The Makeup of the CCP Elite (Updated)
Drawing on years of data collection work headed up by UC San Diego’s Victor Shih and updated in the Summer of 2022, the China Data Lab CCP Elite Portal (https://chinadatalab.ucsd.edu/elites/) allows users to visualize the key characteristics of over 2000 Chinese Communist Party elites, active government officials now starting from the 15th Party Congress (1997) going up through the 19th Party Congress (2017). Using the portal, you can easily access visualizations detailing the elite’s age, party rank, work position, education level, gender, ethnicity, birth province, and alma mater. This tool allows scholars and interested members of the public to gain insight into the demographics of China’s ruling class and how it has changed from Jiang Zemin to Xi Jinping.
The underlying data for this analysis comes from the Database of CCP Elite. This data contains information on the highest members of China’s government, including all full and alternate Central Committee members, provincial standing committee members, and vice governors from 1997 through July of 2021.
How to Use the Interactive Portal
The control buttons on the left side of the screen allow users to toggle key characteristics of the elite. Graphics on particular sub-groups 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 of demographic information, including “schools” and “school flows”, which show the trajectories of the elites’ post-secondary education.
Focusing on the controls on the left, users can first 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 different birth cohorts. 1962 was 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 output language, choosing either 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.
We added a “primary work position” dimension to this visualization to show the position category distributions. We used the following rule to define an elite’s primary work position.
- An elite’s primary work position is defined by the longest-held position during a given National Congress of CCP session.
- Joint Party/Government, Party/Legislature, Party/Military refers to elites who hold multiple concurrent positions, both in Party and in non-party institutions of the government, legislature, and military for over one year during a given NPC session.
For more on the dataset, please see the FAQ page (https://chinadatalab.ucsd.edu/faq/ccp-elite-portal-faq/).
Insights from Our Data
Among this powerful elite which include all Central Committee members and provincial standing committee members, the share of women has gone up from a meager 7.8% to a still-dismal 8.4% from the 15th 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.
Among the 19th CC elite, there are only 19 Tsinghua undergraduates and 37 Peking University undergraduates out of 1021 elites. 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.
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. 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 elites 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 mainland China was unified by CCP forces.
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 holds. 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 come 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. The reappointment of Xia Baolong, who is 68, to the powerful position of the Hong Kong Macau Affairs Office is a case in point.
China Data Lab CCP Database portal: https://chinadatalab.ucsd.edu/elites
Frequently Asked Questions: https://chinadatalab.ucsd.edu/faq/ccp-elite-portal-faq/
 Shih, Victor, Jonghyuk Lee, and David Meyer. 2015. “The Database of CCP Elite.” San Diego: Institute of Global Conflict and Cooperation.  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