The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been the ruling political organization in China since 1949. Eight other minor parties have existed, since 1949, as members of a United Front, but their existence has been purely nominal. The party, with 55 million members (1999 estimate), plays a decisive role in formulating broad and detailed government policies and supervising their implementation at all levels of administration. Party supervision is maintained not only through placement of CCP members in key government posts, but also through specialized organs of the central committee of the CCP, which focus their attention on given subjects (e.g., propaganda or rural work). The CCP also forms branches within individual government units, as well as in factories, communes, schools, shops, neighborhoods, and military units.
Theoretically, the highest organ of party power is the National Party Congress, which usually meets once every five years. At each party congress a central committee is elected to oversee party affairs between sessions. The central committee (356 members elected in 2002—198 full members and 158 alternate members) meets annually in plenary session to elect a political bureau, or Politburo (with 24 members as of 2002), and its standing committee, the party's most powerful organ (9 members in 2002). Directing day-to-day party affairs at the highest level is the secretariat, headed by Hu Jintao as general secretary since November 2002. In 1982, the post of party chairman, formerly the most powerful in the nation, was abolished; the title had been held by Mao Zedong until his death in 1976, by Hua Guofeng from 1976 until his ouster in 1981, and by Hu Yaobang thereafter.
Deng Xiaoping, China's acknowledged political leader since 1977, retired from the central committee in 1987, retired as chairperson of the party's central military commission in 1989, and retired as chairperson of the state's central military commission, his last formal position, in 1990. A new CCP charter adopted at the 12th Communist Party congress in September 1982 forbids "all forms of personality cult" and, in an implicit criticism of Mao, decrees that "no leaders are allowed to practice arbitrary individual rule or place themselves above the party organization." A major purge of party members in the early 1980s sought to exclude elements opposed to Deng's modernization policies. A re-registration program applicable to all party members, about half of whom were believed to have joined during the Cultural Revolution, was announced in 1983. The 13th party congress, convened in October 1987, affirmed Deng's reform policies and the drive for a younger leadership.
In the wake of the June Fourth massacre in 1989, Deng Xiaoping declared that Jiang Zemin, former mayor of Shanghai, should be the "core" of collective leadership after Deng's death. The Politburo announced prohibitions, largely ineffectual, against some forms of party privileges and nepotism, the corruption that had sparked the 1989 protests. The 14th party congress in October 1992 removed Yang Shangkun, state president (1988–1993), from the Politburo, weakening the power of his clique in the military. In 1993, the National People's Congress reelected Jiang Zemin, already party general secretary, as chairperson of the central military commission and elected him as state president. This was the first time since the late 1970s that top, formal positions in the party, government, and military were concentrated in one leader's hands.
After the 15th Communist Party congress, a highly publicized anticorruption drive resulted in the execution of several prominent cases. In addition, Jiang began to remove the Communist Party from state owned enterprises through an aggressive privatization strategy. In 2000, Jiang introduced a theory revamping the image of the Communist Party. Called the "three represents," it was written into the party constitution at the 16th Party congress in November 2002. Seen as a reorientation of the party away from its sole mission to serve the proletariat, the theory of the "three represents" emphasizes the importance of the middle class, stating that the party will represent not only workers and peasants, but the "advanced productive forces, advanced culture and the broad masses of the people." The inclusion of Jiang's theory at the party congress was an affirmation of the considerable influence Jiang continues to hold in China, despite his resignation as General Secretary in favor of Hu Jintao. Hu, slated to become state president at the National People's Congress in March 2003, was a protégé of Deng Xiaoping, chosen as the "core" of the younger generation. Seen as moderate and cautious, he is expected to proceed with Jiang's slow, but steady, policy of economic liberalization, and perhaps to introduce some administrative and political reform.