Handbook on Class and Social Stratification in China – Chapter 13 & 14

Chapter 13: China’s Top Leading Cadres: More Red, Expert, or Gold?

Peng LU

Lu, Peng. 2015. “China’s Top Leading Cadres: More Red, Expert, or Gold?”, In: Guo, Yingjie (eds). Handbook of Class and Stratification in China, London: Elgar, pp.423-454.


There is no standard conception of ‘ruling class’ or ‘political elite’ in China studies. Even cadres in the villages have labeled as (political) ‘elite’ (O’Brien and Li 2000; Oi and Rozelle 2000; Manion 2009). Similarly, researchers use different criteria to divide cadres into ‘rankings’ for theoretical or practical purposes (Zhou 2000; Nee and Cao 2002), and it is subject to debate which cadres belong to the ruling class with in the Chinese Party-state and which belong to the middle classes. Yet the ruling CCP has its own official criteria, which are clearly defined and rigorously implemented. Simply put, there are twelve administrative rankings in the cadre hierarchy: cadres above the fifth rank (zheng ting ji) are normally called ‘senior cadres’ (gaoji ganbu); personnel above the vice-ministerial level are referred to as ‘top leading cadres’ (gaoji lingdao ganbu). This chapter concentrates on the core constituent of the ruling class within the Chinese Party-state, the ‘top leading cadres’, although it must be acknowledged that ‘senior cadres’ and even officials at lower levels of Party-state jurisdictions, particularly those who are actively involved in its governing functions, can and should be included in China’s ruling class as well.

Many authors working on China’s top leading cadres have traced their evolution over time and analyzed the paradigm shifts in the evolution and methodological approaches to this group in the scholarship (Harding 1984; Madsen 1993; Unger 2002; Shan 2008; Lieberthal 2010; Ni and Yuan 2011).  Additionally, there are a large number of studies of top leader that focus on prominent individuals, mostly in the form of biographical analysis or biographies (Hairen 2002; Kuhn 2004; Zhao 2009; Vogel 2011). These studies doubtlessly provide interesting and important insights into various aspects of the ‘inner circle’ of China’s ruling class – and even more intriguingly, it has become a new ‘vogue’ for retired top leaders, including former members of the CCP’s Politburo Standing Committee, to publish books about their personal lives and unpublicized ideas.

This vast literature is impossible to summarize in this short chapter.  I will only present a brief overview of the academic scholarship on China’s top leading cadres as a group. In general, I agree with Chien-wen Kou’s (2002) classification of the major paradigms into four categories, namely totalitarianism, factional politics, generational politics, and technocracy. Furthermore, this chapter will speak to three basic questions recurrring in the literature: (1) whether China’s top leading cadres have been transformed from bureaucrats to technocrats; (2) how to understand the factionalism and informal politics within the Party-state; and (3) how to evaluate the impact of the market and capital on China’s top politics, especially on promotion patterns.


Download Link: Chapter 13_China’s Top Leading Cadres



Chapter 14: Transformation of China’s Socialist Brick: Reproduction and Circulation of Ordinary Cadres

Peng Lu

Lu, Peng. 2015. “Transformation of China’s Socialist Brick: Reproduction and Circulation of Ordinary Cadres”, In: Guo, Yingjie (eds). Handbook of Class and Stratification in China, London: Elgar, pp.455-476.


‘I am a socialist brick, and I can be moved anywhere if necessary.’ This is a statement that Chinese often heard from cadres during the Mao era. In the ideology of China’s communist revolutionaries, to build a socialist mansion requires many bricks, and the cadres within the ranks of the Chinese Party-state should be the most solid ones that could serve as cornerstones. In the post-Mao era, however, as the function and appearance of the socialist mansion change, so have the role of cadres and the recipe for manufacturing the cornerstones supporting the Party-state. The subject of this chapter is ordinary cadres (putong ganbu) as differentiated from top leading cadres (gaoji lingdao ganbu) and senior cadres (lingdao ganbu), or the rank and file of the Party-state’s cadre corps, particularly those below the fifth rank in the Party-state’s cadre hierarchy, which was outlined in Chapter 13.

As noted in the previous chapter, Chinese cadres have been rarely analyzed from the perspective of class, and it is subject to debate which cadres belong to the ruling class within the Chinese Party-state and which belong to the middle classes. In both the English- and Chinese-language literature, undifferentiated cadres, especially ordinary cadres, are usually classified as middle classes on the basis of income, wealth, educational credentials, occupation and so on. This chapter follows this classifying practice, but it must be stressed that many ordinary cadres are better seen as part of the PRC’s ruling class. Much depends on their power and position in the Party-state system and their role in the ‘ruling’, as well as their relationship with the ruling and ruled classes. What is at issue here is three basic questions about the class concept and class analysis. The first concerns how class is defined – with reference to the ownership of productive property, market capacity, capital of various kinds, occupation, income or other classifying criteria.  A still more important question is whether or not the criteria by which class is defined constitute common causal factors of life chances or mechanisms through which social groups are sorted into classes, and whether these factors and mechanisms shape class members’ subjectivities, whether the latter are understood as social consciousness, value orientations, life styles or attitudinal and behavioral patterns. Above all, the purchase of class lies in the actual and potential cause-effect relations between objective class positions and subjective class propensity possibly leading to social action or persistent patterns of behaviour. Related to both questions is the tension between empirical research and theoretical assumptions about class identity, value orientation, attitudes, action and behavior. It is commonly believed, for example, that the middle class is a driver of political liberalization and democratization; in other words, a subjective effect of objective causal factors such as education, occupation, income and so on and so forth. When this assumption is applied to China, a basic fact that must be taken into account is the large number of Party-state cadres. The question – both theoretical and empirical – is whether they are part of the Chinese middle class and if so whether they are indeed inclined towards liberalization and democracy. Whatever the case, the answers to the question need to be related to the criteria by which they are classified as middle class, or the objective class positions they occupy. If cadres are included in the middle class and yet not found to be pro-liberalization and pro-democracy, it is reasonable to infer that their subjectivities are unrelated to their objective class positions, or that explanations of the former cannot be found in the latter alone. Rather, something other than education, occupation and income must be at work in the formation of cadres’ subjectivities. The position, role and power of ordinary cadres in the Party-state system are most noteworthy in this regard and require careful consideration.

This chapter is primarily concerned with three major questions: How should cadres be conceived of and defined? Where do cadres come from? What are their rewards? With each of the questions, changes in two respects are of particular interest. The first is change over time during different periods of the PRC, ranging from the early years of communist rule and the Cultural Revolution to the reform era. The second is change in cadres’ status and life chances in comparison with other social groups, especially ordinary Chinese citizens.


Download Link: Chapter 14_Transformation of China’s Socialist Brick