We are all familiar with how democracy works in a Western society. Government officials are elected, and when the people think that they are not good fits for the position, they elect someone else to replace them. However, things are quite different in an autocratic society, where the people don’t get to vote. So how are positions assigned? What’s the process like? Is the power structure simply a dictatorship on all levels of the government? This article will examine politics in China, specifically the process of appointing officials for different levels and branches of government.
To become an official, one starts from the bottom and work their way up. They would first go through an examination process to become a “civil servant”. As of 2015, there are over 7 million civil servants in China. There were 1.4 million applicants in 2011, for 16,000 positions. The admit rate was just over 1%. As time passes by, civil servants are promoted to higher positions based on their experience and their achievements.
Usually, they become “ke” level which equals to a head of an important high school (there are distinctions between “important” and unimportant schools, which will be a topic of a later day) in a smaller town by the age of 33, if they entered as a civil servant when they obtain their undergraduate degree. Then 7 years later, they typically become “fu chu”, “fu” meaning vice/deputy and “chu” is typically the head of a small town, or head of a city-level department (e.g. the police department). Another 7 years would pass and they would become a chu level official. Some stay in the position till they retire, and very few of them would become a “fu ting” level official, which amounts to a vice mayor of a city or a vice minister of a provincial department (e.g. the vice minister of education of a province).
Those are average times for one to climb up the ladder, but the system will not leave a hidden gem in the dirt. A civil servant can be promoted much faster if their achievements were impressive during their time on the position. The achievements can be measured in various ways: improving GDP growth, reducing crime rates, creating new infrastructure, attracting investment initiatives into the area, etc.
Lower level officials are promoted by the Party Committee at their respective area and higher level ones are appointed by the state organization department. In extreme cases, when high-level officials are visiting lower-level government agencies and are impressed by a civil servant, they are able to promote the said person. The most famous example would be Hu Jintao, the former President of the People’s Republic of China. In 1980 he was still a fu chu at the Gansu Province Committee of Construction, but with the support from Deng Xiaoping and Hu Yaobang, he rose to become the President 23 years later.
The system has its benefits. It promotes officials mainly based on merit instead of popularity, which can avoid the demagogues from being elected. The officials that are on higher positions generally have the competency to be in those positions. But it also relies on connections in the party and mentorship relationships. Generally, a member of the party committee would suggest a person for a position (e.g. a member of the municipal party committee suggests X, to be the head of the public health department at the said municipality), and the committee will have to approve it. If one has connections in the committee, then they are more likely to be suggested and then approved.
Overall, the system is the result of the autocratic rule of the Communist Party. However, the system is not as bad as people would think in an autocratic society. There are many more benefits, harms, and regulations to be discussed, which will be the topic of a later article, so stay tuned.