Mao Zedong casting his vote.
Mao Zedong casting his vote.

Elections in the People's Republic of China are based on a hierarchical electoral system, whereby local People's Congresses are directly elected. All higher levels of People's Congresses up to the National People's Congress (NPC), the national legislature, are indirectly elected by the People's Congress of the level immediately below.[1] The NPC Standing Committee may partially alter laws passed by the NPC when the NPC is not in session, which is significant since the Standing Committee meets more frequently than the NPC.[2]

Governors, mayors, and heads of counties, districts, townships and towns are in turn elected by the respective local People's Congresses.[3] Presidents of people's courts and chief procurators of people's procuratorates are elected by the respective local People's Congresses above the county level.[3][note 1] The President and the State Council are elected by the National People's Congress, which is made up of 2980 people.

Elections in China occur under a single-party political system.[4][5][6][7] Elections occur only at the local level, not the national level.[4][8] China is among few contemporary party-led socialist governmental systems to not hold any direct elections at the national level.[9] The competitive nature of the elections is highly constrained by the Communist Party of China's monopoly on power in China, limitations on free speech, and government interference with the elections.[10][11] According to Rory Truex, "the CPC tightly controls the nomination and election processes at every level in the people's congress system... the tiered, indirect electoral mechanism in the People's Congress system ensures that deputies at the highest levels face no semblance of electoral accountability to the Chinese citizenry."[12]

Electoral system

Direct elections

People's Congresses of cities that are not divided into districts (不设区的市), counties (), city districts (市辖区), towns (), townships (), and lastly ethnic townships (民族乡), are directly elected.[1] Additionally, village () committee members and chairpersons are directly elected.[13][14] Local People's Congresses have the constitutional authority to recall the heads and deputy heads of government at the provincial level and below.[citation needed]

Local People's Congresses

A list of voters posted in a neighbourhood in Shenzhen, Guangdong. April 11, 2014.
A list of voters posted in a neighbourhood in Shenzhen, Guangdong. April 11, 2014.

Under the electoral law of 1 July 1979, nomination of candidates for direct elections (in counties, townships, etc.) can be made by the CPC, the various other political parties, mass organizations, or any voter seconded by at least 10 other voters.[15] The final list of electoral candidates must be worked out through "discussion and consultation" or primary elections,[16] which in practice is conducted by an election committee in consultation with small groups of voters.[15] Election committee members are appointed by the standing committees of the people's congresses at the corresponding level.[15] The process used for competitive races is known as the "three ups and three downs" (三上三下, sān shàng sān xià).[17] According to the Chinese government, the "three ups and three downs" process is supposed to operate as follows:

The number of candidates for a direct election should be 1.3 to 2 times the number of deputies to be elected.[15] Where the people's congresses above the county level elect deputies at the next higher level, the number of candidates should be 1.2 to 1.5 times the number of deputies to be elected.[15] Voting is done by secret ballot, and voters are entitled to recall elections.[19]

Eligible voters, and their electoral districts, are chosen from the family (户籍) or work unit (单位 or dānwèi) registers for rural and urban voters, respectively, which are then submitted to the election committees after cross-examination by electoral district leaders.[20] Electoral districts at the basic level (townships, towns, etc.) are composed of 200–300 voters but sometimes up to 1,000, while larger levels (counties, etc.) are composed of 3,000 to 4,000 voters

Deputies are elected from either single-member districts or multi-member districts using a modified form of block combined approval voting in which a voter is allowed as many votes as there are seats to be filled (only one option may be selected per candidate), with the option to vote for or against a candidate, or abstain. The maximum number of deputies per district is three, and each district within the same administrative region must have approximately an equal number of people.[15] Candidates must obtain a majority of votes to be elected. If the number of candidates to receive over 50% of the vote is more than the number of deputies to be elected, only those who have obtained the highest vote up to the number of seats available win.[15] A tied vote between candidates is settled with a run-off election. If the number of deputies elected is less than the number of deputies to be elected, a run-off election is held to fill the remaining seat(s).[15] In the run-off election, the candidate(s) who receives the most votes is elected; however, a candidate has to win at least one-third of the votes in the run-off to be elected.[15] Vacancies are filled using by-elections.[15]

Heads of Local People's Governments

Heads of People's Governments are formally elected by the People's Congress of that level pursuant to the Organic Law on Local People's Congresses and Governments,[21] but the heads of township governments have been experimentally elected by the people through various mechanisms.[22] There are several models used:[23]

