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What are the Main Political Parties in China?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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The People's Republic of China (PRC) has one ruling political party, which is the Communist Party of China (CPC). This is the largest political party in the world, with around 80 million members at the end of 2010. The CPC is supported by a coalition of eight parties, known as the United Front; however, these parties' actual power is limited. Certain areas have multi-party systems, including Hong Kong and Macau; and there are also a number of illegal parties in the PRC. Major historical parties in the area include the Kuomintang (KMT), the Chinese Youth Party (CYP), and the Progressive Party.

Communist Party

The CPC was founded in 1921 by Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao in Shanghai, with the help of a USSR Comintern member named Grigori Voitinsky. It was originally formed to promote communist ideology in the country and to supplant the KMT regime, which emerged as a major political entity after the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. In 1949, after years of fighting and occasional periods of alliances, the CPC defeated the KMT and founded the PRC.

This party promotes the idea of a single party state. Although it started out as a radical Communist party, it has gone through periods of conservatism and reform, and began to take on characteristics of socialism in the 1970s. The party believes that the nation is best served by political unification both geographically and socially. Since the early 1980s, the CPC has placed a lot of emphasis on economic development and engaging with the rest of the world. Major party members include Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Lin Biao, Deng Xiaoping, Liu Shaoqi, Zhao Ziyang, Hu Yaobang, Jiang Zemin, Li Peng, Hu Jintao, and Wen Jiaobao.

Despite the emphasis on unification, the party itself is often subject to infighting and factionalism. Two major factions include those people who worked their way up through the party, often starting as member of the Communist Youth League of China (CYLC), and those who are the sons and daughters of elite officials. There is also regional competition, as well as personal and family vendettas.

United Front

The eight parties of the United Front, which are also known as "democratic parties" include:

  • The China Revolutionary Committee of the Kuomingtang
  • The China Democratic League
  • The China Democratic National Construction Association
  • The China Association for the Promotion of Democracy
  • The Chinese Peasants and Workers Party
  • The China Zhi Gong Party
  • The Jiu San Society
  • The Taiwan Democratic Self Government League

These parties are overseen by the United Front Work Department, which is in turn overseen by part of the CPC. None of these entities has real power apart from the CPC, and many United Front members are also CPC members. Each party is associated with a certain interest. For example, the Jiu San Society tends to focus on scientific development, while the China Democratic League focuses on modernization and democracy and the China Zhi Gong Party works to protect the interests of Chinese living overseas, among other things. The United Front also includes the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce (ACFIC), which provides the government with input on business matters.

Regional Parties

Two areas of the PRC, Hong Kong and Macau, are Special Administrative Regions (SARs). They both have multi-party systems left over from the time when they were colonies. Though neither country has official legislature for political parties, there are a number of political organizations that act as parties. In Hong Kong, there are over 10 political parties that have members who have held seats in the region's legislative body, with major parties including the Democratic Party, the Civic Party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, and the League of Social Democrats. Members of political parties can participate in Hong Kong's legislative council and can run for Chief Executive, the top executive political position.

Macau has a number of parties as well, including the Macau United Citizens' Association, Union for Promoting Progress, the New Hope, and the Union for Development. As in Hong Kong, people of any political party can run for a legislative seat.

Illegal Parties

Several political parties in the PRC are deemed illegal by the government, most of which have to do with promoting governmental systems other than communism, liberal democracy, civil rights, or the independence of certain territories, such as Taiwan. They are seen by the government as a threat to the legitimacy of the CPC, and members are often watched and arrested. Notable parties include the Democracy Party of China, and the Union of Chinese Nationalists

Historical Parties

Aside from the CPC, the most major historical political party in the country was the KMT, which came to prominence in the late 1920s after a period of infighting and civil war. It was based on a society founded by Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, came into its own under General Chiang Kai-Shek. Though it was periodically allied with the CPC, particularly when fighting against the Japanese in the 30s and 40s, the two parties permanently split after they defeated Japan. After being defeated by the CPC in the late 1940s, the KMT moved to Taiwan, where it is still a major political party.

Other historical Chinese political parties include the Progressive Party and the Chinese Youth Party. The Progressive Party was focused on forming a constitution in China so that it could have a strong government, but it was largely ineffective. The Chinese Youth Party resisted both the KMT and CPC, and for a short time were the third largest political party in the country, after the KMT and CPC. It worked to promote nationalism and an end to warlord infighting after the fall of the Qing Dynasty.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a CulturalWorld.org researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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