Promotion or Departure? A Competing Risk Model for the Career Paths ofChina’s Political Elites, 1978-2008





Published date: 

June, 2009


Hsin-hao Huang


This article studies the career paths of China’s political elites in the reform era, through quantitative analyses of the elites who have held on to provincial gubernatorial or ministry level positions within the Chinese government and communist party over the period from March 1978 to March 2008. Even though the rise of technocrats has recently drawn much attention from scholars, the career path of political elites remains an overlooked topic, which has not been explored systematically. Given the organizational logic, the author argues that the adjustment to the party’s course in 1978 was basically initiated and designed according to the party leader’s preferences. Since the CCP was not obliged to fundamentally change its party’s course, the intension and extension of member adjustment would be limited to the purpose of maintaining the CCP’s dictatorship. This organizational rationale has led to a consistent pattern of career paths for elites in China since 1978. Specifically, the technocrats without the political loyalty approved by the CCP would be replaced over time while those who hold strong political credentials, such as party-position experience could be promoted quickly. Such a career pattern reveals the unique way in which the regime has evolved in China, which seeks a balance between the survival prerequisite of one-party dictatorship and the functional target of economic development.