Rotating to the Top: How Elites and Commoners Rise in the Chinese Communist Party

Yiqing Xu, Assistant Professor of Political Science, UCSD
| Silverstein Forum, Stiteler Hall

This research investigates the career trajectory patterns of Central Committee members of the Chinese Communist Party in the reform era, including descendants of prominent party senior officials (elites) and those come from a modest background (commoners). First, using a machine learning algorithm, we develop a rank of positions in the Chinese nomenklatura, which measures the power endowed by each position. This “position rank” allows us to characterize career trajectories of each official. We show that a person with a more diverse career path, i.e. rotating among various government and party jobs, is more likely to climb the party’s job ladder. We then group the officials’ career trajectories into different tracks based on their over-time position ranks and job diversity using a generic K-means algorithm. We find that (1) elites are more likely to start from a more important position and rotate over multiple systems at an early stage of their career, which gives advantages of reaching the top; (2) commoners who start their career in the Communist Youth League enjoy similar advantages as elites; (3) the rest of commoners are more likely to start from lower positions and less likely to rotate or climb to the top; however, they may be elevated into a track with more speedy rotations when they make connections with key party leaders or exhibit exceedingly good job performances. These findings suggest that while the political selection process favors elites, it also motivates commoners by providing possible upward paths.

Co-sponsored by the Comparative Politics Workshop at the Department of Political Science