, Faguisi, Renshibu Zhengce (ed.), Renshi gongzuo wenjian xuanbian (Selection of Personnel Work Documents), Vol. 13 (Beijing: Renshi chubanshe, 1991).

2. I do not have sufficient information on the exact number of leadership positions in many organizations. Consequently, I have had to estimate the number of positions contained on the list. Because individual cadres often hold more than one position, the number of cadres included on the central nomenklatura is probably considerably less than 4,100.

3. For the 1984 lists, see Burns, John P. (ed.), The Chinese Communist Party's Nomenklatura System (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1989), pp. 122141.

4. Interview, Hong Kong, 22 November 1993. The 30-day rule was imposed only recently.

5. The inclusion of these posts on the 1990 List may have been an attempt by Deng Xiaoping to institutionalize collective leadership.

6. Within the major categories there are many other differences between the two lists. For example, all “advisor” positions have been removed from the 1990 list. More on these differences below.

7. Xitong, Chen, “Report to NPC on quelling the counter-revolutionary rebellion,” in Oksenberg, Michel, et al. (eds.), Beijing Spring, 1989, Confrontation and Conflict: The Basic Documents (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1990), pp. 5588.

8. According to Chen's report, other signatories included Dai Qing (reporter from Guangming ribao), Yu Haocheng (former director of the Masses Publishing House), Li Zehou (research fellow at the Philosophy Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), Su Xiaokang (lecturer at the Beijing Broadcasting Institute), Wen Yuankai (professor at the China University of Science and Technology) and Liu Zaifu (director of the Literature Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences), in ibid. p. 73.

9. “Solve the current problems in China along the track of democracy and the legal system” (26 May 1989) in ibid. pp. 328–331.

10. See “Fourteen Beijing press units send open letter to CPC Central Committee and State Council” (18 May 1989) and “Personnel from 19 overseas and home media send letter to Zhao Ziyang and Li Peng” (18 May 1989) in ibid. pp. 283–84.

11. Ziyang, Zhao, “Advance along the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” Beijing Review, Vol. 30, No. 45 (9–15 November 1987), insert pp. i–xxvii.

12. Renmin ribao (People's Daily), 1 August 1988. The same announcement also said that the Party would abolish most discipline inspection groups and political departments in government departments.

13. See zhongyang zuzhibu yanjiushi, Zhonggong (ed.), Dangde zuzhi gongzuo dashiji, 1978–1988 (Chronology of Party Organization Work, 1978–1988) (Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 1990).

14. He Dongchang was appointed Party core group secretary in 1985, when Li Peng was Minister of the Commission. See China Directory, 1988 (Tokyo: Radio Press, 1987), p. 65. He was re-appointed Party core group secretary in 1989 (China Directory, 1990 (Tokyo: Radio Press, 1989), p. 83), but was removed from this position in June 1992. Minister of the Commission, Li Tieying, became core group secretary in July 1992. See South China Morning Post (SCMP), 3 June 1992, and China Directory, 1993 (Tokyo: Radio Press, 1992), p. 80.

15. “Zhongyang zuzhibu guanyu biandong wushiwuge qishiye danwei lingdao ganbu zhiwu guanli quanxiande tongzhi” (“Notice of the central Organization Department on changing the management jurisdiction for leading cadre positions of 55 economic enterprises and service units”), Zhongzufa, No. 12 (24 September 1988), in faguisi, Renshibu zhengze (ed.)Renshi gongzuo wenjian xuanbian, Vol. 11 (Beijing: Xuefan chubanshe, 1989), pp. 69.

16. Leading Party positions in these units were transferred to the relevant territorial or government agency Party committees. An additional organization also appeared on the list, the Central Institute of Socialism, and was supposed to be handed over to the central United Front Work Department for management, according to the Organization Department notice of 24 September 1988. The list also indicated that some new agencies had been added since 1984, including the Kailun Coal Service Bureau and the Zhengzhou Aluminum Factory

17. “Guowuyuan guanyu ganbu guanli youguan wentide tongzhi” (“State Council notice f on relevant problems of cadre management”), Guofa, No. 77 (4 November 1988), in Renshibu zhengzi faguisi, (ed.), Renshi gongzuo wenjian xuanbian, Vol. 11, pp. 3–5. Strangely, the Notice does not refer to a specific document for the Party Centre's decision. Nor is such a document reproduced in any of the material available to me.

