The Cadre System

China Table of Contents

In 1987 the party and government cadre (ganbu) system, the rough equivalent of the civil service system in many other countries, was entering the final stages of a massive overhaul aimed at transforming the bureaucracy into an effective instrument of national policy. The term cadre refers to a public official holding a responsible or managerial position, usually full time, in party and government. A cadre may or may not be a member of the CCP, although a person in a sensitive position would almost certainly be a party member.

In an August 1980 speech, "On the Reform of the Party and State Leadership System," Deng Xiaoping declared that power was overcentralized and concentrated in the hands of individuals who acted arbitrarily, following patriarchal methods in carrying out their duties. Deng meant that the bureaucracy operated without the benefit of regularized and institutionalized procedures, and he recommended corrective measures such as abolishing the bureaucratic practice of life tenure for leading positions. In 1981 Deng proposed that a younger, better educated leadership corps be recruited from among cadres in their forties and fifties who had trained at colleges or technical secondary schools.

The theme of "streamlining and rejuvenating" the bureaucracy was taken up by Zhao Ziyang in early 1980 when he announced a major overhaul of the government. The number of vice premiers was reduced from 13 to 2, State Council agencies were cut by almost half, and the number of ministers and vice ministers was reduced from 505 to 167. The new appointees were younger and better educated than their predecessors. In January 1982 Deng called for a "revolution" in the bureaucracy, starting with its top levels. At that time, Deng envisioned reducing the size of the government bureaucracy by onequarter over a two-year period. By retiring veteran cadres, the way could be opened for promoting younger, professionally competent cadres to positions of authority and thereby providing the effective leadership needed for China's modernization. In May 1982 the Central Committee reorganized and streamlined its internal structure by cutting staff in its 30 component departments by 17.3 percent. Subordinate bureaus were reduced by 11 percent. Almost half of the CCP Central Committee elected in September 1982 were new members, and 83 percent of the alternate members were newly elected.

Reorganization of the provincial-level party and government structures took place between late 1982 and May 1983. During this period, almost one-third of the provincial-level party first secretaries and all but three of the governors were replaced, most of them moving into advisory positions. Almost two-thirds of provincial-level leaders in 1986 were college or university educated. During 1983 and 1984, these reforms reached the prefectural, county, municipal, and town levels, reportedly resulting in a reduction in staff of 36 percent and an elevation in the percentage of college educated leaders to 44 percent.

Simultaneous with restructuring and rejuvenating the bureaucracy, a drive was begun to improve the party's working style and consolidate party organizations. The Second Plenum of the Twelfth Central Committee, held in October 1983, initiated such a program for the years 1984-86. Some 388,000 party members participated in the first stage of party rectification. These included high- and middle-ranking cadres in 159 leading organs in the central departments, provinces, autonomous regions, special municipalities, and PLA. This phase of the campaign lasted over a year and was accompanied by the recruitment of 340,000 technicians and 32,000 college and university graduates and postgraduates into the CCP. In addition, a campaign was launched to ferret out residual leftist influence from the Cultural Revolution period, factionalism, and corruption. Discipline inspection committees were reinstituted. Three kinds of party members were singled out as special targets: followers of the Gang of Four or of Lin Biao, factionalists, and persons who "beat, smashed, and looted" during the Cultural Revolution. These members were to be expelled from the party. Lesser offenders requiring correction included party members with bureaucratic or patriarchal attitudes, those seeking personal power and position, and those inept or lazy in their work.

The principal objective of the reform leadership was to establish a system of steady, predictable rule through the creation of a professional bureaucracy. An important aspect of the program was personnel reform. Guidelines were issued that set age limits for key offices. A limit of sixty-five years of age was imposed for government ministers, sixty for vice ministers and department chiefs, and, for all other officials, sixty for men and fifty-five for women. The effect of this key reform was to bring to an end the lifetime tenure system that had been fundamental to China's bureaucracy since 1949. There was the additional stipulation that officeholders in the reconstructed bureaucracy be qualified both politically and professionally, that is, be both "red" and "expert." The reorganization and streamlining of provincial-level party and government bureaucracies followed the same procedures, including reducing the staff sizes and number of offices, lowering the average age, and raising the educational requirements for candidates for provincial-level leadership. These changes were considered essential to providing for a "third echelon" of leaders. This group could serve in positions of some authority, where they could be trained, observed, and evaluated as to their suitability for increased responsibility. Below the central level, the chosen age for leaders at the level of provinces, autonomous regions, and special municipalities was fifty-five; at the county level, between thirty and fifty years.

The second stage of party rectification, having the same goals as the first stage, began in the fall of 1984 and encompassed prefectural and county-level units. This stage involved some 13.5 million cadres, or about one-third of the party's membership. The third and final stage of the three-year party rectification campaign was launched in November 1985 and targeted party units "below the county level." This stage encompassed almost 20 million party members, about half the total membership of the party. These members belonged to the more than 1 million party branches throughout the rural areas. The campaign worked from the higher to the lower level organizations and proceeded methodically "in stages and groups." But while party pronouncements at previous stages of the rectification had complained about the perfunctory manner in which the campaigns were being managed, at this final stage the central authorities displayed notable leniency and caution. They feared that extensive restructuring and rebuilding of the local leadership had the potential to disrupt both production and social order. Even in cases of embezzlement, graft, and other "unhealthy practices," the party counseled circumspection and the employment of moderate measures. Subjecting local leaders to condemnation at mass meetings, a practice prevalent during the Cultural Revolution, was strictly forbidden.

In sum, the "revolution" being carried out in the bureaucratic structures of power was meant to reorient the system away from the style, procedures, and excesses of the Cultural Revolution and toward the most efficient and potentially successful methods for China's modernization. This reorientation required the massive retirement of veteran cadres and the recruitment of those knowledgeable in modern economics and technology to be trained in leadership positions. It was an enormous task and one that obviously met significant resistance from those who either did not understand the new requirements or saw them as a substantial threat to their position and livelihood. Nevertheless, in early 1987 the reform leadership appeared to be making very credible strides at fulfilling these goals.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress