The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference is the central vehicle by which the Communist Party of China coordinates with and co-opts influential elites who have risen to prominence outside of the party hierarchy, such as tech entrepreneurs, religious authorities, prominent scientists and authors, or the leaders of state-sanctioned associations like the All-China Federation of Trade Unions. Abbreviated in English as the CPPCC and in Chinese as the Rénmín Zhèngxié [人民政协] or simply as the Zhèngxié [政协], the CPPCC meets once a year. It is organized as a political advisory organ whose members can propose laws and policies to party authorities. Yet with no legislative power of its own, the authority of the CPPCC is limited to “political consultation.”
The origins of the CPPCC lie in the revolutionary era, when the Communist Party sought a “united front” with various outside political parties to defeat the Japanese and then drive the Nationalists out of power. At this time the CPPCC functioned as a coordination forum for this coalition. Though Mao promised these groups a real share of political power in NEW CHINA, once he secured control of the country he moved swiftly to neuter his erstwhile allies and strip them of any real influence. Eight of these parties still exist: they are allowed only a consultative role in the Chinese system. All must accept the leadership of the Communist Party of China, and none are allowed to recruit members absent strict supervision and restriction.
A share of the CPPCC’s 3,000 seats are thus reserved for representatives of these eight legacy parties. The other members of the CPPCC are divided into four overarching classifications: representatives of the eight state sanctioned “social organizations” [社会团体], such as the Communist Youth League or the All-China Federation of Women; representatives of 13 “social circles” [各界人士], which range from “journalism” and “education” to “ethnic minorities” and “friends of foreign countries;” “specially invited personages” [特邀人士] from Hong Kong and Macau; and “personages without a party affiliation” [无党派人士]. The remainder of the CPPCC seats are given to Communist Party members who work in diplomacy, intelligence, or the United Front system.
The central purpose of the Conference is to provide this last group with access to the others present. The CPPCC thus serves as a kind of intermediary organization that links Communist Party officials to the broader social world they hope to shape and influence. By institutionalizing access to party leaders, the Party both gives outside elites a stronger stake in the political system and creates an exclusive forum for fostering cooperation and consensus between these leaders and party personnel.
Alexander Bowe, "China’s Overseas United Front Work Background and Implications for the United States," U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission Staff Research Report (August 2018); Susan Lawrence and Mari Y. Lee,“China’s Political System in Charts: A Snapshot before the 20th Party Congress.” (Congressional Research Service, November 24, 2021); Peter Mattis, “The Center of China’s Influence: the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.” In Insidious Power: How China Undermines Global Democracy, ed. Hsu Szu-chien and J. Michael Cole (Eastbridge Books: 2020), pp. 3-39.