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Illicit Edge Insights: What is the Chinese Communist Party?

June 2023
An Examination of the Chinese Communist Party: Its History, Structure, and Global Influence
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the world’s largest political party, has effectively steered the trajectory of the People’s Republic of China since its establishment in 1949. Understanding the CCP’s history, structure, and influence is essential in contemporary global politics and economics.
History of the CCP
Formally established in Shanghai on July 23, 1921, the CCP arose from intellectual circles embracing Marxism-Leninism to counteract the societal problems posed by feudalism and foreign imperialism. The subsequent decades saw the CCP pitted against the Kuomintang (KMT) in a civil war, temporarily suspended during the Sino-Japanese War.
In 1949, after prevailing in the civil war, Mao Zedong, the leader of the CCP, declared the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Mao’s era was characterized by radical programs like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, which significantly impacted the Chinese society and economy.
In 1978, Deng Xiaoping initiated a significant shift in the party’s strategy, launching market-oriented reforms under the banner of “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.” These economic reforms propelled China’s growth, positioning it as the world’s second-largest economy.
Structure of the CCP
The CCP’s structure has its roots in Leninist principles, which emphasize strong party control over the state apparatus. The Party’s General Secretary, concurrently serving as the President of China, serves as the central authority. Assisting the General Secretary is the Politburo Standing Committee, the highest decision-making body.
Democratic Centralism, a key principle of the CCP, ensures that while discussions occur within the party, the ultimate decisions by higher bodies are unconditionally obeyed by all members. However, the application of this principle has varied, fluctuating between collective rule and the rule of a single strong leader.
Influence of the CCP
The CCP’s influence spans across domestic and international domains. Domestically, the party maintains an expansive presence, controlling not only the state machinery but also mass organizations like the All-China Federation of Trade Unions and the Communist Youth League.
Internationally, China, under the CCP, has significantly expanded its global footprint. Initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative are reshaping global trade, projecting China’s soft power, and amplifying the party’s influence. China’s technological advancements, particularly in 5G technology, have also positioned the CCP as a significant player in the tech industry.
China’s approach to handling the COVID-19 pandemic showcased the CCP’s ability to mobilize resources swiftly, which drew international attention. Nevertheless, the Party’s early handling of the pandemic, characterized by suppressing whistleblowers and information, was widely criticized.
The CCP has endured a tumultuous history to consolidate power, transform a primarily agrarian society into a global economic powerhouse, and extend its influence across the globe. Its governance model, underpinned by a unique blend of political control and economic liberalization, has offered an alternative to Western democratic models. However, the party’s handling of civil liberties, human rights, and its assertive foreign policy continue to elicit international scrutiny and concern. As the world becomes more interconnected, a nuanced understanding of the CCP becomes increasingly crucial.