Logo Logo

Interactive Graph:
The Who’s Who of China’s Leading Small Groups

Party, State and Individual Leaders

The Who’s Who of China’s Leading Small Groups

By Jessica Batke and Matthias Stepan

How are state and party bodies linked in China? Who is sitting at the table when certain policy decisions are made? Who is in charge of implementing these decisions? The interactive graph below provides a gateway to search for answers by visualising the formal links between party and state bodies, leading small groups and key individuals in the current Xi-Li Administration.  Our data covers a wide range of policy areas, ranging from education and health to national security. The connections revealed through the graphic show that policymaking in China is increasingly complex and nuanced, and that leading small groups enhance policymaking rather than side-step party or state institutions.

Click on a node above to see additional information about a particular person or organization.

How to use this chart:
Hover over any node – an individual, a state or party body, or an LSG – to highlight the links to all connected nodes. Hovering over the node “Comprehensively Deepening Reform”, for example, shows that Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Liu Yunshan, and Zhang Gaoli are the key personnel of the group. For more information about a given node, such as additional members of a group, or the year a particular group was founded, click on the node and the available information will appear at the bottom of the chart.

The key to coordination: “dual hatted” officials and a large number of LSGs

Our interactive graph illustrates the formal linkages between permanent state and party bodies, individual leading figures and so-called Leading Small Groups (LSGs). These LSGs are consultative bodies—or task forces—that bring together relevant stakeholders to advise the party and the government on a variety of policy issues. As the governance and policy challenges China confronts become increasingly complex, LSGs help ensure that officials with relevant specialized knowledge, experience, or institutional interests have a voice in the policymaking process and offer a mechanism to avoid conflict between various institutional priorities. The growing number of LSGs speaks to the PRC’s aim of professionalizing policymaking processes and thereby governing more effectively.

The graph shows how the CCP and the state are highly interconnected. This is evident in the “dual hats” that many officials wear as both state officials and party members and in their representation on different LSGs. Zhang Gaoli, member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo and Vice-Premier of the State Council, serves as head or deputy head of eight LSGs: one party and seven state LSGs.

While not all LSG members have an equal say, the range of institutions represented on any given LSG speaks to Beijing’s desire for a professional, coordinated, and relatively expert policymaking process. The “National LSG for Establishing China as a Powerful Manufacturing Country,” for example, brings together more than 20 institutional members, including the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, the People’s Bank of China, and the Ministry of Environmental Protection.

Policymaking: nuanced, gradual and selectively transparent

The personal and institutional links shown below—even though they only represent a fraction of full LSG membership—show that the PRC’s policymaking process is much more nuanced than the CCP simply telling the state what to do. At every level, the crossover in personnel means that the CCP/state policymaking relationship is deeply intertwined and the decision-making process evolves gradually. Though we are in the dark about the composition of many party LSGs, the composition of some of the more transparent state groups strongly suggests that LSGs function as a way to enhance policymaking through stakeholder deliberation, rather than as a mechanism for side-stepping permanent party or state institutions.  For example, looking at rural development, we can see a large personnel and organisational overlap between the party LSG on Rural Work and the state LSG on Poverty Alleviation and Development, starting from Vice-Premier Wang Yang, who is head of both groups.

The chart is not primarily designed as a measure of transparency, but it does happen to show which policy issues and areas Beijing is willing to address publicly. For example, policy deliberation on poverty is relatively transparent. The fact that we can confirm the identities of many high-level members of the poverty alleviation LSG indicates that the Chinese leadership is more open about policy debates and decision making in this area, while it remains tight-lipped about other, more sensitive issues, such as maritime issues, anti-corruption, or “stability maintenance.”

A few notes about our chart and data

Our chart is based on a database we have compiled of party and state LSGs and Coordinating Small Groups members, covering the period from 2003-2016. In terms of “known” members, we’ve only included those individuals confirmed through official websites such as gov.cn, the Communist Party’s website, or authoritative party-state Chinese media such as Xinhua. We have not displayed linkages that many observers assume but have not been able to confirm, e.g. General Secretary Xi Jinping as head of the Maritime Interests LSG. Furthermore, the LSGs shown in the chart do not represent the full range of existing groups, past or present.  We have tried to determine which LSGs are currently active and displayed those, though there may be older groups still functioning of which we are not aware. The LSGs we’ve included may be temporary, single-issue (such as the LSGs for particular surveys or censuses), or permanent –we’ve included them all with no distinction to show the breadth of issues on which LSGs engage. We’ve used the term “Leading Small Group” for all of these bodies, even though some of them are called “Coordinating Small Groups” (we have given the full title and translation in a box below the main chart). This chart is up-to-date as of July 15, 2016.

It’s impossible to verify all members of LSGs. But even the number of known members is too large to include all of them in our chart without making it unwieldy and confusing. We’ve therefore only displayed known LSG Heads and Deputy Heads in the main body of the chart, with additional members (if known) listed underneath in an extra box.

The Authors

The  Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS)is a Stiftung Mercatorinitiative. Established in 2013, MERICS is a Berlin-based institute for contemporary and practical research into China.