Village chiefs

After taking power in 1978, Deng Xiaoping experimented with direct democracy at the local level.[24] Villages have been traditionally the lowest level of government in China's complicated hierarchy of governance.[25] Many have criticized the locally elected representatives as serving as "rubber stamps", though during some eras the Communists have flirted with the idea of potentially allowing some competition.[26] In the early 1980s, a few southern villages began implementing "Vote for your Chief" policies, in which free elections are intended to be held for the election of a village chief, who holds a lot of power and influence traditionally in rural society.[27] Many of these multi-candidate elections[28] were successful, involving candidate debates, formal platforms, and the initiation of secret ballot boxes.[29] Initial reforms did not include universal suffrage,[30] however presently, according to the constitution, eligible citizens above age 18 have the right to vote and be elected.[31] Such an election comprises usually no more than 2000 voters, and the first-past-the-post system is used in determining the winner,[citation needed] with no restriction on political affiliation.[32] The elections, held every three years,[33] are always supervised by a higher level of government, usually by a County Government. Part of the reason for these early elections was to shift the responsibility of ensuring good performance and reduced corruption of local leaders from the Chinese bureaucracy to the local villagers.[34]

Under the Organic Law of Village Committees, all of China's approximately 1 million villages are expected to hold competitive, direct elections for sub-governmental village committees. A 1998 revision to the law called for improvements in the nominating process and enhanced transparency in village committee administration.[35] The revised law also explicitly transferred the power to nominate candidates to villagers themselves, as opposed to village groups or CPC branches.[36] According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, as of 2003 the majority of provinces had carried out at least four or five rounds of village elections.

All Local People's Congresses of China, in accordance with the Constitution and the Electoral Law of 1979, serve as electoral colleges for the election of regional government perform the duties of these Congresses when in recess or when the current term has adjourned sine die.

Indirect elections

People's Congresses of provinces (), directly controlled municipalities (直辖市), and cities divided into districts (设区的市) are indirectly elected by the People's Congress of the level immediately below.[1]

Local People's Governments

The Local People's Congress at each administrative level—other than the village level in rural areas, which hold direct elections—elects candidates for executive positions at that level of government and the Chairmen/Chairwomen of their regional People's Congress Standing Committees.

National People's Congress

The National People's Congress (NPC) has 2,987 members, elected for five year terms. Deputies are elected (over a three-month period) by the people's congresses of the provinces of China, autonomous regions, municipalities directly under the Central Government, special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macau, and the armed forces which function as at-large electoral districts.[37] Generally, seats are apportioned to each electoral district in proportion to their population, though the system for apportioning seats for Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and the People's Liberation Army differ.[37][38] No electoral district may be apportioned fewer than 15 seats in the NPC.[37]

National People's Government

The President and Vice President of China, the Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and Secretary-General of the Standing Committee of the NPC, the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and the President and Chief Justice of the Supreme People's Court are all elected by the NPC on the nomination of the Presidium of the NPC.[39] The Premier is elected by the NPC on the nomination of the President.[39] Other members of the State Council are elected by the NPC on the nomination of the Premier.[39] Other members of the Central Military Commission are elected by the NPC on the nomination of the Chairman of the Central Military Commission.[39]

In the 2008 election for the Chairman of the Central Military Commission, for example, president Hu Jintao, the only candidate, received a majority of approval votes. However, some electors chose to write in other names; the most popular write-in candidate was former premier Zhu Rongji.

For appointed positions requiring the approval of the People's Congress, such as the premier and cabinet ministers, delegates may either approve or disapprove of the appointment. Relevant laws provide that if the single candidate does not receive more than 50% approval, the position is left vacant until the next session of the People's Congress. This rarely happens in practice, and has never happened at the national level.

Party system

Officially, China is a unitary Marxist–Leninist[40] one-party socialist republic[41] under the leadership of the CPC. There are a small number of independent candidates for People's Congress, particularly in neighborhoods of major cities, who sometimes campaign using weibos posted on the internet.[42]

Although there is no legal requirement for either membership in or approval by the CPC, in practice the membership of the higher people's congresses and people's governments are largely determined by the Party.[43] Independent candidates are strongly discouraged and face government intervention in their campaigns.[44] In practice, the power of parties other than the CPC is eliminated.[42] Because none of the minor parties have independent bases of support and rely on CPC approval for appointment to positions of power, none have the capacity to serve as a true opposition party. Whereas there are CPC Committees in People's Congresses at all levels, none of the other parties operate any form of party parliamentary groups. In order to represent different segments of the population and bring in technical expertise, the CPC does ensure that a significant minority of people's congress delegates are either minor party members or unaffiliated, and there is tolerance of disagreement and debate in the legislative process where this does not fundamentally challenge the role of the CPC.

