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President of the People's Republic of China
The President of the People's Republic of China (Chinese: 中华人民共和国主席 pinyin: Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Zhǔxí) is the head of state of the People's Republic of China. The office was created by the 1982 Constitution. Formally, the President is elected by the National People's Congress in accordance with Article 62 of the Constitution. In practice, this election falls into the category of 'single-candidate' elections. The candidate is recommended by the Presidium of the National People's Congress.
The term Zhuxi refers to the chairman in a committee, and was translated as such prior to the 1982 constitution (as in Chairman Mao). The official translation switched to President after 1982 in conformity with Western terminology. However, Zhuxi stayed in Chinese, and in other contexts still corresponds to chairman in English. Meanwhile, the translation of English term President as the head of other states remained Zongtong (总统 zǒng tǒng), causing a bit of confusion with regard to usage.
Selection, succession and requirements
According to the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, the National People's Congress (NPC), in theory China's top law-making legislature, has the power to elect and force the resignation of the President. By law, the President must be a Chinese citizen of 45 years of age or older. The President cannot serve for over two terms, a term being the equivalent of one session of the NPC, which is usually five years.
In theory, the President, in accordance with decisions made by the NPC, has the power to put legislation into effect. The President also has the power to appoint the Premier, Vice-Premiers, State Council members, all ambassadors to foreign countries, Ministers of all departments, and all legislative committee chairs, treasurers and secretaries. The President has the power to give Special Presidential Decrees, and can declare State of Emergency, and declare War. The President is assisted by the Vice-President .
In the event that the President dies or leaves office, the Vice-President automatically assumes presidential powers. In the event that they both are unable to perform normal duties, the Chairman of the National People's Congress will perform the duties of the President as Acting President until the NPC can elect a new President.
The President and the State
As the President is legally China's head of state, he is responsible for China's foreign affairs. Since the early 1990s, the President has generally be responsible for establishing general policy and direction for the state and leaves responsibility for the implementation details to the Premier of the People's Republic of China, who is in theory, the Head of government. In marked contrast to the system of the Soviet Union when the President was a powerless figurehead, the Chinese Presidency has grown be a quite powerful position.
The President and the Party
Also since the 1990s, it has been general practice for the President to also serve as the General Secretary of the Communist Party.
It is key for the general secretary to seal his power by adding the presidency to his powerful collection of titles. This effectively removes any power tension between the top communist leader and the Head of State.
The President and the Military
The relationship between the President and the military is a bit more murky. The potential for conflict is lessened when as during the Jiang era, the President is also chairman of the state Central Military Commission. However, there is a source of potential conflict when this is not the case as the situation in 2003 when top communist leader Hu Jintao was elected President without being elected the CMC. In addition, most of the members of both the Party and the State Central Military Commission are uniformed senior general which gives the People's Liberation Army a some degree of autonomy, which however is limited by the existence of political officers.
In principle, when the President is also party general secretary, he could order the Party Central Military Commission to order the state Central Military Commission to do something, however how this would work in a crisis is unclear.
There have been proposals to constitutionally change the system of command to form a National Security Council which is modelled after the National Security Council of the United States which would give the President undisputed command of the military which would then be just another ministry. These proposals are not being actively discussed because of opposition from senior generals and because such acts would be seen as a political attack against the Chairman of the CMC , Jiang Zemin. In September, 2004, Jiang stepped down as Chairman of the commission. President Hu Jintao became the undisputed Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.
The History of the Presidency
Originally, in the constitution of 1954, the President (or Chairman) of the PRC was intended to be very powerful. Serving both as the Head of State, and the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. The president had special powers to call upon emergency meetings during a crisis or concerns of national security. This was not a problem during Mao Zedong's tenure as Head of State due to the fact that he concurrently served as the Chairman of the Central Military Commission. However, when Liu Shaoqi was President, it was evident in that the presidency was little more than a figurehead. The most notorious example of the disregard for the position was shown during the Cultural Revolution when President Liu Shaoqi was arrested and humiliated by the Red Guards.
During the period from 1969-1982, the presidency was abolished mainly due to the arrest of the President Liu Shaoqi. The duties associated with the Head of State were passed to the Chairman of the National People's Congress. The exact reason why Mao Zedong refused to reinstate the presidency was unclear, however it is now known that Mao did not want his political struggle with Liu Shaoqi to be remembered as his attempt to claim the title of the presidency for himself. Lin Biao, then China's number two figure, advocated for the reinstatement of the position of President, with Mao taking the position and himself becoming Vice-President. Mao later considered this to be a threat to his power, as the Vice-President can legally succeed the President in the event of the latter's death. During the early 1980s, it became clearer that China needed a person to serve as the Head of State. Soong Ching-ling, the widow of Sun Yat-sen and former vice-chairwoman of PRC, was named to be the Honorary President of the PRC before the passage of the constitution of 1982.
In the constitution of 1982, the President was conceived of as a figurehead head of state with actual state power resting in the hands of the Premier of the People's Republic of China and the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China both of which were conceived of as being separate people; the President will only hold the office of the President and not intervene directly in matters of the State Council or the Party. In the original 1982 constitution plan, the Party would develop policy, the state would execute it, and the power would be divided to prevent a cult of personality from forming as it did with the case of Mao Zedong.
Subsequent events caused the office to have much larger powers than was originally intended. In 1989, the President Yang Shangkun was able in cooperation with the then Chairman of the Central Military Commission Deng Xiaoping to use the office of the President to declare martial law in Beijing and order the military crackdown of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. This was in direct opposition to the wishes of the Party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang and probably a majority of the Politburo Standing Committee.
In the 1990s, the experiment of separating party and state posts, which led to bitter division, was terminated, and in 1992, the post of President was taken by Jiang Zemin who as General Secretary and chief of the Central Military Commission has continued to make the office of the President a powerful position. When Jiang Zemin stepped down in 2003, the offices of General Secretary and President were once again both given to one man, Vice President Hu Jintao.
Chairman of the Central People's Government of the People's Republic of China
Chairmen of the People's Republic of China
Chairmen of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress
Honorary President of the People's Republic of China
Presidents of the People's Republic of China
- Li Xiannian (1983 - 1988)
- Yang Shangkun (1988 - 1993)
- Jiang Zemin (1993 - 2003)
- Hu Jintao (since 2003)
- No successor of Liu Shaoqi was selected, so vice-chairman Dong Biwu acted as head of the State (alone from 1972-1975, together with vice-chairwoman Song Qingling from 1969-1972).
- The position of Chairman was officially abolished in 1975 and the functions of head of State were formally transmitted to the chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.
- From July 6, 1976 to March 5, 1978 the position remained vacant. The 20 vice chairmen of the Standing Committee of the NPC collectively executed the duties of head of state.
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