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Gauging the Elite Political Equilibrium in the CCP: A Quantitative Approach Using Biographical Data*

  • Victor Shih, Wei Shan and Mingxing Liu

Can one man dominate the Chinese Communist Party? This has been a much debated issue in the field of Chinese politics. Using a novel database that tracks the biographies of all Central Committee (CC) members from 1921 to 2007, we derive a measure of top CCP leaders' factional strength in the CC. We show that Mao could not maintain a commanding presence in the Party elite after the Eighth Party Congress in 1956, although the Party chairman enjoyed a prolonged period of consolidated support in the CC at a time when the CCP faced grave external threats. No Chinese leader, not even Mao himself, could regain the level of influence that he had enjoyed in the late 1940s. Our results, however, do not suggest that a “code of civility” has developed among Chinese leaders. The Cultural Revolution saw the destruction of Liu Shaoqi's faction. Although violent purges ended after the Cultural Revolution, Chinese leaders continued to promote followers into the CC and to remove rivals' followers.

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1 Nathan, Andrew, “A factionalism model for CCP politics,” The China Quarterly, No. 53 (1973), pp. 3366.

2 Ibid.

3 Tsou, Tang, “Prolegomenon to the study of informal groups in CCP politics,” The China Quarterly, No. 65 (1976), pp. 98114.

4 Ibid.

5 For examples, see Teiwes, Frederick, Politics and Purges in China: Rectification and the Decline of Party Norms, 1950–1965 (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1993); Fewsmith, Joseph, Dilemmas of Reform in China: Political Conflict and Economic Debate (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1994); Fewsmith, Joseph, Elite Politics in Contemporary China (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2001); Forster, Keith, Rebellion and Factionalism in a Chinese Province (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1990). Nathan himself also restated the theory with the help of Kellee Tsai. See Nathan, Andrew and Tsai, Kellee, “Factionalism: a new institutionist restatement,” China Journal, No. 34 (1995).

6 Modifications of the Tsou Tang perspective suggest that Mao and Deng wanted relative rather than absolute dominance. See Huang, Jing, Factionalism in Chinese Communist Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Chang, Parris H., “Who gets what, when and how in Chinese politics – a case study of the strategies of conflict of the ‘Gang of Four’,” The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, No. 2 (1979), pp. 2142.

7 A wave of literature emerged in the 1980s focusing on institutional features of the CCP regime. See Lieberthal, Kenneth and Oksenberg, Michel, Policy Making in China: Leaders, Structures, and Processes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988); Lee, Hong Yung, From Revolutionary Cadres to Party Technocrats in Socialist China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991); Burns, John P., The Chinese Communist Party's Nomenklatura System: a Documentary Study of Party Control of Leadership Selection, 1979–1984 (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1989).

8 Some scholars see anti-corruption drives as a way to clean up the CCP regime. See Yang, Dali L., Remaking the Chinese Leviathan: Market Transition and the Politics of Governance in China (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004). Others saw it as political purge. See Gilley, Bruce, Tiger on the Brink: Jiang Zemin and China's New Elite (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998); Fewsmith, Joseph, China since Tiananmen: The Politics of Transition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

9 Milan Svolik and Carles Boix, “Non-tyrannical autocracies,” working paper, Washington, DC and Champaign, IL, 2007.

10 Way, Lucan and Levitsky, Steven, “Elections without democracy: the rise of competitive authoritarianism,” Journal of Democracy, Vol. 13, No. 2 (2002), pp. 5167.

11 Ibid.; Svolik and Boix, “Non-tyrannical autocracies”; Acemoglu, Daron and Robinson, James A., Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

12 The main data source was Central Organization Department and Party History Research Centre of CCP CC, Zhongguo gongchandang lijie zhongyang weiyuan da cidian, 1921–2003 (The Dictionary of Past and Present CCP Central Committee Members) (Beijing: Party History Publisher, 2004). For a complete set of sources, please see Victor Shih, Wei Shan and Liu Mingxing, “The Central Committee past and present: a method of quantifying elite biographies,” in Gallagher, M. E. (ed.), Sources and Methods in Chinese Politics (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 2008).

13 See, for example, Bartke, Wolfgang, Who's Who in the People's Republic of China (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1993); Bo, Zhiyue, Chinese Provincial Leaders: Economic Performance and Political Mobility, 1949–1998 (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2002); Li, Cheng, China's Leaders: the New Generation (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001).

14 Christopher Adolph, “Paper autonomy, private ambition: theory and evidence linking central bankers' careers and economic performance,” paper presented at the Annual APSA Conference, Philadelphia, PA, 2003. Source data mainly came from The Dictionary of Past and Present CCP Central Committee Members, although a number of other sources supplemented the dictionary. See Shih, Shan and Mingxing, “The Central Committee past and present.”