CPC regulations require members of the People's Congresses, People's Governments, and People's Courts to implement CPC recommendations (including nominations) pursuant to the CPC Regulations on the Selection and Appointment Work of Cadres of Both CPC and Government Organs.[43]

"These regulations apply to the selection and appointment of cadres to the working departments and/or internal institutes of the Central Committee of the CPC, the NPCSC, the State Council, the National People's Consultative Committee, the Central Disciplinary Committee of the CPC, officials (not including the heads) of the Supreme People's Court, Supreme People's Procuratorate and their internal institutions, officials of local CPC organs, people's congresses, people's governments, political consultative committees, people's courts, people's procuratorates at and above county level, and their internal institutions, as well as officials of the internal institutions of the working organs mentioned above. Reference should be made to these regulations for the selection and appointment of officials to institutions directly under the leadership of the CPC organs an people's governments at and above county level, trade unions, youth leagues of the CPC, women's associations and any other people's organizations. Reference should be made to these regulations for the selection and appointment of officials who are not CPC members. Reference should also be made to these regulations in the selection and appointment of persons to non-leaders' positions above county level (Chuji). ...

"When a CPC committee recommends to a people's congress or its standing committee candidates for officials to positions which need to be elected by either a people's congress or its standing committee, it should first introduce its recommendation opinions to the interim CPC organ within the people's congress or the CPC organization of the standing committee of the people's congress. The interim CPC organ, the CPC organization within the standing committee of the people's congress and CPC members of the standing committee and of the people's congress, should seriously implement the recommendation opinions of the CPC committee, take lead in doing things according to law, and correctly perform their obligations."

Elected leaders remain subordinate to the corresponding CPC secretary, and most are appointed by higher-level party organizations.[43] Furthermore, while legally responsible for the oversight of the administration, it is difficult for a person in a people's congress without party support to exercise effective control or power over the administration of the executive at a given level.

Electoral history

Main article: 13th National People's Congress

Only candidates from the CPC and the eight allied parties, and independent candidates stood at the elections, which took place from October 2012 to March 2013. The same nine parties are represented at the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

Very small-scale competitive elections have sporadically taken place in China, such as the 2012 Wukan municipal election.


The first electoral law was passed in March 1953, and the second on 1 July 1979.[16] The 1979 law allowed for ordinary voters to nominate candidates, unlike the 1953 law which provided no such mechanism.[16] The 1979 law was revised in 1982, removing the reference to the ability of political parties, mass organizations, and voters to use "various forms of publicity", and instead instructing that the "election committees should introduce the candidates to the voters; the political parties, mass organizations, and voters who recommend the candidates can introduce them at group meetings of the voters".[45] In 1986, the election law was amended to disallow primary elections.[46]

Traditionally, village chiefs were appointed by the township government.[14] The Organic Law of Village Committees was enacted in 1987 and implemented in 1988, allowing for direct election of village chiefs instead.[47]

See also


  1. ^ According to a formal Constitution.



