Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 May 2010
For more than seven decades from 1921 on, the top leadership structure of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has taken shape in an informal and organic process. There were several attempts at leadership succession during Mao's era, but they were not successful at installing a new political leader of the party-state. Examples include such cases as Liu Shaoqi, Lin Biao, Wang Hongwen, and Deng Xiaoping. Hua Guofeng was chosen and groomed for leadership succession in the last days of Mao Zedong in 1976, precluding other candidates, such as Deng Xiaoping and the “Gang of Four.” Yet although Hua managed to acquire almost all of the top formal leadership posts, he failed to hold onto them after the death of Mao Zedong.
Although an unsuccessful candidate for (premortem) succession, Deng Xiaoping was among the first to explicitly recognize the succession issue under Mao as problematic. As soon as he reassumed power in 1978, he took initiatives to carry out the retirement of the massive cohort of veteran revolutionaries and to engineer the process of leadership succession. In the CCP, political leadership is dealt with as an informal structure that is neither explicitly stated in the party's charter nor in any other official document. In Deng's view, political power is more than the holding of top formal posts in the CCP; the central leadership team led by the leadership core exercises it.