Overview of the PRC Political System

Overview of the PRC Political System

This report details China's leadership, as well as the functions, responsibilities and contact information for China's central government agencies and departments. Government agencies, in this context, refer to the offices under the State Council, China's cabinet, and the National People's Congress (NPC), China's legislative body. This report does not directly address the structure of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP, the party), though the party does exercise significant authority over government policies.


Other than the role of the CCP and the lack of competitive elections, China's government structure is similar to Western parliamentary systems, with both a president and a prime minister appointed by a parliament and a semi-independent judiciary:

  • PRC President Xi Jinping and Vice President Li Yuanchao preside over the PRC government.
  • The State Council, with its ministries, bureaus, commissions, and agencies, serves as the administrator and regulator of China's day-to-day government functions and is headed by Premier Li Keqiang.
  • The NPC, China's parliament, ratifies laws and holds oversight and appointment authority for the State Council and courts. The NPC largely functions as a rubber stamp for party decisions, though it is increasing both in size and stature. The NPC is headed by Zhang Dejiang.
  • The Chinese People's Political Consultative Committee (CPPCC) is a parliamentary advisory body headed by Yu Zhengsheng.
  • The Supreme People's Court and Supreme People's Procuratorate are China's top judicial organs, under the leadership of Zhou Qiang and Cao Jianming respectively.
  • Party and Military

The operation of the PRC government must be viewed in context vis-a-vis its position to the CCP, specifically the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee. The CCP serves as the overarching political authority in China and is headed by General Secretary Xi Jinping. China's military, the People's Liberation Army (PLA), is also directly under CCP oversight. The PLA is overseen by China's Central Military Commission, chaired by Xi Jinping.

State Council

The bulk of the PRC governing structure falls under the State Council. The State Council is headed by China's premier, who--along with various vice premiers and state councilors--administers China's bureaucracy.

State Council Responsibilities

Founded in accordance with the first Constitution of the PRC passed at the first NPC session in 1954, the State Council has the following responsibilities:

(1) Promulgate administrative regulations and rules in accordance with the Constitution;

(2) Introduce motions to the NPC and its standing committee;

(3) Oversee and guide the work of ministries and other state matters excluded from ministries' jurisdictions;

(4) Divide work among the central and local governments and oversee national administration;

(5) Prepare and execute the state economic/social development plan and state budget;

(6) Manage economic development in urban and rural areas;

(7) Lead and administer ethnic affairs; ensure equality and regional autonomy of ethnic nationalities;

(8) Manage national diplomatic matters; sign treaties and agreements with foreign countries and institutions;

(9) Change or revoke conflicting rulings mapped out by local/ministerial authorities;

(10) Announce martial law in designated areas in periods of emergency;

(11) Examine, nominate, and/or remove government officials; and

(12) Handle other responsibilities as empowered by NPC or its standing committee

State Council Offices

The State Council administers the offices of China's executive bureaucracy, including ministries, commissions, and offices that it administers directly and a variety of offices and organizations that it administers indirectly:

Ministries and commissions: The ministries and commissions under this category rank the highest among PRC government offices. The head of each bureau carries the rank of minister, which is equivalent to that of provincial governor. Sample ministries include the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Commerce, and the National Development and Reform Commission.
Directly administered offices: This category includes the bulk of government offices not included in the official ministries and commissions that report directly to the State Council. China's system technically differentiates between directly administered government bureaus (such as the State Administration of Industry and Commerce) and directly administered professional organizations (such as the China Securities Regulatory Commission and Xinhua News Agency), but for the purposes of this report such offices are listed under the single category of directly administered offices.
A handful of these offices are afforded "ministry-level status" by the PRC government. Such offices are denoted by an asterisk (*) throughout this report.

Indirectly administered offices: This category includes independent offices that report directly to specific ministry-level offices rather than to the State Council. Examples are State Postal Bureau, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, and the State Grain Bureau.
State Council offices and leading groups: The State Council itself administers a handful of offices that deal with broad policy issues that require interagency coordination. Such issues include foreign affairs, legislation, and public affairs.
Similarly, the State Council administers numerous national "leading groups," which focus on specific policy concerns. Such leading groups are typically headed by a senior-level leader (at a premier or vice premier level), with actual administration carried out by an office specific to the leading group under a relevant ministry. For instance, the Office of the Leading Group on Western Development reports to the National Development and Reform Commission while the Office of the Leading Group on Cracking Down on IPR Infringement and Counterfeit and Shoddy Goodsis seated in to the Ministry of Commerce. There are also dozens of lower-level leading groups on specific issues under virtually every government office, though these are much less influential than the national-level leading groups headed by the top leaders.

Legislative Organs

China has two main bodies responsible for legislation - the NPC and the CPPCC.

The NPC is China's legislature and is authorized to discuss and ratify all PRC laws and to confirm PRC government leaders. In practice, however, the NPC has only recently begun to take a more independent role and move away from its reputation as a "rubber stamp" body. It meets in full once pear year, with the smaller Standing Committee meeting bimonthly.

The CPPCC is a parliamentary body that advises and represents non-CCP interests, often serving as a forum for discussion of public issues. It, however, does not have any formal decision-making authority. The CPPCC meets annually in its full session in March alongside the NPC session.

Judicial Organs

The Chinese court system includes several types of judicial organs, including people's courts, procuratorate courts, specialized military, maritime, and railway courts. Of these, the two most important are the people's courts (headed by the Supreme People's Court), which handle civil, criminal, and administrative cases as well as appeals, and the procuratorial courts (headed by the Supreme People's Procuratorate), which supervise the application and enforcement of laws.