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Chinese Civil Service Reform: The 13th Party Congress Proposals*

  • John P. Burns

Since 1980, in their pursuit of economic development, reformist Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders have decentralized personnel administration and transferred formal authority over some personnel matters to state institutions. To manage its more complex economy, Party authorities have been forced to select professionals and specialists based in part on their technical qualifications and job performance. To a limited extent, the Party has begun to place personnel management in the hands of experts who are competent to assess the qualifications and work of their peers, and directly in the hands of employing institutions. The CCP has beat a limited, if unsteady retreat.

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1. The publication in 1985 of a three-volume study, authored by Cao Zhi (a deputy head of the Party Central Committee's Organization Department) and a panel of Chinese academics and government and Party officials, on the civil service systems of China, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and western capitalist countries (including Japan) is an indication of this official interest. See, Zhi, Cao,Zhonghua renmin gongheguo renshi zhidu gaiyao (Outline of the Personnel System of the People's Republic of China) (Beijing: Beijing daxue chubanshe, 1985).

2. See, e.g. Guangzhou, Radio, “Guangdong factory directors demand greater power” (13 April 1984), in Burns, John P. and Rosen, Stanley (eds.); Policy Conflicts in Post-Mao China (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1986), pp. 122–23; and articles on civil service reform authored by Tan Jian, a scholar working in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in Beijing ribao (Beijing Daily), 23 April 1984 and 16 October 1987 and Renmin ribao (People's Daily), 25 October 1987.

3. For the pre-Cultural Revolution period, see Barnett, A. Doak, Cadres, Bureaucracy and Political Power in Communist China (New York: Columbia University Press, 1967). For the post-Mao period, see Manion, Melanie, “The cadre management system, post-Mao: the appointment, promotion, transfer, and removal of Party and state leaders,” The China Quarterly, No. 102 (June 1985), pp. 203233; and Burns, John P., ”:Civil service reform in contemporary China,” The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, No. 18 (July 1987), pp. 4783.

4. Ziyang, Zhao, “Advance along the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics,”Beijing Review, Vol. 30, No. 45 (9–15 November 1987), pp. i–xxvii.

5. These figures exclude cadres (administrators, managers, professionals and other white-collar employees) working in public health, education, research organizations and scores of other “public” service areas. In addition, they exclude at least two million individuals (probably more) who are employed in government organs in more junior positions, such as clerks, typists, drivers and messengers. The 1982 census reported that more than six million people (cadres and non-cadres) were employed in government organs in all positions. Bangongshi, Guowuyuan Renkou Pucha, Tongjisi, Guojia Tongjiju Renkou (eds.), Zhongguo 1982 nian renkou pucha cailiao (1982 Population Census of China) (Beijing: Zhongguo tongji chubanshe, 1985), pp. 444–46.

6. Workshop on China's Civil Service System, Beijing, 26–29 October 1988[hereafter, Workshop]. The Workshop, convened jointly by the Ministry of Personnel and the Organization Department of the Central Committee, was sponsored by the United Nations. At the Workshop bureau chiefs of the recently re-organized Ministry of Personnel presented their plans for reform of China's civil service system. According to Wenhui bao (Hong Kong), 1 June 1988, in Shenzhen municipality the following posts will be included in the “political” civil service: the mayor, deputy mayors, secretary general, bureau heads, committee (office) heads, heads and deputy heads of districts directly administered by the municipality, and section heads. The “career” civil service in Shenzhen will include: deputy secretaries-general, deputy bureau heads, deputy heads of committees (offices), heads and deputy heads of divisions, heads and deputy heads of (lower-level) sections, section members, general office personnel, deputy section heads of districts directly administered by municipalities, members of these sections, and general office personnel of these sections.

