Constitutional Framework

The Leninist model of one-party rule was adopted when the Chinese Communist Party came into power in 1949 and it still stands as China's governmental system today. The Communist party's legitimacy lies in their declaration to serve the interest of the Chinese people. As a result, the CCP has assumed the primary role for creation and implementation of all policies. This is carried out through its party affiliates who dominate the various governmental functions.

The following figure illustrates China's current state (governmental) organs according to their constitutional framework. Although the National People's Congress is illustrated at the top of the legislative command, in practice this organ isn't the prevailing power. Instead, the State Council is the predominant state organ in the cabinet, which is lead by the premier.

The remaining structure of China's government is a reflection of the economic reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping which were continued by Jiang Zemin and his successor today, Hu Jintao. New government agencies have been added or strengthened as a result of these economic reforms, which support a socialist market economy (mixed economy). This has allowed for these agencies to function with more independence versus the days of the government-controlled planned economy.

As a result of the restructuring, local governments have far more control over the way they adapt national policies to their respective environments. This has also increased the amount of tax revenues retained for local purposes and in turn decreased the share submitted to the state government. Even though the Chinese Communist Party has handed over many of the daily government functions to local authorities and agencies, the party is still the driving force when it comes to the proposition or amendment of major policies.

Constitutional Framework

The current constitution that was adopted in 1982 is a hybrid of the 1975 and 1978 ones although it's very similar with respect to the detail and formality of the first constitution of the People's Republic of China that went into effect in 1954. The 1982 constitution specifically addresses citizen's obligations and rights and it defines the parameters of the government structure.

The 1982 State Constitution pronounces that "citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession, and of demonstration." The 1978 constitution guaranteed these rights as well as the right to strike and the "four big rights," otherwise known as the "four bigs": to speak out freely, air views fully, hold great debates, and write big-character posters. The 1982 Constitution declared the four bigs to be illegal stating that citizens must abide by the law and follow labor discipline and social order. The new constitution made the four bigs illegal in an attempt to prevent criticism of the CCP which might cause social unrest and hinder economic development during a period when political stability was considered to be crucial to the modernization efforts.

The government's structure is redefined in the new State Constitution in that it more specifically addresses the roles and duties to be carried out by the various organs. Although the government's structure wasn't fundamentally altered, certain practices were admonished including the concentration of power in the hands of a selected few and permitting lifelong terms in leadership positions. 

An extensive legal framework was also developed to support liberalizing economic policies. This paved the way for the limited development of private enterprises and it granted previously unrecognized rights to the rural economic collectives. For example, the rural collectives are now able to "farm private plots, engage in household sideline production, and raise privately owned livestock," according to the constitution. These measures have been justified on the basis of expanding the national economy through centralized planning with the addition of market regulation.

An important difference between the 1978 and 1982 constitutions, specifically for the international community, is the latter's attitude towards foreign assistance with the modernization agenda. The previous constitution called for "self-reliance" in the development of the modernization program. Conversely, the 1982 State Constitution laid down the essential groundwork that enabled the People's Congress to pass numerous laws in the ensuing years to open China's economy to outside involvement. This "open door" policy has allowed for a vast amount of foreign participation in virtually every segment of the Chinese economy that would have previously been off limits.

Legislative Branch

The National People's Congress is comprised of 3,000 to 5,000 members that serve 5-year terms. The members are chosen by indirect elections held by the people's congresses at the provincial level, although the delegates recommended by the Chinese Communist Party are typically the ones who are selected to hold office.

There are many top level functions that the National People's Congress (NPC) is responsible for. In no specific order, they include: making amendments to the state constitution and ratifying laws; overseeing enforcement of these laws and the constitution; electing the republic's president and vice president; choosing the State Council's premier (based upon the president's nominations); electing the state Central Military Commission's members; electing the Supreme People's Court's president as well as the procurator-general of the Supreme People's Procuratorate; reviewing and endorsing the national economic plan and state budget; sanctioning the founding of special administrative regions, e.g. Hong Kong, and to make decisions on questions of war and peace.

Considering the scope and significance of these functions, it's natural to assume that the NPC meets regularly to debate over these issues although this is not the case. Instead, a meeting with all the members that usually lasts less than a month is conducted once a year. Therefore, the members never have enough time to thoroughly examine and question all the economic and budgetary reports it's supposed endorse, the legislation that is proposed, or the official appointments it decides upon.

Due to the infrequent meetings, a permanent body known as the Standing Committee acts in its place when congress is not in session. The Standing Committee is comprised of approximately 150 elected members from the NPC. These members are primarily prominent figures in the Chinese Communist Party and other major organizations. This body presides over the annual congressional sessions and it has legislative powers as well that enable it to perform almost all of the NPC functions when they're not in assembly.