The President of the People's Republic of China is the head of state of the People's Republic of China. Under the country's constitution, the presidency is a largely ceremonial office with limited powers. However, since 1993, as a matter of convention, the presidency has been held simultaneously by the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, the top leader in the one party system.[a] The office is officially regarded as an institution of the state rather than an administrative post; theoretically, the President serves at the pleasure of the National People's Congress, the legislature, and is not legally vested to take executive action on its own prerogative.[b] The current President is Xi Jinping, who took office in March 2013.[c]
Since 1993, apart from brief periods of transition, the top leader of China simultaneously serves as the President, the head of the party, and the commander-in-chief of the military (as Chairman of the Central Military Commission). This individual then carries out different duties under separate titles. For example, the leader meets foreign dignitaries and receives ambassadors in his capacity as President, issues military directives as Chairman of the Central Military Commission, and upholds party rule through the office of General Secretary.
The office was first established in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China in 1954 and successively held by Mao Zedong and Liu Shaoqi. Liu fell into political disgrace during the Cultural Revolution, after which the office became vacant. The office was abolished under the Constitution of 1975, then reinstated in the Constitution of 1982, but with reduced powers. The official English-language translation of the title was "Chairman"; after 1982, this translation was changed to "President", although the Chinese title remains unchanged.[d] Therefore the title "President" in this case does not mean the same as in the United States or other Presidential systems, but rather as an approximation in terms of its power compared with parliamentary systems.
Between 1982 and 2018, the constitution stipulated that the president could not serve more than two consecutive terms. During the Mao era and also since 2018, there were no term limits attached to this office.
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According to the current Constitution of the People's Republic of China, the President must be a Chinese citizen with full electoral rights who has reached the age of 45.
The President is elected by the National People's Congress (NPC), China's highest state body, which also has the power to remove the President and other state officers from office. Elections and removals are decided by a simple majority vote.
According to the Organic Law of the NPC, the President is nominated by the NPC Presidium, the Congress's executive organ. In practice, however, the ruling Communist Party of China reserves the post of President for its current General Secretary. Like all officers of state elected by the NPC, the President is elected from a one name ballot.
In the event that the office of President falls vacant, the Vice-President succeeds to the office. In the event that both offices fall vacant, the Chairman of the NPC Standing Committee temporarily acts as President until the NPC can elect a new President and Vice-President.
Under the current constitution, instated in 1982 with minor revisions in later years, the President has the power to promulgate laws, select and dismiss the Premier (prime minister) as well as the ministers of the State Council, grant presidential pardons, declares a state of emergency, issue mass mobilization orders, and issue state honours. In addition, the President names and dismisses ambassadors to foreign countries, signs and annuls treaties with foreign entities. According to the Constitution, all of these powers require the approval or confirmation of the National People's Congress. The President also conducts state visits on behalf of the People's Republic. Under the constitution the "state visit" clause is the only presidential power that does not stipulate any form of oversight from the National People's Congress. As the vast majority of presidential powers are dependent on the ratification of the NPC, the President is, in essence, a symbolic post without any direct say in the governance of state. It is therefore conceived to mainly function as an symbolic institution of the state rather than an office with true executive powers.
In theory, the President has discretion over the selection of the Premier, though in practice the Premier has historically been selected through the top-level discussions of the Communist Party of China. Upon the nomination of the Premier, the NPC convenes to confirm the nomination, but since only one name is on the ballot, it can only approve or reject. To date, it has never rejected a personnel nomination. Since the Premier, the head of government in China, is the most important political appointment in the Chinese government, the nomination power, under some circumstances, may give the President real political influence.
For President Liu Shaoqi, he was also the first Vice Chairman of the Communist Party of China, ranked second in the Communist Party of China, behind Chairman Mao Zedong. For President Li Xiannian, he was also the 5th ranked member of the Politburo Standing Committee, after CPC General Secretary and Premier. For President Yang Shangkun, he was not a member of Politburo Standing Committee, but he ranked third after General Secretary Zhao Ziyang and Deng Xiaoping. Since Jiang Zemin, the President is also the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, ranking first in Party and State.
The office of State Chairman (the original English translation, as noted above) was first established under China's 1954 Constitution. The ceremonial powers of the office were largely identical to those in the current Constitution.
The powers of the 1954 office differed from those of the current office in two areas: military and governmental. The State Chairman's military powers were defined in the 1954 Constitution as follows: "The Chairman of the People's Republic of China commands the armed forces of the state, and is Chairman of the National Defence Council (Chinese: 国防委员会)." The National Defence Council was unique to the 1954 Constitution, and was mandated as the civil command for the People's Liberation Army. It was abolished under the 1975 Constitution.
The State Chairman's governmental powers were defined in the 1954 Constitution as follows: "The Chairman of the People's Republic of China, whenever necessary, convenes a Supreme State Conference (Chinese: 最高国务会议) and acts as its chairman." The members of the Supreme State Conference included the main officers of state, and its views were to be presented to the main organs of state and government, including the National People's Congress and the State and National Defense Councils. The Supreme State Conference was also unique to the 1954 Constitution. It was abolished under the 1975 Constitution and later Constitutions have not included a similar body.
Mao Zedong was the first to hold the office of State Chairman. He was elected at the founding session of the National People's Congress in 1955. At the 2nd NPC in 1959, Mao was succeeded by Liu Shaoqi, first Vice Chairman of the Communist Party. Liu was reelected as State Chairman at the 3rd NPC in Jan 1965. However, in 1966, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution and by August 1966 Mao and his supporters succeeding in removing Liu from his position as party Vice Chairman. A few months later Liu was apparently placed under house arrest, and after a prolonged power struggle the 12th Plenum of the 8th Communist Party Congress stripped Liu Shaoqi of all his party and non-party positions on October 31, 1968, including the post of State Chairman. This was in violation of the Constitution, which required a vote by the NPC to remove the State Chairman.
