The People's Republic of China was proclaimed in 1949, following a lengthy civil war when Communist leader Mao Zedong consolidated power and forced the Nationalist forces under Chiang Kai-shek to flee to the island of Taiwan, located off China's southern coast. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) transformed the political, economic, and social system of the country by emphasizing socialist egalitarianism combined with a nationalistic drive toward modernization. The 1982 constitution specifies that supreme political power resides in the 2,979-member National People's Congress (NPC—Quanguo Renmin Daibiao Dahui), but real power lies in the Politburo of the CCP Central Committee, with crucial decisions made by a small circle of the CCP select Standing Committee of the Politburo. The NPC's members meet annually and elect most of the leading government officials, including the president, vice president, premier, and vice premier.
The State Council, similar to the cabinet in other countries, is the top executive organ of the national government, and it reports to the CCP Secretariat, which encompasses the Central Committee and the Politburo. All senior members of the State Council also hold concurrently significant influence within the party. The State Council is headed by a premier (the head of government, Zhu Rongji since 18 March 1998). At the local level, China is divided into 23 provinces with representation consisting of provincial and municipal People's Congresses further decentralized by prefectural, city, county, and town assemblies.
Prior to the sixteenth Communist Party Congress held in November 2002, power in China was shared by three individuals: Jiang Zemin (president, general secretary of the Communist Party, and chairman of the Central Military Affairs Commissions—both the party and state commissions); Li Peng (chairman of the NPC Standing Committee); and Zhu Rongji (premier). All three resigned their posts in the Politburo Standing Committee in November 2002, and the three were expected to give up their state positions at the Tenth NPC to be held in March 2003. Jiang Zemin was expected to retain his position as head of the military.