7. Workshop.

8. These are: the Ministry of Communications, the Ministry of Light Industry, the Auditor General's Office, the State Construction Materials Bureau, the State Environmental Protection Bureau; Guangdong, Fujian and Hebei provinces; and Qingdao and Harbin municipalities. Authorities propose to begin with the classification of positions in smaller staff or administrative support offices that can be found in most government agencies (such as general offices (bangongshi), policy and regulation bureaus (zhengce faguisi), personnel bureaus (renshisi), and foreign affairs bureaus (waishisi).

9. A preparatory committee, headed by the president of the People's University, is now working on the establishment of the Institute.

10. These are: political virtue, ability, diligence and achievement. See the subsequent section on performance appraisal.

11. Workshop.

12. Workshop.

13. Li Huajie, “Zhongguo ganbu renshi zhidu de gaige he gongwuyuan zhidu de jianli” (“Reform of China's cadre personnel system and setting up the civil service system”), paper prepared for a seminar of the Department of Political Science, University of Hong Kong, 22 January 1989.

14. The Regulations, by mid 1988 in their 15th draft, contain 16 chapters of 84 articles, with separate chapters devoted to: the scope of the civil service, position classification, examinations and recruitment, performance appraisal, rewards and punishments, promotion and demotion, appointments, training, transfers and terminations, wages and benefits, resignation, retirement, appeals, and civil service management organs.

15. See, e.g., Gu Yunchang, “China to gradually implement the civil service system,” Liaowang (Outlook), overseas edit., 16 November 1987, in Foreign Broadcast Information Service, China—Daily Report(Washington, D.C.: National Technical Information Service) (hereafter FBIS), (24 November 1987), pp. 2529.

16. Zhao Ziyang, “Advance along the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” p. xvi. If the Party retains the power to recommend for state office only those officials currently elected or appointed by people's congresses, the list would nonetheless be extensive. According to the 1982 state constitution, the National People's Congress (NPC) elects the following: president and vice-president of the People's Republic of China; premier, vice-premiers, state councillors, ministers of ministries and commissions, the auditor-general, and the secretary-general of the State Council. It also elects the chairman of the Central Military Commission and its members; the president of the Supreme People's Court; and the president of the Supreme People's Procuratorate (Article 63). The Standing Committee of the NPC is empowered to appoint, in addition, vice-presidents and judges of the Supreme People's Court, members of its judicial committee, and presidents of the Military Court; deputy- procurators-general and procurators of the Supreme People's Procuratorate, members of its procuratorial committee, and the chief procurator of the Military Procuratorate; chief procurators of people's procuratorates of provinces, centrally administered municipalities and autonomous regions; and all ambassadors (Article 67). According to the 1982 Organic Law of Local People's Congresses and Local People's Governments, provincial people's congresses elect the following: provincial governors and deputy governors; presidents of provincial people's courts; and chief procurators of provincial people's procuratorates (also elected by the NPC Standing Committee, see above) (Article 7). Standing committees of provincial people's congresses appoint: secretaries-general, department heads, bureau chiefs, directors and section chiefs of provincial people's governments; vice presidents, chief justices, deputy chief justices, members of judicial committees and judges of provincial people's courts; deputy chief procurators, members of procuratorial committees, and procurators of provincial people's procuratorates (Article 28). Corresponding jurisdictions exist for prefectural, county and township people's congresses.

17. See Burns, John P., “China's Nomenklatura system,” Problems of Communism, Vol. 36, No. 5 (September-October, 1987), pp. 3651.

18. In 1987 the Beijing Party Committee contained scores of additional organizations not identified here. See its “Zhonggong Beijing shiwei zhengzhi tizhi gaige diyibushishi fangan” (“First implementation plan for the political system reform of the Beijing municipal Party committee”), 29 June 1988 (hereafter Reform Plan), in yanjiushi, Zhonggong Beijing shiwei (ed.),Diaocha yanjiu {Investigation and Research), No. 4 (30 June 1988), pp. 610.

