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Innovation and Preservation: Remaking China's National Leadership Training System*

  • Gregory T. Chin (a1)

This article details the reorganization of China's national leadership training system, and analyses the reforms as an integral element of the Chinese Communist Party's efforts to adapt institutionally to a rapidly changing environment. Three main findings are presented. First, the national leadership training system is being remade under the direction of the Party's Central Organization Department to give greater emphasis to the “spirit of reform and innovation,” as seen especially in the creation of the China Executive Leadership Academy in Pudong, Shanghai, and in the formation of sister academies in Jinggangshan and Yan'an. Second, China's political elite have given greater priority to leadership innovation, although they are trying to balance this with ensuring that sufficient attention and resources are also given to preserving the ruling status of the CCP. Third, by establishing the new group of training academies under the COD, the Party is diversifying beyond the Party School system for leadership research and training. The article suggests that the guiding logic behind these reforms is to promote enough innovation in managerial training and research to enable the Party to meet the changing governance requirements of the market transition and economic globalization, while at the same time putting in place institutional measures that help to preserve the Party's rule.

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1 “Hu Jintao wei san suo ganbu xueyuan jiancheng bing zhengshi kaixue fa hexin” (“Congratulatory letter from Hu Jintao on the completion and formal start of study at the three cadre schools”), 21 March 2005,

2 Price, Jane L., Cadres, Commanders and Commissars: The Training of the Chinese Communist Leadership, 1920–1945 (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1976).

3 Hu Jintao, “Congratulatory letter on the founding of CELAP,” 18 March 2005.

4 Cadre training comes into focus,” China Daily, 17 October 2007.

5 In mid-2006, another new leadership training academy for senior enterprise managers was added to the mix, the China Business Executive Academy Dalian (Zhongguo Dalian zhiye xingzheng xueyuan). Its core staff is an amalgamation of personnel and teachers from the municipal Party School and School of Administration.

6 Data and information in this article derive primarily from discussions and field interviews with senior representatives, teachers and trainees at the main training academies of the national leadership training system (including the CPS and local Party Schools, CNSA, CELAP and CELAJ) from October 2002 to June 2008. The research was initially conducted by the author as a representative of the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, and later in an academic capacity.

7 See Shambaugh, David, “Training China's political elite: the Party School system,” The China Quarterly, No. 196 (2008), pp. 827–44; Wibowo, Ignatius and Fook, Lye Liang, “China's Central Party School: a unique institution adapting to changes,” in Brødsgaard, Kjeld Erik and Yongnian, Zheng (eds.), The Chinese Communist Party in Reform (London: Routledge, 2006), pp. 139–56. The CPS is also discussed in Shambaugh, David, China's Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008).

8 The national leadership training system is also being remade at the grassroots level as local Party Schools have started providing open course training and programmes to paying customers. See Pieke, Frank, “Market Leninism: Party Schools and cadre training in contemporary China,” BICC Working Paper Series, No. 3 (2007), pp. 138.

9 Qiushi, 1 February 1999, pp. 23–27, in Foreign Broadcast Information Service: Daily Report – China, 16 February 1999.

10 Jiang Zemin, “Outline of report to the 16th National Congress of the CCP,” November 2002.

11 See also Zhonggong zhongyang guanyu jiaqiang dang de zhizheng nengli jianshe de jueding,” Renmin ribao, 27 September 2004.

12 Hu Jintao, “Congratulatory letter,” pp. 62–63 (italics added).

13 Ibid. pp. 64–65.

14 Paltiel, Jeremy, “Administrative reform and the politics of management training in the People's Republic of China,” Canadian Public Administration, Vol. 33, No. 4 (1991), p. 586.

15 Xiaoping, Deng, “Emancipate the mind: seek truth from facts and unite,” in Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1984), p. 161.