15 Shirk argues that CC members were “selectorates” who could exert pressure on leadership selection at the top. See Shirk, Susan, The Political Logic of Economic Reform in China (Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1993).

16 See Lieberthal and Oksenberg, Policy Making in China; Pye, Lucian, The Dynamics of Chinese Politics (Cambridge, MA: Oelgeschlager, Gunn & Hain, 1981); Whitson, William W., The Military and Political Power in China in the 1970s (New York: Praeger, 1972); Pye, Lucian W., “Factions and the politics of Guanxi: paradoxes in Chinese administrative and political behaviour,” The China Journal, No. 34 (1995), pp. 3553; Li, Cheng, “University networks and the rise of Qinghua graduates in China's leadership,” Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, Vol. 32 (1994), pp. 130.

17 In the literature on the late Mao period, both Mao's last successors, Wang Hongwen and Hua Guofeng, had the problem of too little experience in the regime. See Baum, Richard, Burying Mao: Chinese Politics in the Age of Deng Xiaoping (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994); MacFarquhar, Roderick and Schoenhals, Michael, Mao's Last Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006).

18 Gao, Hua, Hong taiyang shi zeme shengqide: Yan'an zhengfeng yundong de lailong qumai (How Did the Red Sun Rise: the Origin and Consequences of the Yan'an Rectification Movement) (Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong Press, 2000).

19 Editorial Committee, Zhongguo gongnong hongjun diyi fangmianjun shi (History of the First Front Army of the Chinese Red Army) (Beijing: People's Liberation Army Publisher, 1993).

20 Hua Gao, How Did the Red Sun Rise, p. 2.

21 Wang, Jianying, Zhonggong zhongyang jiguan lishi yanbian kaoshi (Beijing: CCP Party History Publisher, 2005), p. 212.

22 Although Mao was not the formal head of AMPU, he chaired an educational committee which directly oversaw it. He also gave numerous lectures there to students. See Saich, Anthony and Apter, David, Revolutionary Discourse in Mao's Republic (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), p. 236.

23 Mao Zedong, “Jiang guangming, tongshi yao jiangkunnan (“Speak of the light, but also speak of difficulties”), in Editorial Committee (ed.), Mao Zedong wenji (The Collected Works of Mao Zedong) Vol .3 (Beijing, 1996).

24 With the rapid growth of CCP recruits, AMPU quickly expanded into a series of satellite campuses in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Since students at the satellite campus did not have direct contact with Mao, we did not consider them potential Mao followers.

25 MacFarquhar and Schoenhals, Mao's Last Revolution, p. 292.

26 Dittmer, Lowell, “Chinese informal politics,” China Journal, Vol. 34 (1995), pp. 139.

27 See, for example, Lewbel, Arthur, “Estimation of average treatment effects with misclassication,” Econometrica, Vol. 75, No. 2 (2007), pp. 537–51.

28 Although it is not much comfort, we are far from alone in assuming that we are on average correct. All survey research that asks for binary answers, including political party identification, whether one is native born and whether one engages in extramarital affairs, assumes that on average respondents have a clear state of mind and are not lying.

29 Li, Wei and Pye, Lucian W., “The ubiquitous role of the mishu in Chinese politics,” The China Quarterly, No. 132 (1992), pp. 913–36.

30 Gilley, Tiger on the Brink; Fewsmith, China since Tiananmen; Shih, Victor, Factions and Finance in China: Elite Conflicts and Inflation (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Nathan, Andrew and Gilley, Bruce, China's New Rulers: the Secret Files (New York: The New York Review of Books, 2002).

31 Baum, Burying Mao, p. 195.

32 Fewsmith, China since Tiananmen.

33 According to Nathan and Gilley, Jiang had Bo Yibo speak at an enlarged Standing Committee meeting, where he made the argument that everyone over 70 except for the “core” Jiang Zemin should step down. This forced Qiao Shi to resign. See Nathan and Gilley, China's New Rulers.

34 Cui, Wunian, Wo de 83 ge yue (My 83 Months) (Hong Kong: Ko Man Publishing Co., 2003).

35 Li, Cheng, “Hu's followers: provincial leaders with backgrounds in the youth league,” China Leadership Monitor, Vol. 2002, No. 3 (2002); Li, Cheng, “New provincial chiefs: Hu's groundwork for the 17th Party Congress,” China Leadership Monitor, Vol. 2005, No. 13 (2005).

36 The Fifth PC in particular gave a major boost to the role of workers and labour movements in the Party. See Saich, T. and Yang, B., The Rise to Power of the Chinese Communist Party: Documents and Analysis (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1996).