19. Reform Plan, p. 7.

20. Reform Plan, p. 8.

21. Zuzhiju, Zhonggong Zhongyang Zuzhibu Yanjiushi (ed.), Dangde zuzhi gongzuowenda (Questions and Answers on Party Organization Work) (Beijing: Renminchubanshe, 1983), pp. 181–82. For short discussions of Party core groups, see Barnett, , Cadres, Bureaucracy and Political Power, p. 24, and Song, Pang and Gang, Han, ”Leadership structure: review and prospects,” Social Sciences in China, Vol. 8, No. 4 (1987), pp. 3031.

22. Renmin ribao, 1 August 1988, p. 1.

23. Reformers planned to retain Party core groups in ministries and departments involved in education, customs, propaganda, legal and political work, minority nationalities, and the restructuring of the economy. According to one source, by spring 1989 Party core groups were dismantled in about a quarter of units under the State Council. Jingji daobao (Economic Reporter) (Hong Kong), No. 2134 (25 August 1989), p.8.

24. The decision to abolish Party core groups in central government departments was revoked in mid August 1989. Where they have been abolished they will be replaced. See Ibid.

25. According to information published in the China Directory, 1988 (Tokyo: Radio Press, 1987), in every State Council ministry (except one) where the leadership of the Party core group was identified, Party core group secretary-ships or deputy secretaryships were held concurrently either by the minister or by a deputy minister. Press reports also indicate that the same sort of overlap exists at local levels. See Radio Nanchang, 23 January 1986; in FBIS (27 January 1986), p. Ol; Radio Harbin, 2 February 1986; in FBIS (6 February 1986), p. S4; and Ningxia ribao (Ningxm Daily), 14 November 1986; in FBIS (5 December 1986), p. Tl.

26. Reform Plan, p. 10.

27. Reform Plan, p. 10.

28. These include the chairman of the NPC's Standing Committee, its deputy chairman, and all Standing Committee members; the NPC's secretary-general, deputy secretaries-general; the secretary, deputy secretaries, and members of Party core groups of organs of the NPC; the heads and deputy heads of all specialized committees of the NPC; the head and deputy head of the Legal System Work Committee, and the secretary, deputy secretaries and members of the Party core group organized within this Committee. See, Burns, “China's Nomenklatura system,” p. 42.

29. Former Party Secretary-general Zhao Ziyang admitted as much on 22 October 1988 in a speech to the 1 lth National Congress of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions when he said that the CCP would continue to provide political leadership to trade unions, including “their political principles, their political direction, and there commendation (tuijian) of important responsible leaders of the national (organization) and local (branches) of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions.” See Wenhuibao (Hong Kong), 23 October 1988. In 1984 the chairman, deputy chairmen, first secretary of the Secretariat and secretary, deputy secretaries and members of the Party core group of the Federation were on the Central Committee's job title list. See, Burns, “China's Nomenklatura system,” p. 44.

30. Wenhui bao (Hong Kong), 18 January 1988.1 have no information on whether they have reversed their policy.

31. Jigou yu bianzhi (Organization and Establishment) (Changsha), No. 13 (August 1988), p. 15.

32. Ibid.

33. Renmin ribao (People's Daily), 1 August 1988.

34. Jigou yu bianzhi, No. 13 (August 1988), p. 15. The journal reports on the case ofSichuan province.

35. Interview, head of the General Office of the Ministry of Supervision, Beijing, 29July 1988.

36. Political departments may also have existed in other security-orientated ministries, such as state security and national defence.

37. Jigou yu bianzhi, No. 13 (August 1988), p. 15.

38. See Yunchang, Gu, “China to gradually implement the civil service system,” p. 27.

39. zuzhibu, Zhonggong zhongyang, “Guanyu luoshi dangde zhishifenzi zhengce dejidian yijian,” 1978 (“Several opinions on the implementation of the Party's intellectuals policy”), Zutongzi (1978), No. 31, in Renshibu, Laodong (ed), Zhishifenzi zhengce wenjian huibian (Selection of Documents on Intellectuals Work) (Beijing: Laodong renshi chubanshe, 1983) (hereafter ZFW), pp. 2129.

