Kalpana Kalpana (Editor)

Paramount leader

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Simplified Chinese

Hanyu Pinyin
Zuìgāo lǐngdǎorén

Traditional Chinese

Paramount leader

In modern Chinese politics, the paramount leader (Chinese: 最高领导人, Chinese: 最高領導人, Zuìgāo lǐngdǎo rén) of the Communist Party of China and the State is an informal term that refers to the most prominent political leader in the People's Republic of China.


It is considered one of the world's most powerful and influential political figures, leading an emerging superpower with the world's largest and rapidly growing military force, People's Liberation Army.

The "paramount leader" is not a formal position nor an office unto itself. The term gained prominence during the era of Deng Xiaoping (1978–1989), who was able to wield power without necessarily holding any official or formally significant party or government positions at any given time (head of state, head of government or General Secretary). There has been significant overlap between "paramount leader" status and "leadership core" status, though they are separate concepts.

The term has been used less frequently to describe Deng's successors, who have all formally held both the offices of General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and President of the People's Republic of China, and are therefore usually referred to as "President" in the international scene, the title used by most other republican heads of state, even though the party position of General Secretary is the primary position and generally regarded by scholars as the post whose holder can be considered "paramount leader", and the President is a largely ceremonial office according to the Constitution. Hence Xi Jinping is considered to have become "paramount leader" in November 2012 upon his becoming General Secretary, rather than in March 2013 when he succeeded Hu Jintao as President.


Chairman Mao Zedong was the undisputed ruler of Communist China beginning in 1949. At one point Mao held three "Chairman" offices: Chairman of the Communist Party of China, Chairman of the Central Military Commission and Chairman of the People's Republic of China (1954–1959), making him the leader of the party, military and state respectively.

Following the Cultural Revolution, a rough consensus emerged within the party that the worst excesses were caused by the lack of checks and balances in the exercise of political power and the resulting "rule of personality" by Mao. Beginning in the 1980s, the leadership experimented with a quasi-"separation of powers", whereby the offices of General Secretary, President, and Premier were held by different people. For example, in 1985, the General Secretary was Hu Yaobang, the President was Li Xiannian, and the Premier was Zhao Ziyang. However, Deng Xiaoping was still recognized as the "core" of the leadership during this period. Both Hu and Zhao fell out of favour in the late 1980s, but Deng was able to retain ultimate political control.

The term "paramount leader" has been applied to Deng's successors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, though it is generally recognized that they did not wield as much power as Deng, despite their having held more offices of leadership. There has also been a greater emphasis on "collective leadership", whereby the top leader is a "first among equals" style figure, exercising power with the consensus of the Politburo Standing Committee. This was particularly apparent during the tenure of Hu Jintao.

Beginning in 1993, Jiang formally held the three offices that made him the head of the Party, state and military:

General Secretary of the Communist Party of China
The party leader and the primary position of the state (simplified Chinese: 中国共产党中央委员会总书记; traditional Chinese: 中國共產黨中央委員會總書記; pinyin: Zhōngguó gòngchǎndǎng zhōngyāng wěiyuánhuì zǒngshūjì)
Chairman of the Central Military Commission
Supreme Military Command of the People's Liberation Army (simplified Chinese: 中央军事委员会主席; traditional Chinese: 中央軍事委員會主席; pinyin: Zhōngyāng jūnshì wěiyuánhuì zhǔxí)
President of the People's Republic of China
The largely ceremonial head of state under 1982 Constitution. (simplified Chinese: 中华人民共和国主席; traditional Chinese: 中華人民共和國主席; pinyin: Zhōnghuá rénmín gònghéguó zhǔxí)

When Jiang left the offices of General Secretary and President in 2002 and 2003, respectively, he held onto the position of Chairman of the Central Military Commission. Military power had always been an important facet in the exercise of political power in Communist-ruled China, and as such holding the top military post meant that Jiang retained some formal power. Thus between 2002 and 2004, when Jiang finally stepped down from his last formal post, it was ambiguous who the "paramount leader" was at the time.

Hu Jintao held the same 'trio' of positions during his years in power. Hu transitioned all three positions onto his successor, Xi Jinping, between November 2012, when Xi became General Secretary of the Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and March 2013, when Xi became President.

Since Xi Jinping's ascendance to power, two new bodies, the National Security Commission and Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reforms, have been established, ostensibly concentrating political power in the "paramount leader" to a greater degree than anyone since Deng. These bodies were tasked with establishing the general policy direction for national security as well as the agenda for economic reform. Both groups are headed by General Secretary.

List of leaders

To date, "paramount leader" has been applied to six individual Chinese leaders (dates approximate):

Generations of leadership

  First administration   Second administration   Third administration   Hu–Wen Administration   Xi–Li Administration

  • Bold offices refer to the highest position in the Communist Party of China
  • References

    Paramount leader Wikipedia

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