The Political Bureau, or Politburo, is the command headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party. The Politburo is composed of twenty-four senior leaders who can be placed in two tiers: a small core of leading generalists serving on the STANDING COMMITTEE, and a broader group of officials serving as leaders at the provincial or ministerial level. While day to day decision making authority for the Communist Party rests with the Standing Committee, Politburo members possess considerable influence over both national policy and personnel selection. The composition of the Politburo is therefore a key concern of any General Secretary; the number of loyalists he is able to elevate into the Politburo is a rough measure of his effective power.
Nominally, Politburo members are elected by the CENTRAL COMMITTEE, the body from which its members are drawn and its decision making authority is delegated. In practice, the composition of the Politburo is decided internally by the General Secretary, the Standing Committee, retired grandees, and the incumbent members of the Politburo. The rotation of Politburo seats is aided by a set of guiding retirement norms introduced in the Jiang Zemin era. In 1997 Jiang forced all members aged 70 or over to retire at the end of their five-year term; at subsequent Congresses the retirement age was lowered to 68. Though not officially codified in any party document, this norm has, with a few recent exceptions, governed the composition of the Politburo and functioned as an effective shield against gerontocracy.
Since 2002, the Politburo has regularly held “Politburo collective study sessions” [中央政治局集体学习] and more standard “Politburo meetings” [中央政治局会议]. During its standard meetings the Politburo discusses new policy directives, provides feedback on policy implementation, and prepares for future work conferences, plenums, or congresses. These meetings are about coordination, information exchange, and practical planning at the highest levels of the party.
Study sessions, in contrast, play a more educational role. These sessions take place shortly after the standard Politburo meetings–usually on the same day or the day after. Professors, think tank scholars, or other experts are invited to lecture the Politburo members on a topic chosen by the General Secretary. Their lectures often end with “work recommendations” [工作建议] for the Politburo to consider. The sessions typically conclude with a speech by the General Secretary on the topic of study. In contrast to the meetings of the Standing Committee, whose agendas are rarely discussed in public, the subject of Politburo meetings and study sessions are often publicized with some fanfare. Collective study session topics are not chosen simply to educate Politburo members but to signal policy priorities to the cadres across the country. Thus even when passively listening to lectures, the Politburo fulfills its role as a bridge between the Standing Committee and the rest of the Party.
See also: CENTER, THE; CENTRAL COMMITTEE; PLENUM; POLITICAL BUREAU STANDING COMMITTEE (PBSC);
Kenneth Lieberthal, Governing China: From Revolution Through Reform (New York: W. W. Norton & Co. 2003); Timothy Heath, China's New Governing Party Paradigm: Political Renewal and the Pursuit of National Rejuvenation (New York: Routledge 2014); Joseph Fewsmith, Rethinking Chinese Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019); 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); Brian Hart, “The CCP’s Shifting Priorities: An Analysis of Politburo Group Study Sessions,” China Brief 21, iss. 13 (July 2021); Ling Li, “The Hidden Significance and Resilience of the Age-Limit Norm of the Chinese Communist Party,” Asia Pacific Journal 20, iss. 19, no. 1 (December 2022).