16 J. Paltiel, “Administrative reform and the politics of management training,” p. 601.

17 Lingdao kexue xintan (Harbin: Heilongjiang renmin chubanshe, 1987). Cited in ibid. p. 601.

18 Considine, Mark and Lewis, Jenny M., “Innovation and innovators inside government: from institutions to networks,” Governance, Vol. 20, No. 4 (2007), p. 582.

19 Hu Jintao was president of the CPS prior to Zeng Qinghong.

20 Photographic images of the CELAP campus can be viewed at their website,

21 “Life of the Party,” Newsweek, 16 October 2007,

22 Interview with CELAP officials, Shanghai, March 2005. Italics added.

25 Cadre training comes into focus,” China Daily, 17 October 2007.

26 Interview with CELAP official, Shanghai, March 2005.

27 Discussion with the executive vice-president of CELAJ, Jinggangshan, Jiangxi province, November 2003.

28 Ibid.

29 This terminology is used in “The Decision of the Central Committee on Strengthening the Party's Governing Ability,” adopted at the Fourth Plenary Session of the 16th Central Committee on 19 September 2004. See Zhonggong zhongyang guanyu jiaqiang dang de zhizheng nengli jianshe de jueding,” Renmin ribao, 27 September 2004.

30 Interview with CELAP officials, Shanghai, March 2005.

31 “Shanghai skyline's splash of colour,” CNN Special Report, 1 September 2005, The colour red in the Chinese national flag is symbolic of the “blood of the revolutionary martyrs.”

32 Pieke, “Market Leninism,” p. 9.

33 “San suo ganbu xueyuan peixunban chuangxin dangzheng lingdao ganbu peixun moshi” (“Training classes at the three Academies innovate the training model for leading cadres of the Party and government”), 4 August 2005,

34 Hu Jintao, “Congratulatory letter.”

35 China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong (Chinese, translation, official brochure, 2005).

36 Dickson, B.J., Red Capitalists in China: The Party, Private Entrepreneurs and Prospects for Political Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 115.

37 Ibid.

38 Shambaugh, China's Communist Party.

39 China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong (official brochure, 2005).

40 Italics added.

41 Interview, Shanghai, March 2005; Shambaugh, “Training China's political elite,” p. 835.

42 Interview, Shanghai, March 2005. CELAP officials emphasize that it is a “Shanghai-based national institution that is funded by the central government,” meaning that its core funding comes from the State budget, specifically the portion allotted to the COD. The initial investment for the construction of the Pudong Academy was covered by the Shanghai municipal government, particularly the land and building. Construction cost was reportedly 800 million yuan (approximately US$100 million). Ongoing operational costs are covered by the COD. CELAP does provide some contracted training in accordance with the “market way,” with provinces and foreign companies being the main clients.

43 CELAP also offers MBA and MPA training “according to market demand,” as well as specialized training programmes based on requests from political parties, government offices, enterprises and social organizations.

44 Chin, Gregory T., “The politics of China's western development initiative,” in Lu, Ding and Neilson, William A.W. (eds.), China's West Region Development: Domestic Strategies and Global Implications (Singapore: World Scientific Press, 2004), pp. 137–74.

45 Interview with CELAP officials, Shanghai: March 2005.

47 Weaver, R. Kent and Rockman, Bert A., “Assessing the effects of institutions,” in Weaver, R. Kent and Rockman, Bert A. (eds.), Do Institutions Matters? Government Capabilities in the United States and Abroad (Washongton, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1993).

48 I thank one of the anonymous reviewers for highlighting this point.

49 “China executive leadership academy Pudong and Siemens signed partnership MOU,” Shanghai, 5 April 2006,

50 Interview with CELAP officials, Shanghai, March 2005.

51 This policy research project was partially funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (2005–07).

52 Interview with CELAP officials, Shanghai, March 2005.

54 CELAP website, “Exchanges and cooperation: to companies and agencies,”

56 CELAP website, “Forum participants: leadership forum,”

57 For an outline of the Party School system see Yucheng, Liu (ed.), Quanguo dangxiao gailan (An Outline of Party Schools of the Whole Country) (Beijing: Hongqi chubanshe, 1996).

