Chinese Private Enterprise Survey (CPES)

Origin and background

The Chinese Private Enterprise Survey (CPES) is now run by the Private Enterprise Research Project Team, composed of members from the five Chinese authorities, including United Front Work Department of the CCP Central Committee, All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce (AFIC), State Administration for Market Regulation, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), and Chinese Private Economy Research Association (CPERA). It has been conducted almost once every two years, and 13 waves of surveys have been done until now (in 1993, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018 respectively).

The emergence of the CPES is closely related to China’s reform and opening up. In fact, it is a direct outcome of the announcement of “socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics” by the state, a widely-recognized new stage of China’s marketization. In between spring and summer of 1992, the Policy Research Office of the CCP Central Committee hosted two small seminars successively in Beijing and Zhuozhou and convened a conference with about 50 participants in Hangzhou in the winter of 1993. In August 1992, the AFIC also convened a conference at the Fragrant Hill Hotel in Beijing, which lasted five days and hosted more than 100 participants. Apart from some policy suggestions, these events also led to a consensus in organizing a national academic community, suggesting to establish a preparatory group with the joint effort of the United Front Work Department and the Policy Research Office of the CCP Central Committee, the Research Office of the State Council, the Publicity Department of the CCP Central Committee, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, the AFIC, and the CASS. After years of preparation by Ding Li, Liang Xiao, Xueyi Lu, Deping Hu, Chaoping Wang, and some others, the CPERA was approved by the Ministry of Civil Affairs on May 25, 1993, and its inaugural meeting was held from May 31 to June 2 of the same year in Taiyuan. The council members consisted of over 160 people, including academics, policy researchers, and private enterprise investors.

In spring 1993, the Chinese Private Entrepreneur Stratum Research Project, headed by Professor Houyi Zhang from the Institute of Sociology of the CASS, and participated by Professor Jianzhong Dai and chiefs of the Research Office of the AFIC, was approved by the National Social Sciences Fund in China. The first survey in 1993 was officially named Private Enterprise Survey, co-hosted by the Institute of Sociology of CASS and the Research Office of the AFIC. After the inaugural conference of the CPERA, the Project Team asked the directors of Provincial and Municipal Federations of Industry and Commerce and Vice Presidents of the Association in some areas to stay and trained them as the key conductors of the sample survey. Questionnaires were to be distributed at a percentage of 1% of the actual households registered as private enterprises. After that, the survey was implemented in all the provinces and municipalities. In the autumn and winter of that year, 1,440 effective questionnaires were collected. Based on an analysis of the questionnaire data, a research report entitled “The First Nationwide Private Enterprise Sample Survey: Data and Analysis” was completed with Jianzhong Dai as the main writer. The main points of this report were submitted to the leadership of the United Front Work Department of the CCP Central Committee and the AFIC. Then the report was revised and polished, and finally published in the Chinese version of Social Sciences in China, with the Chinese Private Entrepreneur Stratum Research Project Team as the author. This article, along with another by Zhang (1994) published in the English edition of Social Sciences in China, has attracted full attention from both Chinese and international scholars.

Given the extremely positive response to the study, the Project Team decided to conduct a nationwide sample survey once every two years from then on. The second survey in 1995—co-hosted by the United Front Work Department of the CCP Central Committee and the AFIC—was re-named as “Non-public Economy Representatives Survey”. The 1997 survey was conducted in the name of “Chinese Private Enterprise Research Project Team” with funds being raised by Professor Houyi Zhang of the Institute of Sociology of the CASS. From 2000 onwards, the nationwide sample surveys have been gradually institutionalized and normalized, presided over by Yujun Bao, the second President of the CPERA. the United Front Work Department of the CCP Central Committee, the AFIC, and the CPERA conducted the surveys in 2000 and 2002.

