Government buildings in Shanghai. The cadre system organizes the various Communist Party functionaries, civil servants, or government administrators into a hierarchy—judged by length of service or performance on the job, for instance. Officials at the top, not surprisingly, reap the most benefits. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN.

Similar to the system of China’s traditional civil service hierarchy, the cadre system ???? refers to the fifteen ranks (previously twenty-five) by which Communist Party functionaries and other civil servants are categorized. Higher ranks have better salaries, medical treatment, and pensions, as well as access to more desirable living quarters.

In China the term cadre refers both to all Communist Party functionaries and civil servants in administrative institutions, public organizations, and armed forces and to persons in leading positions. It is important to differentiate between party, administrative, and military cadres. Because the term covers party and state leaders as well as village officials and police officers, it does not refer to a homogeneous group.

Beginning in 1956 cadres were classified according to twenty-five ranks (ji). Grade twenty-five was the lowest grade. The original classification was dependent on how long a person had attended the revolutionary movement or when a person was admitted into the Communist Party, as well as on one’s contributions to the revolution or “liberation.” The early classification was influenced by the Soviet cadre system but also by traditional ranking patterns of the civil service in imperial times.

The cadre system was remodeled in 1993 by the Provisional Regulations for Public Service into fifteen grades, starting with the prime minister at grade one and running down to ordinary officials at grades ten through fifteen. The grading is the same in each level of the party, in the People’s Congresses (parliaments), and in the Political Consultative Conferences. This same grading also regulates salaries and privileges. State cadres, that is, civil servants paid by the state, are put on the official schedule by the responsible personnel offices. Organization departments are responsible for party cadres. State cadres are paid out of the official budgets, whereas the other rural cadres have to be paid by extrabudgetary means. Each cadre grade is treated differently, with privileges increasing as grade level rises. “High cadres” (grade five and up) enjoy the greatest privileges as far as salaries, labor conditions, size, and standard of accommodation, medical treatment, and pensions are concerned. They also receive more servants paid by the state, a better official car with driver, the right to travel first class in trains and planes on official trips, and, last but not least, access to detailed information on China and foreign countries.

This hierarchical system is similar to China’s traditional civil service hierarchy, which was also divided into grades in what was known as the “ji hierarchy.” There were two main categories: civil and military service. From the Tang dynasty (618–907 CE) onward each category was divided into nine grades, each grade being divided into two classes, upper (shang) and lower (xia), for a total of eighteen ranks. Each grade was characterized by special insignias and salaries. The higher the rank, the greater the attendant privileges and nonmaterial advantages.

Today, as in the past, losing an official position or being excluded from the hierarchy means the loss of all kinds of privileges as well as a significant decrease in standard of living. Success in such a system and the social security it offers make it attractive to become a member of the party and to join some kind of network that will guarantee advancement in the hierarchy.

Further Reading

Brodsgaard, K. E., & Zheng, Y. (Eds.). (2006). The Chinese Communist Party in reform. London: Routledge.

Christiansen, F., & Shirin, R. (1996). Chinese politics and society. New York: Prentice-Hall/Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Fan, Jie, Heberer, T., & Taubmann, W. (2006). Rural China: Economic and social change in the late twentieth century. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

Schurmann, F. (1968). Ideology and organization in communist China. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Source: Heberer, Thomas. (2009). Cadre System. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 255–256. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Cadre System (Gànbù zhìdù ????)|Gànbù zhìdù ???? (Cadre System)

Download the PDF of this article