  1. ^ a b c Article 97 of the Constitution of China
  2. ^ Zhang, Laney (February 2, 2016). "National Parliaments: China". Library of Congress. Retrieved December 12, 2019.
  3. ^ a b Article 101 of the Constitution of China
  4. ^ a b Gandhi, Jennifer; Lust-Okar, Ellen (2009-06-01). "Elections Under Authoritarianism". Annual Review of Political Science. 12 (1): 403–422. doi:10.1146/annurev.polisci.11.060106.095434. ISSN 1094-2939.
  5. ^ Landry, Pierre F.; Davis, Deborah; Wang, Shiru (2010-06-01). "Elections in Rural China: Competition Without Parties". Comparative Political Studies. 43 (6): 763–790. doi:10.1177/0010414009359392. ISSN 0010-4140. S2CID 43175132.
  6. ^ Manion, Melanie (2017-03-01). ""Good Types" in Authoritarian Elections: The Selectoral Connection in Chinese Local Congresses". Comparative Political Studies. 50 (3): 362–394. doi:10.1177/0010414014537027. ISSN 0010-4140. S2CID 155166131.
  7. ^ Lee, Ching Kwan; Zhang, Yonghong (2013-05-01). "The Power of Instability: Unraveling the Microfoundations of Bargained Authoritarianism in China". American Journal of Sociology. 118 (6): 1475–1508. doi:10.1086/670802. ISSN 0002-9602. S2CID 144559373.
  8. ^ Wallace, Jeremy L. (2016). "Juking the Stats? Authoritarian Information Problems in China". British Journal of Political Science. 46 (1): 11–29. doi:10.1017/S0007123414000106. ISSN 0007-1234. S2CID 154275103.
  9. ^ Geddes, Barbara; Wright, Joseph; Frantz, Erica (2018). How Dictatorships Work. Cambridge University Press. p. 141. doi:10.1017/9781316336182. ISBN 978-1-316-33618-2. S2CID 226899229.
  10. ^ Hernández, Javier C. (2016-11-15). "'We Have a Fake Election': China Disrupts Local Campaigns". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-11-05.
  11. ^ "The West once dreamed of democracy taking root in rural China". The Economist. 2021-01-14. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 2021-11-05.
  12. ^ Truex, Rory (2016-10-28). Making Autocracy Work. Cambridge University Press. pp. 52, 111. ISBN 978-1-107-17243-2.
  13. ^ Article 111 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China
  14. ^ a b Niou 2011, p. 3.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Electoral Law of the National People's Congress and Local People's Congresses of the People's Republic of China". National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China. Retrieved 12 January 2021.
  16. ^ a b c Chen 1999, p. 65.
  17. ^ McCormick 1990, p. 141.
  18. ^ 三上三下"协商确定县乡两级人大代表正式候选人的具体做法是什么? [What is the specific procedure for the "three ups and three downs" method for determining through consultation the official candidates for People's Congress Representatives at the county and prefecture level?] (in Chinese). Hebei People's Congress. 6 December 2011. Archived from the original on 2016-03-04.
  19. ^ Chen 1999, p. 66.
  20. ^ Leung 1996, pp. 109–110.
  21. ^ Lin 2011, pp. 67–69.
  22. ^ Lin 2011, p. 66.
  23. ^ 林 (Lin), 峰 (Feng) (2011). 郑 (Cheng), 宇硕(Joseph Y. S.) [in Chinese] (ed.). Whither China's Democracy: Democratization in China Since the Tiananmen Incident. City University of Hong Kong Press. pp. 65–99. ISBN 978-962-937-181-4. At pp. 77–87.
  24. ^ Michelle Phillips (July 4, 2011). "Chinese independents to challenge Communists in 2012". The Washington Times Weekly.
  25. ^ Lei Xie (2012). Environmental Activism in China. Routledge. p. 12. ISBN 9781134020263.
  26. ^ "Democracy's other version: China holds elections". The Economist. November 10, 2016.
  27. ^ Gerald Segal (1989). Political and economic encyclopaedia of the Pacific. Longman. p. 34. ISBN 9780582051614.
  28. ^ Jonathan Unger (2002). The Transformation of Rural China. M.E. Sharpe. p. 218. ISBN 9780765605511.
  29. ^ Sue Vander Hook (2011). Communism. ABDO. p. 94. ISBN 9781617589478.
  30. ^ Hugo Burgh (2004). The Chinese Journalist: Mediating Information in the World's Most Populous Country. Routledge. p. 77. ISBN 9780203323267.
  31. ^ Article 34 of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China
  32. ^ Andrew Sancton and Chen Zhenming (2014). Citizen Participation at the Local Level in China and Canada. CRC Press. p. 214. ISBN 9781482228977.
  33. ^ Gunter Schubert and Anna L. Ahlers (2012). Participation and Empowerment at the Grassroots: Chinese Village Elections in Perspective. Lexington Books. p. 1. ISBN 9780739174807.
  34. ^ William A. Joseph (2014). Politics in China: An Introduction. Oxford University Press. p. 302. ISBN 978-0-19-933942-6.
  35. ^ Joseph de Rivera (2008). Handbook on Building Cultures of Peace. Springer. p. 162. ISBN 9780387095752.
  36. ^ B. He (2007). Rural Democracy in China: The Role of Village Elections. Springer. p. 25. ISBN 9780230607316.
  37. ^ a b c "Allocation of the Number of Deputies". China Internet Information Center. Retrieved 6 May 2021.
  38. ^ Ji, Bian. "China's National People's Congress System: A Brief Introduction". China US Focus. China-United States Exchange Foundation. Retrieved 6 May 2021.
  39. ^ a b c d Lin 2011, pp. 68–69.
  40. ^ "Xi Jinping is making great attempts to 'Sinicize' Marxist–Leninist Thought 'with Chinese characteristics' in the political sphere," states Lutgard Lams, "Examining Strategic Narratives in Chinese Official Discourse under Xi Jinping" Journal of Chinese Political Science (2018) volume 23, pp. 387–411 at p. 395.
  41. ^ "China (People's Republic of) 1982 (rev. 2004)". Constitute. Retrieved 25 August 2019.
  42. ^ a b LaFraniere, Sharon (October 31, 2011). "In China, Political Outsiders Turn to Microblog Campaigns". The New York Times. Retrieved November 1, 2011. an election that is ostensibly open to all comers, but in fact is stacked in favor of the Communist Party's handpicked candidates.
  43. ^ a b c Lin 2011, pp. 72–76. "Regulations on the Selection and Appointment Work of Cadres of Both CPC and Government Organs".
  44. ^ Sharon LaFraniere (December 4, 2011). "Alarmed by Independent Candidates, Chinese Authorities Crack Down". The New York Times. Retrieved December 5, 2011.
  45. ^ Chen 1999, p. 69.
  46. ^ McCormick 1990, p. 142.
  47. ^ Niou 2011, pp. 4–5.