37 Ibid.; Kuo, W., Analytical History of Chinese Communist Party (Taipei: Institute of International Relations, 1966).

38 The Dictionary of Past and Present CCP Central Committee Members.

39 Saich and Yang, The Rise to Power of the Chinese Communist Party.

40 At the Sixth PC, Bukharin personally endorsed Xiang as “not an opportunist, but a revolutionary.” See Han, Taihua, “Guanyu Zhonggong liuda yanjiu de ruogan wenti” (“Several problems concerning research on the Sixth Party congress”), Zhonggong dangshi yanjiu (CCP Party History Research), No. 4 (2008), pp. 3745.

41 Yang, Kuisong, “Xiang Zhongfa shi zeme yige zongshuji” (“What kind of Party secretary general was Xiang Zhongfa?”), Jindaishi yanjiu (Research on Recent History), No. 1 (1994).

42 Tang Tsou, “Prolegomenon to the study of informal groups in CCP politics.”

43 Hua Gao, How Did the Red Sun Rise.

44 Four CC members died in that period. Qu Qiubai, Fang Zhimin and Li Zifen all died elsewhere rather than in Ruijin or during the Long March. Gu Zuolin died from illness in Ruijin before the beginning of the March. See The Dictionary of Past and Present CCP Central Committee Members.

45 Hua Gao, How Did the Red Sun Rise.

46 Wang Jiaxiang solidified Mao's triumph in 1938 by bringing Comintern secretary Dimitrov's supposed endorsement of Mao as the head of the CCP. See ibid. p. 167.

47 MacFarquhar, Roderick, “Problems of liberalization and the succession at the Eighth Party Congress,” The China Quarterly, No. 56 (1973), pp. 617–46.

48 Ibid.

49 Saich and Yang, The Rise to Power of the Chinese Communist Party, p. xliii.

50 Hua Gao, How Did the Red Sun Rise, p. 388.

51 Ibid. p. 487.

52 Dittmer, Lowell, Liu Shaoqi and the Chinese Cultural Revolution (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1998).

53 MacFarquhar, Roderick, Contradictions among the People, 1956–1957 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974).

54 MacFarquhar and Schoenhals, Mao's Last Revolution, p. 292.

55 Ibid.

56 Deng, Liqun, Shi'erge Chunqiu: 1975–1987 (Twelve Springs and Autumns: 1975–1987) (Hong Kong: Boszhi Publisher, 2005), p. 10.

57 Baum, Burying Mao.

58 Jing Huang, Factionalism in Chinese Communist Politics.

59 Manion, Melanie, Retirement of Revolutionaries in China: Public Policies, Social Norms, Private Interests (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993).

60 According to files leaked by an unknown official, Chen Yun was the one who hand-picked Jiang Zemin. See Nathan, Andrew and Link, Perry, The Tiananmen Papers (London: Little Brown & Company, 2001).

61 Lam, Willy Wo-Lap, “Jiang faction stages its surrogate coup,” South China Morning Post (Hong Kong: 1994); Lam, Willy Wo-Lap, The Era of Jiang Zemin (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999).

62 Lam, The Era of Jiang Zemin; Ji, You, “Jiang Zemin's command of the military,” The China Journal, No. 45 (2001), pp. 131–38.

63 Fewsmith, Joseph, “The 16th National Party Congress: the succession that didn't happen,” The China Quarterly, No. 173 (2003), pp. 116.

64 Teiwes and Sun present convincing evidence that the purge of Lin Biao was unnecessary since Lin had little political ambition. See Teiwes, Frederick C. and Sun, Warren, The Tragedy of Lin Biao: Riding the Tiger during the Cultural Revolution, 1966–1971 (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1996). Also, Mao remained concerned with whether Deng would become a traitor of his legacy even in the last days of his life. See MacFarquhar and Schoenhals, Mao's Last Revolution.

65 It is well known that dictatorships distribute resources to an elite selectorate to ensure their support. See Okruhlik, Gwenn, “Rentier wealth, unruly law, and the rise of opposition: the political economy of oil states,” Comparative Politics, Vol. 31, No. 3 (1999), pp. 295315, Wintrobe, Ronald, The Political Economy of Dictatorship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

66 Walder, Andrew G., “The political sociology of the Beijing upheaval of 1989,” Problems of Communism, Vol. 38, No. 5 (1990), pp. 3040, Calhoun, Craig, Neither Gods nor Emperors: Students and the Struggle for Democracy in China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).

* The authors would like to thank Roderick MacFarquhar, Zhao Dingxing, Peter Bol, William Kirby, and Northwestern University colleagues Ann Sartori and Jamie Druckman for generously sharing their thoughts on earlier versions of this article. Of course all mistakes are our own.

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