18. The changes did not apply to Party secretaries and deputy secretaries in these agencies.

19. For discussions of these proposals see Bums, John P., “Chinese civil service reform: the 13th Party Congress proposals,” The China Quarterly, No. 120 (December 1989), pp. 739770; Cabestan, Jean-Pierre, “The reform of the civil service,” China News Analysis, No. 1437 (15 June 1991), pp. 18; and Chow, King W., “Reform of the Chinese cadre system: pitfalls, issues, and implications of the proposed civil service system,” International Review of Administrative Sciences, No. 57 (January 1991), pp. 2544.

20. See, for example, Deng's call to reduce Party interference in government work in Xiaoping, Deng, “Gaige zhengzhi tizhi, zengqiang fazhi guannian” (“Reform the political system, strengthen the concept of the legal system”) (speech at a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, 28 June 1986) in Shiyiju sanzhongguanhui yilai zhongyao wenxian xuandu (Selection of Important Documents since the Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee) (Beijing: Renmin chubanshe, 1987), p. 1078.

21. Shirk, Susan, “‘Playing to the provinces’: Deng Xiaoping's political strategy of economic reform,” Studies in Comparative Communism, Vol. 23, No. 3/4 (Autumn/Winter, 1990), pp. 227258.

22. Renshi (Personnel) (Taiyuan), September 1990, p. 32.

23. “Zhonggong zhongyang guanyu jiaqiang dangde jianshede tongzhi” (“Notice of the Central Committee on strengthening Party building”), Zhongfa, No. 9 (28 August 1989) in faguisi, Renshibu zhengce (ed.), Renshi gongzuo wenjian xuanbian, Vol. 12 (Beijing: Zhongguo renshi chubanshe, 1990), pp. 1223.

24. “Zhonggong zhongyang guanyu jiaqiang he gaishan dangdui gonghui gongqingtuan fulian gongzuo lingdaode tongzhi” (“Notice of the Central Committee on strengthening and improving Party leadership of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the Communist Youth League, and the All-China Federation of Women”), Zhongfa, No. 12 (1989), in Renshi zhengce fagui zhuankan (Personnel Policy, Laws, and Regulation Specialized Periodical) (Beijing) No. 4 (1990), pp. 8–14.

25. See the explicit attack on Zhao's cadre management policies in Renshi, December 1989, p. 5. Zhao was accused of weakening the Party's role in personnel management, and especially its authority to make personnel appointments. He was also accused of condoning excessive decentralization, neglecting the quality of cadres, encouraging irregular (non-collectivist) personnel procedures, and failing to curb wage inflation and the growth of organizations.

26. Interview, Hong Kong, June 1992.

27. Interviews, Hong Kong, July 1991 and April 1992. One knowledgeable Beijing-based academic said that Song Ping, then head of the Organization Department, refused to transfer the cadre dossiers to the Ministry of Personnel, a necessary first step for implementing the plans.

28. These included all the positions on the 1990 Job Title List in the CCP Bureau for Translating the Works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin; Renmin ribao; Qiushi; Guangming ribao; Jingji ribao; the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; New China News Agency; the Ministry of Culture; the Ministry of Broadcasting and Television; the State Administration for Press and Publications; the All-China Federation of Literary and Art Circles; the Chinese Writers’ Association; and the All-China Journalists’ Association. The Notice, which was issued four months after the 1990 nomenklatura was released, says: “Authorities wishing to make an appointment or removal of a leading official in one of these bodies should write a report to the Centre. The central Organization and Propaganda departments will jointly investigate the situation and offer their opinions. Then, the Organization Department will report to the Centre [the Politburo] for investigation and approval.” In “Zhonggong zhongyang zuzhibu, zhonggong zhongyang xuanchuanbu guanyu guanche zhongfa (1989) qihao wenjian youguan ganbu guanli gongzuo jige wentide tongzhi” (“Notice of the central Organization Department and central Propaganda Department on several problems of thoroughly implementing Document Zhongfa (1989) No. 7 on cadre management work”) (29 September 1990), Renshi gongzuo wenjian xuanbian, Vol. 13, p. 90. The title of Document Zhongfa (1989) No. 7 is: “Notice of the Central Committee on strengthening propaganda and thought work.”

29. Jmg bao (The Mirror), May 1992, p. 47.

30. See the discussion of media attacks on Deng Xiaoping in March 1991 reported in Jing bao, May 1992, p. 47.

31. See Dangdai (Contemporary), 15 March 1992, p. 13 for a discussion of Li Ruihuan's attempts to reduce “leftist” influence in the central party media.

32. Ibid. p. 6.

33. Dangdai, 15 November 1992, pp. 44–45. Moderates replaced “leftists” as heads of the Propaganda Department, the Ministry of Culture, New China News Agency and Renmin ribao.

34. The universities were: the China Science and Technology University, Peking University, Qinghua University, Chinese People's University, Beijing Normal University, Fudan University, Shanghai Jiaotong University, Xi'an Jiaotong University, Beijing Agricultural University, and Beijing Medical College. Students in many of these universities were active in the May-June democracy movement.

