The Makeup of the CCP Elite

by Victor Shih, Young Yang

In this new portal( https://chinadatalab.ucsd.edu/elites/ ), we allow users to visualize some of the key characteristics of roughly 1700 Chinese Communist Party elite who were or are active government officials during the 18th Central Committee (2012-2017) and the 19th Central Committee (2017-2022).  The key characteristics visualized here include the elite’s age, party rank, education level, gender, birth province, and alma mater. 

Dataset

The underlying data for this analysis comes from the Database of CCP Elite, which contains a wealth of information on the elite.[1]  This data contain information on all full and alternate Central Committee members, provincial standing committee members, and vice governors specializing in law and politics issues through July of 2020.  In the future, we will release further data on elite from previous congresses and a larger subset of elites. 

How to Use the Interactive Portal

The control buttons of this webpage are on the left side of the screen, which allow users to toggle key characteristics of the elite.  Graphics on that particular sub-group of the elite are generated on the rest of the screen.  Additional buttons in the middle of the screen allow users to choose further visualizations on “demographics” information, “schools”, and “school flows” which show the trajectories of the elites’ post-secondary education. 

Web Portal of the CCP Elite, check this link for more information

Focusing on the controls on the left, users first can subset the elite into either officials active during the 18th CC or the 19th CC to see the key characteristics of those elite.  Another control allows users to subset the elite by party ranks, including Politburo Standing Committee members, Politburo members, Central Committee full or alternate members, and provincial standing committee members. 

Users can further subset the elite into those born before 1962 and those born in or after 1962.  1962 is chosen as a cutoff because those born after 1962 can still serve an additional 5 years as a ministerial level official and an additional 10 years as a Politburo member after the 2022 20th Party Congress.  One can see the post 1962 cohort as the future leaders of China, whereas those born prior to 1962 are the past and current leaders of China. 

Furthermore, users can examine the characteristics of the elite by their alma mater (BA, MA, or PhD).   Finally, users can control the language of the output, English or Chinese. 

As an example, one can use the controls on the left side to examine the characteristics of 19th CC alternate Central Committee members who were born after 1962 and are Peking University alums.  It turns out there are only two, Chen Gang and Li Xiaobo.  In contrast, Tsinghua alums occupy 6 current alternate seats in the Central Committee.  Among these eight current alternate members of the Central Committee from China’s top universities, only one is a woman, Tsinghua University Party Secretary Chen Xu.    


Insights from Our Data

The data reveal that the CCP continues to be the political party with one of the worst gender imbalances in the world. 

Among this powerful elite which include all Central Committee members and provincial standing committee members, the share of women has gone up from a dismal 7.6% to a still-dismal 8.4% from the 18th CC to the 19th CC.  Among the post-62 cohort active in the 19th CC, only 11% of the elite are women.  To be sure, as more cadres in the post-62 cohort enter the vice-provincial elite, the share of women may rise, but it would be surprising if this cohort had more than 15% of women in the end, which, again, is still dismal.  The small share of women among the more promising members of the post-62 cohort suggests that the gender pattern in the CCP elite will continue with the dismal status quo of one female Politburo member at each congress, along with two to four full Central Committee members and a handful of alternate members.  This status quo may well persist until the 22th Party Congress in 2032, based on current trajectories.

Gender Distribution of the 19th CC, check this link for more information

Despite talk of “Qing Dynasty Empire,” graduates of elite universities only make up a modest portion of the CCP elite.

Among the 19th CC elite, there are only 19 Tsinghua undergraduates and 37 Peking University undergraduates out of 1021 elite.  The other top grantors of undergraduate degrees to the Chinese elite include Renmin University, Nanjing University, the Central Party School, and the National Defense University.  The majority of the CCP elite graduated from one of the over one hundred lesser known universities in China.  Although in recent years, many have pursued graduate degrees, fewer than one hundred have obtained their master degrees from Peking U, Tsinghua, or Renmin, whereas 132 of the elite obtained master degrees from the Central Party School.  Even among the elite born after 1962, only a small share obtained bachelors or masters from Peking, Tsinghua, or Renmin.

Graduated Schools of the 19th CC members, check this link for more information

The party elite’s native place density is much higher in the former base areas of the Eighth Route Army and the New Fourth Army.

Following Koss’ observation of higher party membership density in former CCP base areas, we find that the party elite’s native place density is much higher in the former base areas of the Eighth Route Army and the New Fourth Army.[2]The provinces of Shandong, Hebei, Henan, Jiangsu, and Anhui produced close to 40% of the 19th CC elite.  Meanwhile, Guangdong, which had no major base area but has been one of the wealthiest areas of China since 1978, produced only 13 political elite out of a cohort of over 1000 in the 19th CC.  This persistence in party member density is surprising given that 70 years have passed since all of mainland China has been liberated by CCP forces. 

Birth Place of the 19th CC members, check this link for more information

The data here suggest a slowing down in elite mobility among those born after 1962.

This potentially will lead to an older cohort of officials at the Central Committee level and above at the 20th Party Congress and beyond.  Although members of the post-62 cohort are filling provincial standing committee positions in large numbers, they have not moved up into the Central Committee to the same degree as their pre-62 counterparts had been able to ten years ago.  This suggests that the Central Committee is already an older body than it was ten years ago and will continue to be composed of older officials, unless a large number of post-62 cadres are introduced to the Central Committee at the 20th Party Congress. 

Currently, all of the PSC members, most of the Politburo members, and 86% of the full CC members were born before 1962. In the five years after the 20th Party Congress, most of the 176 pre-1962 CC members will have to retire, if the rule of retirement at 65 still holds then.  At the same time, the number of alternate CC members born after 1962 totals only 103.  Even if they are all promoted to full CC status, a large number of non-CC members will have to be inducted into the CC to fill both alternate and full seats.  This has not happened since the Cultural Revolution. 

In any event, this scenario of mass rejuvenation is unlikely at the 20th Party Congress for two reasons.

  • First, Xi will not favor the promotion of all 103 ACC members in the post-62 cohort because not all of them comes from his faction or are familiar to him.  Also, given his enthusiastic promotion of cronies in recent congresses, he may not find enough younger cadres to promote directly into the full CC from outside of the CC.  Thus, Xi may not find a ready supply of younger cadres to fill full CC seats.

     
  • More importantly, the current pre-1962 full CC members are there because many of them are from his cohort and have been his friends and associates.  As long as Xi remains the secretary general of the CCP, which is the most likely scenario, many of them will remain in the Central Committee and the Politburo, even if they reach the retirement age of 65 between now and 2027.  Recent reappointment of Xia Baolong, who is 68, to the powerful position of the Hong Kong Macau Affairs Office is a case in point.

     

Thus, instead of retirement, we may see over 45% of the full CC seats being held by the pre-62 group at the 20th PC.  Even this scenario makes the unrealistic assumption that 80% of post-62 ACC members get promoted to full CC seats.  Such an outcome will signify a meaningful aging of the full CC membership.   


China Data Lab CCP Database portal: https://chinadatalab.ucsd.edu/elites


[1] Shih, Victor, Jonghyuk Lee, and David Meyer. 2015. “The Database of CCP Elite.” San Diego: Institute of Global Conflict and Cooperation.

[2] Koss, Daniel. 2018. Where the party rules: the rank and file of China’s Communist State. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Head photo credit: https://flic.kr/p/drADEj

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