40. See Minzhengbu, Guowuyuan Keji Ganbuju, “Guanyu xiansan zai shehui shang de kexue jishu renyuan anpai shiyong yijian de baogao” (“Report on opinions on making arrangements for the use of idle and scattered science and technology personnel in society”), 1980 in ZFW, pp. 431–34.

41. Formally since 1982 the State Council has required units to first use up all resources allocated to them before they initiated a recruitment exercise. Further, all recruitment plans had to be approved by higher level personnel bureaus, and reported to the Ministry of Labour and Personnel in Beijing. See Laodong Renshibu, “Zhaoshou luyong ganbu wenti de ruogan guiding” (‘Several regulations on the question of cadre recruitment”), 1982, in Yanjiushi, Laodong Renshibu Zhengce (ed.), Renshi gongzuo wenjian xuanbian, Vol. 5 (Beijing: Laodong renshi chubanshe, 1984) (hereafter RSV), pp. 4145.

42. Ming bao (Hong Kong), 14 June 1979, indicated that in China's cities 20 million were unemployed.

43. Zhongguo Yinhang Zonghang, Guojia Renshiju, “Guanyu xiada 1980 nian laodong gongzi jihua he zhaokao luyong ganbu de tongzhi” (“Notice on the transmission downward of the 1980 labour and wage plan and on the recruitment of cadres”), in Yanjiushi, Laodong Renshibu Zhengce (ed.) Renshi gongzuo wenjian xuanbian, Vol. 4 (Beijing: Laodong renshi chubanshe, 1984) (hereafterRSIV), p. 70. Sometimes additional political criteria were added, such as “patriotism,” and “support for the four basic principles” (which were Marxism, Leninism, Mao Zedong-Thought, CCP rule, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and socialism).

44. Gonganbu, “Guanyu xishou xinganjing gongzuo de zanxing guiding” (“Temporary regulations on the work of recruiting new cadres and police officers”), in RSV, p.36.

45. The restrictions were not, however, included in such detail in the 1985 public security recruitment regulations. See, e.g. Gonganbu, Laodong Renshibu, “Guanyu huifu zhaoshou xinganjing de tongzhi” (“Notice on the resumption of recruitment of new police officers”) (1985), in Shi, Laodong Renshibu Zhengce Yanjiu (ed.), Renshi gongzuo wenjian xuanbian (Selection of Personnel Work Documents), Vol. 8 (Beijing: Laodong renshi chubanshe, 1986), p. 87.

46. See Guojia Renshiju, Haiguan Zongshu, “Guanyu xiada bufen haiguan xinzeng ganbu zhibiao de tongzhi” (“Notice on the transmission down of part of the quota for the new increase of customs cadres”) 1981, in RSIV, pp. 99–101; and Gonganbu, Guojia Renshiju, Guojia Laodong Zongju, “Guanyu laogai danwei luyong ganbu de lianhe tongzhi” (“Unified notice on recruitment of cadres by labour reform units”),1982, in RSV, pp. 24–25.

47. See, Laodong Renshibu, “Several regulations on questions of cadre recruitment,” 1982, in RSV, pp. 41–45. Shencha is conducted by the state personnel bureau at the same level as the unit doing the recruiting. Its results must be approved by the state personnel bureau at the next higher level. The regulations for recruiting police officers explicitly identify the Party core group of the public security bureau at the next higher level as the agency responsible forshencha. See, Gonganbu, “Temporary regulations on the work of recruiting new cadres,” p. 37.