From Liu's removal in 1968 until 1972, the office of State Chairman was vacant. From 1972 to 1975, however, state media referred to Vice State Chairman Dong Biwu as "acting State Chairman."
When the 4th NPC was convened in 1975, its main act was to adopt a new Constitution which eliminated the office of State Chairman and emphasized instead the leadership of the Communist Party over the state, including an article that made the Party Chairman Supreme Commander of the PLA in concurrence as Chairman of the Party CMC. The 5th NPC was convened two years early, in 1978, and a third Constitution was adopted, which also lacked the office of State Chairman. The office was finally reinstated in the fourth Constitution, adopted by the 5th Session of the 5th NPC in 1982. The title of the office (guojia zhuxi) was unchanged in the Chinese text, but a new English translation of "President of the People's Republic of China" was adopted.
In the 1982 Constitution, the President was conceived of as a figurehead of state with actual state power resting in the hands of the General Secretary of the Communist Party and the Premier, and all three posts were designed to be held by separate people. The President therefore held minor responsibilities such as greeting foreign dignitaries and signing the appointment of embassy staff, and did not intervene in the affairs 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. Thus in 1982, China perceivably had four main leaders: Hu Yaobang, the Party General Secretary; Zhao Ziyang, the Premier; Li Xiannian, the President; and Deng Xiaoping, the "Paramount Leader", holding title of the Chairman of the Central Military Commission and was overall commander-in-chief of the armed forces. The current political structure of Vietnam is similar to the structure China followed in the 1980s.
In the 1990s, the experiment of separating party and state posts, which led to conflict during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, was terminated. In 1993, the post of President was taken by Jiang Zemin, who as General Secretary of the Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, became the undisputed top leader of the party and the state. When Jiang Zemin stepped down in 2003, the offices of General Secretary and President were once again both given to one man, then Vice-President Hu Jintao, the first Vice President to assume the office. In turn, Hu vacated both offices for Xi Jinping in 2012 and 2013. Under Xi, the term limits for the President were removed. This was widely interpreted as part of an expansion of Xi's power, effectively extending his tenure as China's paramount leader indefinitely.
(20 March 1943 – 28 September 1958)
(27 April 1959 – 31 October 1968)
(24 February 1972 – 17 January 1975)
(16 May 1981 – 28 May 1981)
(18 June 1983 – 8 April 1988)
(8 April 1988 – 27 March 1993)
(27 March 1993 – 15 March 2003)
(15 March 2003 – 14 March 2013)
(14 March 2013 – present)
Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (1975–1976)
Acting Chairwoman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (1976–1978)
Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (1978–1983)
Since the first president, seven had a spouse during term of office.
|1||Jiang Qing||Mao Zedong||1 October 1949 – 27 April 1959|
|2||Wang Guangmei||Liu Shaoqi||27 April 1959 – 31 October 1968|
|3||Lin Jiamei||Li Xiannian||18 June 1983 – 8 April 1988|
|4||Li Bozhao||Yang Shangkun||8 April 1988 – 27 March 1993|
|5||Wang Yeping||Jiang Zemin||27 March 1993 – 15 March 2003|
|6||Liu Yongqing||Hu Jintao||15 March 2003 – 14 March 2013|
|7||Peng Liyuan||Xi Jinping||14 March 2013 – Incumbent|
|#||President||Date of birth||Age at ascension
|Time in office
|Age at retirement
|Date of death||Longevity|
|1||Mao Zedong||December 26, 1893||60 years, 275 days||4 years, 212 days||64 years, 122 days||September 9, 1976||82 years, 258 days|
|2||Liu Shaoqi||November 24, 1898||60 years, 154 days||9 years, 187 days||69 years, 342 days||November 12, 1969||70 years, 353 days|
|acting||Dong Biwu||March 5, 1886||85 years, 356 days||2 years, 327 days||88 years, 318 days||April 2, 1975||89 years, 28 days|
|acting||Soong Ching-ling||January 27, 1893||83 years, 161 days||1 years, 242 days||85 years, 37 days||May 29, 1981||88 years, 122 days|
|3||Li Xiannian||June 23, 1909||73 years, 360 days||4 years, 295 days||78 years, 290 days||June 21, 1992||82 years, 364 days|
|4||Yang Shangkun||August 3, 1907||80 years, 250 days||4 years, 352 days||85 years, 236 days||September 14, 1998||91 years, 42 days|
|5||Jiang Zemin||August 17, 1926||66 years, 222 days||9 years, 353 days||76 years, 210 days||Living||91 years, 232 days (Living)|
|6||Hu Jintao||December 21, 1942||60 years, 84 days||10 years, 0 days||70 years, 84 days||Living||75 years, 106 days (Living)|
|7||Xi Jinping||June 15, 1953||59 years, 272 days||5 years, 23 days (Ongoing)||Incumbent||Living||64 years, 295 days (Living)|
There are two living former presidents:
"A lot of analysts now see it as a given" that Xi will seek to stay party general secretary, the country's most powerful post, said Christopher K. Johnson, a former CIA analyst and now China specialist at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
If Xi relinquished the presidency in 2023 but remained party chief and chairman of the Central Military commission (CMC), his successor as president would be nothing more than a symbolic figure... “Once the president is neither the party’s general secretary nor the CMC chairman, he or she will be hollowed out, just like a body without a soul.”
In China, the political job that matters most is the general secretary of the Communist Party. The party controls the military and domestic security forces, and sets the policies that the government carries out. China’s presidency lacks the authority of the American and French presidencies.
However, the role of party chief is more senior than that of president. At some point, Xi could be given a party position that also enables him to stay on as long as he likes.