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Political power is formally vested in the much smaller CCP Central Committee and the other central organs answerable directly to this committee. The Central Committee is elected by the National Party Congress and is identified by the number of the National Party Congress that elected it. Central Committee meetings are known as plenums (or plenary sessions), and each plenum of a new Central Committee is numbered sequentially. Plenums are to be held at least annually. In addition, there are partial, informal, and enlarged meetings of Central Committee members where often key policies are formulated and then confirmed by a plenum. For example, the "Communique of the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee" (December 1978), which established the party's commitment to economic modernization, resulted from a month-long working meeting that preceded the Third Plenum.
The Central Committee's large size and infrequent meetings make it necessary for the Central Committee to direct its work through its smaller elite bodies--the Political Bureau and the even more select Political Bureau's Standing Committee--both of which the Central Committee elects. The Twelfth Central Committee consisted of 210 full members and 138 alternate members. The Political Bureau had twenty-three members and three alternate members. The Standing Committee--the innermost circle of power--had six members who were placed in the most important party and government posts. These six leaders were Hu Yaobang (who was demoted from party general secretary in January 1987), Ye Jianying (who died in October 1986, a year after resigning his Standing Committee post), Deng Xiaoping, Zhao Ziyang (who was named acting general secretary in January 1987), Li Xiannian, and Chen Yun.
The leadership was altered significantly at a special conference of delegates called the National Conference of Party Delegates, held September 18-23, 1985. The conference was convened on the authority of Article 12 of the 1982 party constitution, which provides for holding conferences of delegates between full congresses. These national conferences of delegates appear to be more authoritative than regular plenums. The conference was attended by 992 delegates, and it elected 56 new full members and 35 new alternate members to the Central Committee, while accepting the resignations of 65 full and alternate members, including Ye Jianying and nine other senior Political Bureau members. The Fifth Plenum, which immediately followed the conference, elected six new members to the Political Bureau, dropped three from the party Secretariat, and added five new members to the latter body. The conference thus produced a sizable turnover in the senior party leadership and in a direction very favorable to Deng's reform program. Younger and better educated leaders who supported Deng's reforms replaced aging and long-inactive leaders. The other major accomplishment of the conference was its adoption of the "Proposal on the Seventh Five-Year Plan" (1986-90), the framework for developing the actual plan adopted at the Sixth National People's Congress in 1986.
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Source: U.S. Library of Congress