48. In Shanxi's Linfen city, for example, in 1985 authorities advertised at one time 30 vacancies in local branches of the tax bureau (8 vacancies), public security bureau (4 vacancies), agricultural bank (2 vacancies), industrial and commercial bank (4 vacancies), culture station (8 vacancies), and the Linfen City Office of the insurance corporation (4 vacancies). Four hundred people applied (each one was charged a 2 yuanapplication fee) and they were asked to indicate in which two of the above six units they preferred to work. They were given one examination, on language, politics, and mathematics, held on 8 December 1985. Interview with the head of the Linfen City Personnel Bureau, 11 November 1986.

49. The form contains blanks for the usual information collected on personnel forms in China, including: family class origin, individual class label, year entering Party or Youth League, current behaviour (including activities during the Cultural Revolution), social and family relationships, and examination and shencha results. See, Laodong Renshibu, “Several regulations on questions of cadre recruitment,” inRSV, pp. 46–47.

50. After successfully passing one year's probation they were eligible for promotion to point 24. See Ladong Renshibu, “Several regulations on the question of cadre recruitment,” in RSV, pp. 41–45.

51. CCP Central Committee, “Circular on Selecting and Using Cadres Strictly in Accordance with Party Principles,” Xinhua, 1 February 1986; in FBIS (3 February 1986), p. K6.

52. Renmin ribao, 8 February 1984; in FBIS (10 February 1984), pp. K5-K9.

53. Laodong Renshibu, “Several regulations on the question of cadre recruitment,”(1982), in RSV, p. 42.

54. See, Gonganbu, Laodong Renshibu, “Guanyu huifu zhaoshou xinganjing de tongzhi” (“Notice on the resumption of recruitment of new police officers”), p. 88.

55. The regulations refer to renshi bumen (personnel departments), which indicates state (or unit) personnel agencies. Had the regulations referred to zuzhi bumen(organization departments) or zuzhi renshi bumen (organization and personnel departments) they would have formally acknowledged the Party's role.

56. Zhonggong Shenzhen Shiwei Zuzhibu, Shenzhen Shi Renshiju, “Guanyu gaijin zhaopin xiandiao ganbu gongzuo de jidian yijiande baogao” (“Report on several opinions on the work of reform of the recruitment and transfer of cadres”), 1984, in Renshiju, Guangdong Sheng (ed.), Shenzhen ganbu renshi zhidu gaige (Reform of the Cadre Personnel System of Shenzhen) (Beijing: Laodong renshi chubanshe, 1984), pp. 3941.

57. See also Dennis Fred Simon, “China's scientists and technologists in the post-Mao era: a retrospective and prospective glimpse,” in Merle Goldman et al. (eds.), China's Intellectuals and the State: In Search of a New Relationship (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987), pp. 129–58.

58. Zhonggong Zhongyang Bangongting, Guowuyuan Bangongting, “Guanyu kexue jishu ganbu guanli gongzuo shixing tiaoli” (“Trial regulations on science and technology management work”), in Renshisi, Zhongguo Renmin Yinhang (ed.), Renshi gongzuo wenjian xuanbian (Selection of Personnel Work Documents) (Beijing: Zhong guo jinrong chubanshe, 1985) (hereafter BD), pp. 573–74.

59. See Laodong Renshibu, “Kexue jishu ganbu jishu, yewu zhiwu pingding weiyuanhui zuzhi banfa” (“Organizational methods for science and technology cadre technical and professional job title evaluation committees”), 1982 in BD, pp. 631–33.

60. See “Zhonggong zhongyang, guowuyuan zhuanfa ‘guanyu gaige zhicheng pingding, shixing zhuanye zhishu zhiwu pinren zhidu de baogao’ de tongzhi” (“Notice of the Central Committee and State Council transmitting the ‘report on the reform of job title evaluation and carrying out the hiring system for specialist and technical positions’”) (1986), in Bangongshi, Zhongyang Zhicheng Gaige Gongzuo Lingdao Xiaozu (ed.), Quanguo gelei zhuanye zhishu zhiwu shixing tiaoli huibian (Collection of Trial Regulations on Specialist and Technical Positions Throughout the Country) (Beijing: Zhongguo jiliang chubanshe, 1988) (hereafter STR), p. 1.

