China Leadership Monitor

The 17th Party Congress: Informal Politics and Formal Institutions

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The 17th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party was a significant milestone because the post-revolutionary generation had for the first time to sort out issues of succession and power distribution without the looming shadows of luminaries of the past. In general, they did fairly well. There appear to have evolved certain agreed-upon rules—including retirement and the distribution of posts in the Central Committee—that have, so far, confined conflict within certain institutional boundaries. Within these limits, however, there is evidence of a great deal of serious politics taking place. At least two important questions emerge from this. First, how will informal politics mesh with institutional rules? Second, if compromise and the distribution of benefits to different Party interests are the answer (as seems to have been the case at the 17th Party Congress), then will this system be able to respond quickly and effectively to crises?