35. Interviews, Beijing, April 1993. Informal approval need not mean approaching the Organization Department directly. Rather, it may mean sounding out the senior Patty member(s) in Beijing, who are responsible for a particular functional or geographic area (for example, in mid-1993, Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji for appointments in Shanghai; Bo Yibo for appointments in Shanxi; Li Ruihuan for appointments in Tianjin; or Jiang Zemin for appointments in propaganda; Song Ping and Hu Jintao for appointments in organization work; and Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji for appointments in economic and finance work, and so forth). Politburo members, Central Committee members or senior retirees could all play this role.

36. This applies to the nations’ 96 keypoint (zhongdian) universities. For the number of keypoint universities, see The World Bank, China: Management and Finance of Higher Education (Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 1986), p. 12.

37. In 1989 there were 1,075 institutions of higher learning, of which 36 were directly managed by the State Education Commission, 318 managed by other central ministries and agencies, and 721 by local authorities. See State Education Commission, Department of Planning and Construction (ed.), Educational Statistics Yearbook of China, 1990 (Beijing: People's Education Press, 1991), p. 22.

38. Some central and local government agencies had already abolished Party core groups, or would soon do so. See Jingji daobao (Economic Reporter) (Hong Kong) No. 2134 (25 August 1989), p. 8; and Jigou yu bianzhi (Organization and Establishment) (Changsha) No. 13 (August 1988), p. 15.

39. This observation is based on five entries for the State Education Commission, the Ministry of Railways, the Ministry of Materials and Equipment, the State Land Administration Bureau, and New China News Agency in the China Directory, 1993. In the Ministries of Railways and Public Security, in addition, political departments continued to exist in late 1992. The three deputy secretaries of the Party core group in the Ministry of Railways included one Vice-Minister and the Head of the Ministry's Political Department. China Directory, 1993, p. 96.

40. The position of assistant minister (buzhang zhuli) was also added to the 1990 Job Title List. In 1990 these positions were located in the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Culture, and Foreign Economic Relations and Trade (MOFERT), and in the People's Bank of China.

41. “Temporary Regulations on the State Civil Service” (18 August 1993) published in Wenhui boo (Hong Kong), 19 August 1993. Leadership positions, organized into 13 grades on a 15 rank scale are: Premier (rank 1); Vice-Premiers, State Councillors (ranks 2–3); Ministers, Governors (ranks 3–4); Vice-Ministers, Vice-Govemors (ranks 4–5); Bureau Chiefs (ranks 5–7); Deputy Bureau Chiefs (ranks 6–8); Division Chiefs, County Magistrates (ranks 7–10); Deputy Division Chiefs, Deputy County Magistrates (ranks 8–11); Section Heads, Township Heads (ranks 9–12); Deputy Section Heads, Deputy Township Heads (ranks 9–13). The March 1992 version of the Temporary Regulations had divided the civil service into three groups: “higher” (Vice-Minister and above), “middle” (deputy division chiefs to bureau chiefs); and “lower” (section chiefs and below). This version also would have permitted the Organization Department to manage Vice-Ministers directly.

42. See Prime, Penelope, “Taxation reform in China's public finance,” in Joint Economic Committee, Congress of the United States, China's Economic Dilemmas in the 1990s: The Problems of Reforms, Modernization, and Interdependence (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printer, 1991), pp. 167185.

43. “Zhongyang zuzhibu guanyu xiuding ‘zhonggong zhongyang guanlide ganbu zhiwu mingchengbiao’ de tong zhi,” 10 May 1990, p. 36.

44. The Notice also advises that for provincial and prefectural level positions not subject to these conditions, units making an appointment or removal must wait for one month after they have “reported” the change to the Organization Department. Only then, if there has been no word from the Organization Department, may they officially announce the appointment.

45. On the politics of the central-cities policy, see Schroeder, Paul E., “Territorial actors as competitors for power: the case of Hubei and Wuhan,” in Lieberthal, Kenneth G. and Lampton, David M. (eds.), Bureaucracy, Politics, and Decision Making in Post-Mao China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), pp. 289292.

46. Shirk, “‘Playing to the provinces’,” p. 229.

47. For discussions of the growing economic power of provinces vis-à-vis the Centre, see Lee Zinzer, “The performance of China's economy,” in Joint Economic Committee, Congress of the United States (ed.), China's Economic Dilemmas in the 1990s: The Problems of Reform, Modernization, and Interdependence in Post-Mao China, p. 117. On localism in the appointment of mayors, see Li, Cheng and Bachman, David, “Localism, Elitism, and Immobilism: Elite Formation and Social Change in Post-Mao China,” World Politics, Vol. 42 (October 1989), pp. 8586.

