On 4 December 1982, China adopted its fourth constitution since 1949, succeeding those of 1954, 1975, and 1978. In theory, the highest organ of state power is the National People's Congress (NPC), in which legislative power is vested. The constitution stipulates, however, that the congress is to function under the direction of the Chinese Communist Party. The NPC meets annually for about two weeks to review major new policy directions, to adopt new laws, and to approve the national budget submitted to it by the State Council. Each congress consists of more than 3,000 deputies elected indirectly for a term of five years. The NPC elects a standing committee as its permanent working organ between sessions. The State Council, the executive organ of the NPC, consists of a premier (the head of government), five vice-premiers, ministers, and heads of other major government agencies. The State Council issues administrative regulations and both formulates and executes the economic plan and the state budget. The 1982 constitution restored the largely ceremonial post of state chairman, or president, a position abolished by Mao Zedong in 1968. The eighth National People's Congress, in March 1993, elected Jiang Zemin as president and reelected Li Peng, first elected in 1988, to a second five-year term as premier. At the ninth National People's Congress in March 1998, Li Peng was elected chairman of the NPC standing committee, and Zhu Rongji became premier. Since the 1980s, the NPC has slowly increased its function as a locus for discussion of issues instead of merely being a rubber stamp. The 1992 debate on the Yangtze River (Chang Jiang) dam project is an example of this.
The death of Communist Party patriarch Deng Xiaoping in February 1997 brought to a head the infighting between Jiang Zemin, Li Peng, and Zhu Rongji. At the 15th party congress, Jiang was chosen to succeed Deng Xiaoping. The political leadership settled into one of shared leadership. At the 16th party congress held in November 2002, Jiang Zemin, Li Peng and Zhu Rongji resigned their posts in the Politburo standing committee, and the three were expected to give up their positions as president, chairman of the NPC standing committee, and premier, respectively, at the 10th NPC to be held in March 2003.