The dual governing system of the People’s
Republic of China
John G. Blair
University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland
School of English and International Studies, Beijing Foreign Studies University, Beijing, China
The dual governing system of the People’s Republic of China has proved to be an effective way to cope with the ex-
traordinary problems of managing a polity on the massive scale of China. Because it is unusual in the world today,
perhaps even unique, it is important to clarify how the present order came about and how it functions. Some outsiders
may unthinkingly assume that the Chinese government operates as the power governing the country. But in the Peo-
ple’s Republic of China, the government is in fact the outward and visible face of the governance system. Behind (and
above) the government is the Communist Party of China. The Party now has around 85 million members, between 5%
and 6% of the population. This group deﬁnes the political class in today’s China and functions as a leadership oligar-
chy.The Party determines policy and oversees appointments at all levels of public service. These ofﬁcials are in fact in
charge, dominating their government counterparts through the dual system of governance. Copyright © 2016 John
Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Open Question: Besides the Purposes of
Comparative Studies, What Difference Does it
Make for Chinese and Others to be Aware of
These Complex Arrangements?
Historical and comparative perspectives
The purpose of the accompanying chart is to clarify
the Chinese system of governance. For Westerners,
the dual system may seem obscure because it does
not lead back to forefathers of Western-style ‘de-
mocracy’like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Baron
de Montesquieu, or Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This
type of system was originated by Vladimir Lenin
(Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, 1870–1924), who devised
it as a subversion-proof structure ideal for the early
years of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
[Source: Lu, 2001, p.88.]
In the 1920s, Chinese political leaders were quick
to recognize how relevant this dual system could be.
Both the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) under
Chiang Kai-shek and its rival, the Communist Party
(CPC), adopted these structures. In both cases, they
successfully resisted all attempts at subversion, that
is, disruption from inside.
The inner core of this system is the doubling of
persons in all key positions, with—in case of dis-
agreement—the Party person automatically overru-
ling the government person. This practice also
applies in the military arm of governance, the
People’s Liberation Army, assuring civilian control.
Most individuals occupying governmental posi-
tions are members of the Party, but this is not oblig-
atory. It goes without saying that the two
individuals occupying parallel positions keep an
eye on each other at all times.
Western political systems in modern times incor-
porate agon: a structured tension between segments
within the governing apparatus. The principle of
checks and balances articulated in the 18th century
by Montesquieu applies widely, with differing nu-
ances of deﬁnition. In effect, political conﬂicts be-
come part of the governing apparatus itself.
In China, the dual system assures against major
in-house conﬂicts, pushing any signiﬁcant disagree-
ments out to the interface between politics and soci-
ety. Active surveillance and policing assure that
*Correspondence to: John G. Blair,University of Geneva, Geneva,
Switzerland. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Journal of Public Affairs
Volume 16 Number 2 pp 111–117 (2016)
Published online 18 February 2016 in Wiley Online Library
(www.wileyonlinelibrary.com) DOI: 10.1002/pa.1607
Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.