48. Susan Shirk, “The Chinese political system and the political strategy of economic reform,” in Lieberthal and Lampton, Bureaucracy, Politics, and Decision Making in Post-Mao China, p. 83.

49. Dangdai, 1 November 1992, pp. 36–41.

50. Ibid.; and SCMP, 20 October 1992. An additional 2.1% of the 14th Central Committee were researchers, scientists and editors.

51. The 13th Politburo included Jiang Zemin (Shanghai), Li Ximing (Beijing) and Yang Rudai (Sichuan). Li Ruihuan (Tianjin) was transferred to Beijing to become head of the Propaganda xitong. China Directory, 1992 (Tokyo: Radio Press, 1991), p. 3. The 14th Politburo included Chen Xitong (Beijing), Jiang Chunyun (Shandong), Tan Shaowen (Tianjin) (since deceased), Wu Bangguo (Shanghai) and Xie Fei (Guangdong).

52. Wenhui bao (Hong Kong), 15 July 1993.

53. Ibid. Vice-Minister-level officials also came from the Ministry of Supervision, State Administration of Audit, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, the People's Bank of China, and the State Economic and Trade Commission. SCMP, 17 July 1993.

54. Dagong bao (Hong Kong) reported in SCMP, 19 July 1993.

55. SCMP, 11 August 1993. On 20 August 1993, central officials announced another anti-corruption campaign, which could result in personnel changes. (See Wenhui bao (Hong Kong), 20 August 1993.)

56. SCMP, 2 September 1989. He was already 64 years old in 1989. Ye became a Vice-Chairman of the CPPCC.

57. Who's Who in China: Current Leaders (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1989), p. 1022.

58. SCMP, 26 November 1991.

59. Ibid.

60. China Directory, 1993, p. 509.

61. Party leaders are supposed to nominate those they know personally for positions on the nomenklatura, according to the regulations.

62. They were Dai Xianglong, president of the Shanghai-based Bank of Communications and Zhu Xiaohua, a vice-president of the Shanghai branch of the Bank of China. SCMP, 8 July 1993. Other close associates of Zhu from Shanghai include Chen Jihua, Head of the State Planning Commission and Yang Changji, Vice-Minister of the Economic and Trade Commission. SCMP, 26 June 1993.

63. SCMP, 8 July 1993. According to Dangdai, 16 April 1992, pp. 53–55, in 1992 16 Party elders had placed their children or in-laws in positions on the central nomenklatura. They were Bo Yibo, Chen Yun, Deng Liqun, Deng Xiaoping, Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme, Nie Rongzhen (since deceased), Peng Zhen, Wan Li, Wang Bingqian, Wang Zhen, Xi Zhongxun, Xiao Jinguang, Yang Shangkun, Yao Yilin, Yu Wen and Zhang Aiping.

64. These include Gong Xinhan, Deputy Head of the central Propaganda Department; Li Junru, Head of the Theoretical Bureau of the Propaganda Department; Zhou Ruijin, Deputy Chief Editor of Renmin ribao; Liu Ji, Deputy Head of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; and Zeng Qinghong, Head of the General Office of the Central Committee. See SCMP, 5 and 26 June 1993.

65. Reported in SCMP, 28 June 1993.

66. Xin, Bao, “Letter from Beijing: China's democracy as viewed from the election of leading bodies,” Liaowang (overseas ed.) in FBIS-CHI 93–034 (23 February 1993), pp. 1617.

67. The Princeton China Initiative reported that Chen publicly supported the student hunger strike in May-June 1989 in Beijing. In 1992, authorities punished him by appointing him Vice-Governor of Guizhou province. Chen had been Vice-Minister in the Ministry of Light Industry since 1984. China Focus, Vol. 1, No. 2 (30 March 1993), p. 6.

68. Wenhui bao (Hong Kong), 7 February 1993.

69. Ibid.

70. SCMP, 8 February 1993.

* An earlier version of this paper was presented at a Seminar on “Core Issues of the Personnel System in China,” co-sponsored by the Johns Hopkins University Nitze School of Advanced International Studies and the Meridian House International, in Washington, D.C., 23 June 1992. I would like to thank participants of the seminar for their comments on an earlier draft of the paper, especially A. Doak Bamett, Chen Yizi, Carol Hamrin, Harry Harding, Huan Guocang and H. Lyman Miller. I alone am responsible for the content of the paper.

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Strengthening Central CCP Control of Leadership Selection: The 1990 Nomenklatura*

  • John P. Burns


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