Judicial Branch

The State Constitution that was most recently promulgated defines a legal system with four components: a public security administration (police component); a court system; an office of the procurator (public prosecutor); and an arrangement of labor camps and prisons. China is a civil code country for the most part; as a result, the legal system is founded on codified laws. This being said, in some instances China's courts will recognize doctrines based on custom as long as the doctrines don't directly conflict with written statutes. 

The highest level in the court system is the Supreme People's Court, which is the foremost appellate forum in the state. Thus, the Supreme People's Court is charged with the supervision and administration of justice by all subordinate local and special people's courts. Based on the level within the court system, judges are said to be appointed by the corresponding level of the people's congress although in reality they are chosen by specific groups within the CCP. It's important to note that constitutional supervision lies within an independent body known as the People's Procuratorate, not the Supreme People's Court.

Unlike the U.S., China's courts don't necessarily recognize case precedents. However, an interpretation of the law by high level state organs, with the proper authority, is considered binding on subordinate government bodies and the lower court levels. Since the central governments decisions and changes in direction must be adhered to by the lower levels, the local organs are in essence extensions of the central government acting within the direct control of a unified leadership.

Local Government

There are 3 major governmental layers below the central government that constitute China's local government. The first tier under the central government has 5 autonomous regions, 4 autonomous municipalities, 2 Special Autonomous Regions and 22 provinces. The 5 autonomous regions are Guangxi Zhuang, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia Hui, Tibet and Xinjiang Uygur. The 4 autonomous municipalities include Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai, and Tianjin. The 2 SARs are Macao and Hong Kong.

Anhui, Fujian, Gansu, Guangdong, Guizhou, Hainan, Hebei, Heilongjiang, Henan, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Jilin, Liaoning, Qinghai, Shaanxi, Shandong, Shanxi, Sichuan, Yunnan, and Zhejiang are the 22 provinces. China considers Taiwan to be its 23 province. Since Taiwan is a rouge province governed by the party that lost the civil war in 1949 to the Communist, it will not be considered in this comprehensive analysis of China. The following figure illustrates the locations of these provinces, regions, etc. 

The second tier of the administrative levels is made up of prefectures, municipalities, and counties. Rural townships, municipal subdivisions and administrative towns constitute the lowest level under the central government. Grassroots organs such as resident's committees within cities or villages in rural region are common. Although these organs are below the state's structure, they do serve important governmental functions, e.g. overseeing population planning and collecting taxes.

Political System

The Chinese Communist Party, which was founded in 1921, is the vanguard of the Chinese working class. It established the People's Republic of China in 1949 after years of armed struggle and currently has more than 60 million members in more than 3 million grassroots organizations. Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought guide the CCP's actions in concert with Deng Xiaoping Theory. "Building socialism with Chinese characteristics" and "holding the high banner of Den Xiaoping theory" are central mottos of the CCP. The Party's fundamental line is to utilize economic development to unite and lead all the Chinese ethnicities to build a prosperous, strong, and highly civilized modern socialist state. The CCP is doing this by reforming wasteful state-run enterprises permitting them to operate autonomously, having an open door policy, and allowing some privatization. 

The highest organ of the CCP is the National Party Congress. Similar to the National People's Congress, the National Party Congress meets infrequently and has a permanent smaller organ that acts in its place when it's not in session known as the Central Committee. The Central Committee elects the general secretary as well as the members of two smaller groups: the Politburo and the Standing Committee of the Politburo.

The CCP represents the interest of the people in China's socialist dictatorship through multi-party cooperation and political consultation. There are 8 other parties in addition to the CCP that function in China: the China Revolutionary Committee of the Kuomintang, the China Democratic League, the China Democratic National Construction Association, the China Association for the Promotion of Democracy, the Chinese Peasant's and Worker's Democratic Party, the China Zhi Gong Dang, the Jiusan Society, and Taiwan Democratic Self-government League. These parties are allowed to coexist with the CCP because they were established before the founding of the PRC, they acknowledge that the CCP is the only true power China, and they continue to follow the unyielding CCP leadership.

The unified front also includes representatives from mass associations of labor, women, and the youth. Of these associations, the Communist Youth League is considered to be most important to the CCP because new political party constituents are often drawn from this organization once they are old enough to vote (age 18). Through these political parties and associations, political consultation takes on the organizational form via Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.


Absolute command of the State's armed forces rests in the Central Military Commission. The chairman of the Central Military Commission is determined by the NPC or the Standing Committee. Therefore, as an organ of the CCP, it operates independently from civilian influence. The People's Liberation Army (PLA), the People's Armed Police Force and the Militia make up the armed forces of the PRC. The following graph illustrates a comparative analysis of military expenditures for China versus 9 other nations.

The PLA is the standing army of the state, which includes the national army, air force, and navy. The PLA is a voluntary force composed of approximately 2.8 million members making it the world's largest armed force (250,000 in the navy, 400,000 in the air force, and an army of 1.7 million). Its primary functions include internal security and defensive military operations. Even though China spent roughly $60 billion in 2003 on military expenditures (an estimated 3.5-5% of GDP) it lacks weapons and training of a modern day militia. Thus, the PLA is primarily defensive in nature; although, China does have small supply conventional warheads and nuclear missiles with significant range capabilities.