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The State Council

In 1987 the top executive apparatus of the government was the State Council, the equivalent of the cabinet or council of ministers in many other countries (see fig. 19). Although formally responsible to the NPC and its Standing Committee in conducting a wide range of government functions both at the national and at the local levels, the State Council was responsive mainly to the CCP Secretariat, under the Political Bureau and its Standing Committee. This orientation was dictated by the fact that the senior members of the State Council were concurrently influential party leaders--a tie that has facilitated the party's centralized control over the state apparatus. It also tended to obscure distinctions between the party and the government, resulting in overcentralization of power in the hands of a few, and arbitrary behavior by, key leaders. Both excesses were condemned by reform leaders. Deng's intention was to introduce some checks and balances into the party and government sectors by clarifying their separate functions with administrative codes and regulations and by developing a legal base from which to enforce them.

The State Council met once a month and had a standing committee meeting twice a week that included the premier, vice premiers, a secretary, and state councillors. It was headed by the premier, Zhao Ziyang, who was re-elected to a five-year term in 1983. The membership of the State Council as of November 1986 included, in addition to the premier, five vice premiers (versus thirteen in 1980), the secretary, and eleven state councillors. As the chief administrative organ of government, its main functions were to formulate administrative measures, issue decisions and orders, and monitor their implementation; draft legislative bills for submission to the NPC or its Standing Committee; and prepare the economic plan and the state budget for deliberation and approval by the NPC. The State Council was the functional center of state power and clearinghouse for government initiatives at all levels. With the government's emphasis on economic modernization, the State Council clearly acquired additional importance and influence.

The State Council was supported by leading groups, which resembled institutionalized task forces and dealt with problems in the modernization program. For example, a leading group established in September 1986 was directed to investigate and suggest ways to eliminate the obstacles to foreign investment in China. In addition to the leading groups were offices that dealt with matters of ongoing concern. These included the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office and the Special Economic Zones Office. In 1987 the State Council structure also included thirty-two ministers in charge of ministries, nine ministers in charge of commissions, twenty-nine agencies for carrying out specialized functions, and eight major banking institutions (see table 3, Appendix B). (In 1980 there had been thirty-eight ministers presiding over ministries and eleven ministers in charge of commissions. The NPC Standing Committee established the new Ministry of Supervision in December 1986.) In a bureaucratic reorganization carried out mainly in 1982, thousands of elderly officials had been retired and replaced by younger and better educated officials. Reductions in leadership personnel in the bodies under the State Council were accompanied by reductions in the staff of these bodies from 49,000 to 32,000 members.

Data as of July 1987