“The Center” is a literal rendering of zhōngyāng. The phrase is is most commonly used as an abbreviation for the CENTRAL COMMITTEE of the Communist Party of China (中国共产党中央委员会), and official Chinese translations almost always opt for translating it as “The Central Committee.” The term, however, is more ambiguous than most translations into English allow. Cheng Zhenqiu, who directed the English translation of the Selected Works of Mao Zedong, described his dissatisfaction with his own translation with these comments:
Lexically, there are still many issues…for example, the translation of zhōngyāng [中央]….Sometimes zhongyang refers to the Central Standing Committee [中央常委], sometimes it refers to the Central Politburo [中央政治局], and more often it refers to the Central Committee. Abroad some have begun translating it as “the Center”; on this issue there’s room for further research. (Quoted in Holly Snape, China Law Translate, 1 December 2021)
The kaleidoscopic nature of the term is evident in Party regulations governing the Central Committee, which declares that
The Central Committee, Politburo and Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) are the brain and central hub of the Party organization. Only the Party Centre has the mandate to make decisions and interpret Party-wide and state-wide important principles and policies (“Directive on the Operation of the Central Committee,” 2020).
The usefulness of a term whose definition can stretch to describe either the Central Committee, the POLITBURO, or the POLITBURO STANDING COMMITTEE as contingency requires has been recognized since the days of Mao Zedong, when obedience to The Center was first codified as part of the “FOUR OBEYS'' regulating Party life. In particular, obfuscating the specific source of new directives means that decisions that may have only been made by a small group of leading cadres are cloaked with the mantle of larger party organs, suggesting a shared consensus or collective decision making process that may not actually exist.
See also: CENTRAL COMMITTEE;
Holly Snape, “New Regulations for the Central Committee: Codifying Xi Era Democratic Centralism,” China Law Translate, 1 December 2020; Li Ling, “Appeal of Strategic Ambiguity on Party Centre – Reading the Party Directive on the Operation of the Central Committee,”The China Collection, 18 October 2020.