Since 2004, the surveys have been co-hosted by the four institutions of the United Front Work Department of the CCP Central Committee, the AFIC, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, and the CPERA, and the name has been fixed as the “Chinese Private Enterprise Survey”. The surveys are organized and implemented by the Research Office of the AFIC, the Department of Private Economy Regulation and Management of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, the Secretariat of the CPERA, and the Institute of Sociology of the CASS. The survey is included in the annual work schedule of and funded by the United Front Work Department of the CCP Central Committee and the AFIC. Experts from academic institutions and universities such as the Institute of Sociology of the CASS, the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, Renmin University, and the Beijing Institute of Technology have participated continuously in designing and writing since the inception of the survey. The survey questionnaire will be revised and redesigned each wave. For implementation, it relies on local offices of Federations of Industry and Commerce and local branches of Administrations for Industry and Commerce of the provinces (municipalities, or autonomous regions) to be conducted across China.

The year 2018 marks the 25th anniversary of the CPES. The survey team has made a series of reviews and innovations. Apart from the bibliometric analysis of this paper, we have also designed a logo for the survey, restored the status of the CASS as one of the hosting institutions, and build the official website.


Unique advantage and brand effect

The above mentioned “gene” and original intention of the CPES help clarify two unique advantages of the survey data in analyzing Chinese enterprises and entrepreneurs.

First is the power of time. Though the CPES data are released as cross-sectional data sets, the 25 years of accumulation has endowed these pool data with a powerful temporal dimension. In a review of Chinese social surveys, Wei Li makes a detailed description of the CPES as one of the two most representative large-scale social surveys during 1990-1999. The other is the Survey on the Status of Chinese Women conducted by the All-China Women’s Federation. It was launched in 1990, but the second wave survey was not started until 2000. In contrast, the CPES, being conducted relatively early and continuously, records the history of the Chinese private economy and entrepreneurs with comprehensive, systematic and detailed data. Early waves of data are especially valuable for today’s research. In the words of one of the initiators of the CPES, “we cannot say that they are the best data, but they are the only ones.”

The second advantage is that the CPES collects both individual- and firm-level information. Among the increasing number of nationwide surveys of enterprises, the CPES is distinct in that it is concerned with not only enterprises but also “individuals” (entrepreneurs). This is closely related to the major interests of the founding members of this survey, particularly given the fact that it was co-launched by sociologists and policy-makers. Just as commented by Wei Li, “this is a survey that focuses most on personal traits of private entrepreneurs, especially social and political characteristics, among the national surveys about private enterprises in China”. In terms of the unit of analysis, individuals shall not be equaled with enterprises. However, given that Chinese private enterprises are still largely owned and controlled by entrepreneurs themselves, on some occasions the individual- and firm-level units of analysis can mostly be combined into one. For example, the revenue of the enterprise sometimes can be used as a proxy indicator to measure the wealth of entrepreneurs. Of course, because the surveys of recent years have provided more and more information on the governance of the enterprise, users should be aware of the influence and choose indicators more carefully.

Therefore, it is fair to say that the CPES is unique, because the survey data contain important economic information, but are at the same time quite different from data collected by other economic and statistical departments of the state (e.g., China Industry Business Performance Data). These data are a strategic resource: based on them, state authorities, academic institutes, and think tanks in China have produced lots of research reports. Some of these reports have received written feedback from various levels of Chinese leadership, including the General Secretary of the CCP Central Committee, members of Politburo Standing Committee, Political Bureau members and other top Chinese leaders. In the future, a core team responsible for policy report writing will be strengthened, reports will be delivered in a timelier way, and a greater role is expected to be played in third-party policy evaluation. The descriptive analysis reports of the data over the survey years are distributed through regular channels. These channels, combined with publication and activities, have effectively promoted offline communication with entrepreneurs. Finally, the CPES data have been supportive to the publication of many quality academic papers, thereby facilitating disciplinary development. Through mass media transmission, these academic papers have also increased their impact on the public.


The data now can be downloaded through an application system at

For full info of the data, please check:

Chen, G. Lu, P. Lin, Z. & Song, N. 2019. “Introducing Chinese Private Enterprise Survey: Points and Prospects”, Nankai Business Review International, Vol 10, Issue 4, pp501-525. (download the full text)