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China’s Political Parties Explained

China has eight non-communist parties under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). What at first seems like an oddity under an one-party system is not so once we understand the reality of the relationship between the CCP and these parties.

Open political debates are strictly constrained in China. The CCP maintains its dominance in several ways. First, there is a series of indirect elections in which one people’s congress appoints the members of the congress at the next level up and in which only the lowest people’s congresses are subject to direct popular vote. This means that although independent members occasionally get elected to the lowest level of congress, it is impossible for them to organize to the point where they can elect members to the next higher people’s congress without the approval of the CCP or to exercise oversight over executive positions at the lowest level in the hierarchy. This lack of effective power also discourages outsiders from contesting the people’s congress elections even at the lowest level.

Second, although Chinese law has no formal provision for banning non-religious organizations, it also has no provision which would give non-communist political parties any corporate status. This means that a hypothetical opposition party would have no legal means to collect funds or own property in the name of the party. More importantly, there is a wide range of offenses, including the crimes of subversion, sedition and releasing state secrets, which can and have been used against the leaders of efforts to form an opposition party such as the China Democracy Party.

Formed before the communists came into power in China in 1949, the non-communist parties include the China Democratic League (CDL), the largest of them all with more than 200,000 members; the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Kuomintang (RCCK), formed by leftist members of the Kuomintang (the current ruling party in Taiwan), who did not escape to Taiwan; the China Association for Promoting Democracy (CAPD), and the Chinese Peasants’ and Workers’ Democratic Party (CPWDP). Most of them came into being and developed during the War of Resistance Against Japan (1937 to 1945) and the War of Liberation, also known as the Chinese Civil War (1927 to 1949). They supported the CCP during the long years when they fought side by side with the communists.

Non-communist parties play important political and functional roles in the current system. From a political perspective, their mere existence is used to show the Chinese people that the CCP does listen to those outside it. At present, all the standing committees of the people’s congresses or legislatures, the committees of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (a political advisory body to the CCP) and government agencies at all levels have members of the democratic parties as leaders. The current chairpersons of these eight parties’ central committees for instance, hold the posts of vice-chairpersons of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee and the CPPCC National Committee. All the provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities and large and medium cities now have local and basic organizations of non-communist parties. Their ranks have swelled.

From a practical point of view, these parties offer advice to the communists, even occasional criticism, which the government acts on at times. Party members of the CDL for instance, are mostly intellectuals, many of whom are involved in the education or health sectors. Where disagreement arises between the CCP and the CDL, it tends to be on matters such as the pace of change in the education sector.

China’s non-communist parties may disagree with the CCP, but it is clear that they cannot challenge its position as the ruling party. That is not their job. As of now, political debates, if any, still remain limited to the confines of Internet chat rooms or the privacy of people’s homes.



Jessica Hun

Jessica Hun is a graduate of University of Oxford and University of Pennsylvania who is trained in law and politics. Her special interests are contemporary Chinese politics, developments in intellectual property law and property rights and international relations, especially in regard to China.

Area of Focus
Womens Issues; Gender Relations; China