Structure of China's Government

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  • 0:01 Primacy of the Party & State
  • 1:09 National People's Congress
  • 2:06 Presidency & Councils
  • 2:55 Courts
  • 3:47 Local Governments &…
  • 4:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

With 1.4 billion people to govern, some things about China's government aren't that surprising, like the fact that the National People's Congress is the largest legislature in the world. Others, like the multiple titles of the Chinese President, do take some explanation.

The Primacy of the Party and State

What is the point of government? In the United States, we'd like to think that it is the preservation of freedom. Other countries don't always see it that way. China is a great example of this. If you were to read the Chinese Constitution, you'd be amazed by what you found: freedom of religion; freedom of the press; freedoms for all sorts of things that many of us don't stereotypically apply to China. There's even freedom of rest, with government sponsored facilities! Don't believe me, check it out - Article 43 of the Chinese Constitution. Wait, isn't this the country that tries to limit the number of kids people have? How is it that China has such a free constitution?

There's just one little thing about those statements. There's an overwhelming theme throughout the publication about the importance of the state and the Communist Party. In fact, some rights outlined in the Chinese Constitution carry an immediate disclaimer - 'only insofar as these do not threaten the state or the Party.' While the U.S. Constitution protects freedoms first and the government second, the Chinese Constitution does the opposite.

National People's Congress

This importance of the Communist Party to China is very apparent from one look at the National People's Congress, the legislature of China. It has 2,987 members, making it almost seven times the size of the U.S. House of Representatives. However, in the House you'd expect to hear a lot of debate. In the NPC, you'll hear a lot of agreement. The majority party, not surprisingly, is the Communist Party of China. However, there is a minority coalition known as the United Front. Now before you think that this is some group of people in actual opposition to the work of the Communist Party, know that the United Front is made up solely of parties that are granted the right to exist by the Communist Party. In reality, it tends to be made up of labor unions and business groups that advance their own goals. In any event, even members of the NPC acknowledge that they are, in effect, rubber stamps to sign off on the wishes of the presidency.

Presidency and Councils

In the United States, the president's role is pretty straightforward as the leader of the executive branch of the government, but in China, it's not that simple. The leader of China holds many different titles. At any given time, he is the 'General Secretary of the Communist Party', the 'President of China', and 'Chairman of the Central Military Commission'.

He's also a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, which is arguably where much of the real power in China is located. While it is in theory up to the President as to who serves in the Politburo, much of it comes down to family connections. In reality, the organization is not mentioned in the Chinese Constitution. The closest analogy would be if the President, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, head of the FBI, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and some Wall Street businessmen decided what laws to pass.


China's courts may be the most independent part of the whole government. That said, they are still expected to rule with some knowledge of the desires of the Party. Much like the United States, there are multiple levels, going from local courts to the Supreme People's Court. However, there is an important difference. In the United States, there is a degree of separation between the prosecutors, often called district attorneys, and the courts. In China, there is much less separation; the offices of the prosecutors, known as procuratorates, exist alongside each level of the courts.

Whereas judges are expected to be impartial in the United States, in China they take a much more inquisitorial approach, even asking questions, themselves, often. To be fair, this isn't necessarily unique to China. Many other countries, including Italy, France, and Germany, have this sort of court system.

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