61. See Guowuyuan, “Jingji zhuanye ganbu yewu zhiwu zanxing guiding” (“Temporary regulations on the professional job titles of economics specialist cadres”), in BD, pp. 556–57, and “Jingji zhuanye renyuan zhiwu shixing tiaoli” (“Trial regulations on the position of economics specialists”), in STR, p. 214.

62. Guojia Renshiju, “Guanyu guanche shixing guowuyuan lingfa de qizhong yewu jishu zhiwu zanxing guiding ruodan wenti de shuoming” (“Explanation on several questions on carrying out the State Council's temporary regulations on seven professional and technical job titles”), 1981, in BD, pp. 560–67.

63. See “Guanyu shixing zhuanye jishu zhiwu pinren zhidu de guiding” (1986) (“Regulations on the implementing the hiring system for specialist and technical positions”), in STR, p. 10.

64. For journalists and editors the political criteria included: “Upholds CCP leadership, loves the socialist motherland, earnestly studies Marxism-Leninism, is conscious of and supports proletarian Party principles, is in step with Party central politically, actively propagandizes and carries out the Party's line, principles, policies, seeks truth from facts, has close relations with the masses, respects news work discipline and professional virtue.” See “Xinwen zhuanye renyuan zhiwu shixing tiaoli” (“Trial regulations for the position of news specialist”) (1986), in STR, p. 80.

65. See, e.g., Guowuyuan Kejiganbuju, “Guanyu zhixing ‘gongcheng jishu ganbu jishu zhiwu zanxing guiding’ ruogan wenti shuoming zhisan” (“Third explanation of several questions relating to the implementation of ‘temporary regulations on the technical job titles of engineering technical cadres,’”) (1980), in BD, pp. 515–520.

66. Zhonggong Zhongyang Zuzhibu, “Guanyu shixing ganbu kaohe zhidu de yijian”(“Opinion on implementing the cadre performance appraisal system”), 1978, in Renshiju, Guojia (ed.), Renshi gongzuo wenjian xuanbian (Selection of Personnel Work Documents), Vol. 3 (Beijing: Guojia renshiju chubanshe, 1980), pp. 1215.

67. Obtained from the Personnel Bureau of Linfen prefecture, Shanxi, 11 November 1986.,

68. Lanzhou wanbao (Lanzhou Evening News), 13 April 1985; in FBIS (16 May 1985), p. K9.

69. In 1988 the Organization Department of Shanxi province's Party Committee announced certain changes in its personnel forms, especially a redesigned “cadre resume form” (ganbu lushi biao). The new form replaced “leftist” categories such as”family class origin” and “individual class background” with questions such as “What mistakes did you commit during the Cultural Revolution and what was the organization's opinion about them?” “What is the political situation of your adult family members?” “Have you ever participated in any counter-revolutionary organization?” Given the uniformity of these forms, these changes may now be reflected on other personnel forms in Shanxi province. See Renshi (Personnel) (Taiyuan), No. 35 (August 1988), pp. 2224.

70. This form, developed for use in Luzhou county, was handed to me in August 1988 by officials of the Ministry of Personnel in Beijing as representative of the sort ofform they were then considering.

71. See Melanie Manion, “The cadre management system, post-Mao.”

72. In early October 1989 vice-minister of personnel, Zhang Zhijian, revealed that China would proceed with civil service reform. See Yang Guojun, “Qianghua zhengfu zhineng” (“Strengthen government Functions”), Liaowang (overseas edit.), No. 46 (13 November 1989), p.6

* An earlier version of this article was presented at the 40th Annual Meeting of the Association for Asian Studies, San Francisco, California, United States, 25-27 March 1988. I am grateful for the financial support of the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People's Republic of China (CSCPRC), Washington, D.C., USA (1986) and the Strategic Research Grant Committee of the University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (1987-88).

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