58 Discussion with the head of the Academic Affairs Department of the CPS, Beijing, November 2003.

59 Interview with CELAP officials, Shanghai, March 2005.

60 Interview with CPS researchers from the Institute for International Strategy, Beijing, March 2006.

61 The NSA's training programmes are not geared to leaders but rather to civil servants; the rank-and-file staff and middle management of the Chinese bureaucracy.

62 Wibowo and Fook, “China's Central Party School,” p. 139.

63 This document has not been released into the public domain but it is referenced in other sources such as “Si zhixia shi dangxiao yantao shenhua jiaoxue gaige” (“Party Schools from four cities discuss deepening educational reform”),

64 Lu, Xiaobo, Cadres and Corruption: The Organizational Involution of the Chinese Communist Party (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000).

65 Wibowo and Fook, “China's Central Party School,” p. 140.

66 I thank one of the anonymous reviewers for this point of interpretation.

67 I thank Charlotte Lee for this point. Private correspondence.

68 The importance and prestige of the CPS are discussed in Shambaugh, “Training China's political elite,” p. 836; Wibowo and Fook, “China's Central Party School,” p. 139.

69 On the think tank role of the CPS see: Shambaugh, “Training China's political elite,” pp. 840–44. On the role of the CPS in ensuring “correct ideas’ see Fewsmith, Joseph, “Where do correct ideas come from? The Party School, key think tanks, and the intellectuals,” in Finkelstein, David M. and Kivlehan, Maryanne (eds.), China's Leadership in the Twenty-First Century: The Rise of the Fourth Generation (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2003), pp. 152–64.

70 Shambaugh, “Training China's political elite,” p. 844.

71 “An official of the Organization Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China answers questions raised by Xinhua News Agency and People's Daily correspondents on the promulgation and implementation of the ‘Regulations on the work of selecting and appointing leading Party and government cadres’,” in Regulations on the Work of Selecting and Appointing Leading Party and Government Cadres (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 2002), p. 33.

72 Lieberthal, Kenneth, Governing China: From Revolution to Reform (New York: W.W. Norton, 2004, 2nd ed.), pp. 324–29.

73 Ibid. p. 220; John Burns, “The Chinese Communist Party's nomenklatura system as leadership selection mechanism: an evaluation,” in Brødsgaard and Zheng, The Chinese Communist Party in Reform, pp. 33–58.

74 Andrew G. Walder, “The Party elite and China's trajectory of change,” in Brødsgaard and Zheng, The Chinese Communist Party in Reform, pp. 15–32. Walder notes that Vietnam is the only other similar case of regime change over the past two decades.

75 Ibid. p. 28.

76 Xueliang, Ding, The Decline of Communism in China: Legitimacy Crisis, 1977–1989 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

77 Nathan, Andrew J., “Authoritarian resilience,” Journal of Democracy, Vol. 14, No. 1 (2003), pp. 617.

78 Xiaobo Lu, Cadres and Corruption.

79 Pei, Minxin, China's Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006)

80 Chang, Gordon G., The Coming Collapse of China (New York: Random House, 2001).

81 Recent studies include Shambaugh, David L., “China's propaganda system: institutions, processes, and efficacy,” The China Journal, No. 57 (2007), pp. 2558; Shambaugh, David L., “Training China's political elite: the Party School system,” The China Quarterly, No. 196 (2008), pp. 827–44; Dickson, Bruce, Wealth into Power (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Walder, Andrew G., “The Party elite and China's trajectory of change,” China: An International Journal, Vol. 2, No. 2 (2004), pp. 189209; Dickson, Red Capitalists in China.

* I thank Ercel Baker, Joseph Fewsmith, Jeremy Paltiel and Andrew Walder for their comments; David Shambaugh for sharing an earlier draft of a paper on the Central Party School; and Timothy Cheek and B. Michael Frolic for their suggestions on various drafts.

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The China Quarterly
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