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Understanding the Chinese Communist Party

Although not an official holiday in China, July 1 marks an important anniversary in China: the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. This year marks 97 years since it came into being in Shanghai.

While I imagine the founders were confident in the ability of this new political party (with its imported ideology, Marxism-Leninism) to influence the future course of what was, at the time, a fractured nation, I wonder if they truly imagined a day when the CCP would be marking 70 years in power and be presiding over China’s rise to global power.

Understanding the role of the CCP in Chinese society and how it functions is crucial. This is especially true in the era of Xin Jinping, who is working hard to reassert Party control over every aspect of society.

With this being the founding anniversary week, I thought it would be a good time to offer some suggested resources for those wanting to learn more about the CCP.

A good place to start is this “backgrounder” article on the website of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the founding and ruling political party of modern China, boasting nearly ninety million members. In 2017, the CCP exalted President Xi Jinping and elevated new officials to support Xi in setting the agenda for the second-largest economy in the world. The party has maintained a political monopoly since its founding, despite the effects of China’s rapid economic growth, increasing social unrest, and political destabilization that challenge the country’s rise as a global power.

It goes on to explain the history and background of the CCP, how it’s organized, how leaders rise to the top, as well as challenges in governance. It was originally written in 2012, shortly after Xi Jinping came to power, but has been updated as recently as March of this year.

In the run-up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008, numerous media outlets around the world produced documentaries about China. Political junkie that I am, I think I watched them all. My favorite, however, was a four-part series produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), China Rises. One of the episodes, titled “Party Games,” focuses on the Party’s relationship to the 2008 Olympic Games. The entire episode can be seen on YouTube, but here’s a brief excerpt that highlights a university student’s dreams of joining the CCP:

Finally, here are a couple of books that I recommend:



The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers, by Richard McGregor


The China Renaissance: The Rise of Xi Jinping and the 18th Communist Party Congress, by The South China Morning Post


As we get closer to the 100-year anniversary in 2021, we should not be surprised to see the grip of the Party tighten even more.

Image credit: The lady, the dog, and…Mao, by Gauthier DeleCroix, via Flickr
Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio

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