The Center for Strategic Translation provides statesmen and scholars with the tools needed to interpret the Chinese party-state of today while training a new generation of China specialists with the skills needed to guide our relations with the China of tomorrow.

The Center meets this need through initiatives in translation and education. The Center locates, translates, and annotates documents of historic or strategic value that are currently only available in Chinese. Our introductory essays, glossaries, and commentaries are designed to make these materials accessible and understandable to statesmen and scholars with no special expertise in Chinese politics or the Chinese language.

Complementing the Center’s published translations are the Center’s training seminars. Starting in the summer of 2023 the Center will host a series of seminars to instruct young journalists, graduate students, and government analysts in the open-source analysis of Communist Party policy, introduce them to the distinctive lexicon and history of Party speak, and train them how to draw credible conclusions from conflicting or propagandistic documentary sources.
The Center is an initiative of the American Governance Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that studies and promotes the betterment of American public institutions and publishes the quarterly magazine Palladium. The Center is directed by Tanner Greer, a noted essayist, journalist, and researcher with expertise interpreting China in the context of American foreign policy.


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The National Congress of the Communist Party of China
Zhōngguó Gòngchǎndǎng Quánguó Dàibiǎo Dàhuì

The National Congress of the Communist Party of China—commonly referred to as the “Party Congress”—is in principle the highest decision-making body in Chinese politics. Assembled for a week long session every five years in the Hall of the People in Beijing, thousands of delegates from across China comprise each Party Congress. On paper this assembly possesses the authority to amend the CPC Charter, determine national policy, and select the membership of the Party’s highest leadership organs. In reality, questions of personnel and policy are settled by THE CENTER before any Party Congress convenes. Formal decisions made by a congress, the content of reports given to the assembly, and the behavior of individual delegates are all carefully choreographed months ahead of time. The function of a Party Congress is thus more performative than deliberative. A smoothly run Party Congress signals the unity of the Party leadership, while the massive propaganda apparatus mobilized for each congress broadcasts shifts in policy or ideology to the Party membership writ large.  

The first Party Congress was held in 1921. It lasted two days and was comprised of only 13 delegates. Assembled in times of revolution, war, or domestic upheaval, the subsequent nine congresses were not held at regular intervals, and varied greatly in location, format, and the number of delegates assembled. The more norms that govern the Party Congress today can be traced to the post-Mao Party Congresses helmed by Hua Guofeng and by Deng Xiaoping. Determined to smooth leadership transitions and strengthen what he called “intra-party democracy” [党内民主], Deng insisted that Party Congresses occur at regular intervals to allow for orderly changes in party leadership. 

Leadership transitions remain the most important task of the Party Congress. The congress confirms the membership of the CENTRAL COMMITTEE, Central Military Commission [中央军事委员会], and Central Commission for Discipline Inspection [中央纪律检查委员会]. Though ostensibly elected during the congress itself, this leadership cohort is chosen by negotiations between sitting leaders and retired ‘party elders’ [长老] in the months leading up to a Party Congress. The vote itself is largely ceremonial: cadres selected to join one of these leadership organs often claim the seats reserved for central leaders before any formal vote has taken place. 

The central event of any Party Congress is the presentation of the incumbent Central Committee’s “political report.” [政治报告]. The agenda of the Party Congress is not organized around specific policy problems; instead it centers on the delivery of various reports and resolutions which are subsequently discussed and adopted by the delegates. The political report, customarily delivered as a televised speech by the General Secretary at the opening of the congress, is the most important item on this agenda. Every political report recapitulates the victories and setbacks the Party experienced over the previous five years, announces changes in the Party’s ideological line, and establishes the goals intended to guide all party and state activity in the years to come.

 This is the most authoritative document in the Chinese political system. Its contents are crafted with care. The drafting process often lasts an entire year. It begins with the formation of a “drafting group” [起草小组] typically led by the man who will serve as General Secretary after the conclusion of the congress. Before it is delivered hundreds of leading cadres provide feedback on the sections of the report most relevant to their responsibilities. This pre-congress drafting process matters more for the substance of party policy than anything that occurs during the congress itself. It is during this stage that key ideological questions are settled and consensus for the party platform is built. The relative importance of each stage is seen in length of the documents each produces. The longest political reports are more than sixty pages in their official English translation. In contrast, the resolution produced at a Party Congress to endorse a political report generally fits on a single page. 

Though its elections are rigged and the policies it will endorse are decided months before hand, a tremendous amount of pomp and ceremony attends every Party Congress. This pageantry has a purpose. The Party Congress embodies core ideals of the Communist Party of China. These include loyalty, unity, and an unwavering commitment to shared purpose. Committing the entire party to a shared purpose is the ultimate aim of this assembly. In the days, months, and years that follow the Party Congress, communist leaders and propagandists exhort cadres to study the central “themes” and implement the “spirit” [精神] of the most recent congress. By these means party leaders steer the activities entire Chinese party-state.  



Heath, Timothy. 2014. China’s New Governing Party Paradigm: Political Renewal and the Pursuit of National Rejuvenation. New York: Routledge; Heilmann, Sebastian. 2017. China’s Political System. New York: Rowman & Littlefield; Lawrence, Susan and Mari Y. Lee. 2021. “China’s Political System in Charts: A Snapshot Before the 20th Party Congress.” Congressional Research Service; Lieberthal, Kenneth. 2003. Governing China: From Revolution Through Reform. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.; Ling Li. 2022. “The Nuts and Bolts of China’s Party Congress.” The Diplomat; Miller, Alice. 2012. “The Road to the 18th Party Congress,” China Leadership Monitor, no. 36, winter; Sullivan, Lawrence. 2022. A Historical Dictionary of the Chinese Communist Party. New York: Rowman & Littlefield; Wu, Guoguang, China’s party Congress: Power, Legitimacy, and Institutional Manipulation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015); Wu, Guoguang. 2018. “The Role of Party Congresses.” In Willy Wo-Lap Lam (ed.), Routledge Handbook of the Chinese Communist Party. New York: Routledge.

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