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Institutionalization of the CCP’s Leadership Selection Process

Sat, September 2, 8:00 to 9:30am, Westin St. Francis, Victorian


During the reform era, the selection of leading cadres for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has generally followed a trajectory of increasing institutionalization in the sense that personnel decisions are made according to routinized procedures and impersonal rules. Since Xi Jinping’s tenure as the CCP’s top leader began in late 2012, however, his bold attempts to increase personal authority and weaken the collective leadership system has raised major questions over the resilience and sustainability of institutional constraints on personal rule in China’s body politic. Based on a revised version of Dan Slater’s conceptual distinction between “despotic power” and “infrastructural power”, this article argues that institutionalization in China can be understood as occurring on two dimensions: developing stable checks and balances on the chief executive (the despotic dimension) and forging rule-governed, predictable constraints on policy making and implementation at lower levels of the CCP apparatus (the infrastructural dimension). This conceptualization allows for the possibility that institutionalization can be derailed on one dimension while continuing to deepen on another dimension. Drawing on in-depth interviews with the CCP’s local personnel officials and secondary sources, this article shows that cadre selection under Xi Jinping has continued the long-standing trend towards a standardized, rule-governed, and impersonal process at the subnational level, even as power at the Party center becomes increasingly personalized. Indeed, a unified and powerful central leadership may facilitate institutionalization in the infrastructural dimension by strengthening the monitoring of lower-level compliance with the Party’s personnel regulations and the punishment of rule breakers.