How Officials are Transferred and Promoted (Part I)

The following is the first part of our translation of Southern Weekend‘s very in-depth look into the way that government officials are moved around and what causes one official to be promoted over another one. It is not, perhaps, as “edgy” as some of the things we post here, but it’s an interesting behind-the-scenes look for those who are wondering how some of the current leaders got where they are.

As the original piece is quite long and our time rather limited, we’ll have to break the piece up into several parts. Below is the first:

How Officials are Transferred and Promoted: A Beijing Case Study

How does an official go from a local government worker to a provincial cadre? What are the crucial reasons for this elevation? What aspects are most important? What kind of officials can most easily be groomed for elevation? What are the strengths and weaknesses of “experienced” officials vs. “specialist” officials? What are the similarities and differences in the paths of elevation for officials who work within government offices vs. members of a local government?

Southern Weekend will attempt to outline the pattern of advancement for Beijing-region officials, and then, using this as a representative sample for local officials in other cities as well, show what this reflects about the standards for the promotion and transfer of officials nationwide.

Beijing is presently engaged in the most large-scale election of departmental and local officials in its history. Over two hundred posts are at stake. What’s especially notable is that three hundred people are competing for one of them: the deputy director of the development and reform committee.

In the last four months, Beijing has appointed and dismissed nearly four hundred officials, the largest restructuring of Beijing government personnel in the last two years. In less than half a year, nearly a thousand officials in Beijing’s political circles have heard the good or bad news [that they’re being removed or transferred/promoted].

“The personnel adjustment and large-scale elections reflect the actual demands the capital has for the development and transformation of government officialdom,” said Beijing MPC School professor Zhang Qin, who has been training and connecting with Beijing officials for more than thirty years. Behind the dazzle of the movement of officials lies a longstanding doubt: what rules are there that govern the transfer and promotion of Chinese officials?

[…] ((This paragraph has been omitted because it is nearly identical to the first paragraph of the introduction, italicized at the beginning of this translation.))

A Southern Weekend reporter has investigated and analyzed the credentials of nearly 400 Beijing officials, interviewed longtime officials [for information on] quality and ability, and paid close attention to MPC School experts on the rules that govern advancement. Southern Weekend will attempt to outline the pattern of advancement for Beijing-region officials, and then, using this as a representative sample for local officials in other cities as well, show what this reflects about the standards for the promotion and transfer of officials nationwide.

First: What kind of officials are considered best?

Beijing MPC School professor Shan Aihong has been paying attention to this issue for a long time. In her opinion, the advancement of officials is mostly controlled by organizational factors (organization department cadres’ training mechanisms and cadre policies), social contexts (for example, the demands placed on officials were different during the Cultural Revolution vs. during the Reforms and Opening Up period), and three more personal factors: morality, ability, and age. “In all elections before this, the deputy director position was restricted to those 45 [or younger], but this year the requirement has been relaxed to 48. Regardless, though, [age] is an important condition.”

Zhang Qin said: “From the C.V.s of officials we can see that a Beijing official in at the department level [both in the municipal government or the county-level Party administration ((Not being an expert in the way Chinese internal politics work, it is difficult to translate these positions accurately. Any help with more precise translations would be appreciated.)) ] is around 45 years old, and the average time it takes to reach this level from the position of a common government employee is a little over 25 years.”

In truth, within this twenty-five year period, most outstanding department officials are able to accomplish the necessary leaps at each stage of the process — for example, they strive to move from a vice-director [of an office] position to a director position in a reduced period of time.

According to the rules for the appointment of cadres, moving from a general government employee to a vice-director [of an office] position should take around 12 years. Mr. Shan said that after this there was a divide — whether or not one could go from a vice-director position to a director position in a shortened period of time is extremely crucial, because this often suggests whether or not an official is capable of ensuring that their age isn’t beyond the cutoff for future advancement. In general, if an official can go from vice-director to director of an office within 3-4 years, then they have more time to be advanced to a vice- or director position at the departmental level. If advancement to director at the office level takes too long, then officials may encounter an “age bottleneck” when trying to advance to the next level.

Obviously, within the current system of “gradual promotion”, “running in short steps” is the only way to advance to high-level positions. From public data, Southern Weekend has learned that the current CPC Secretary in Jilin province, new political star Sun Zhengcai, came to the forefront by “running in short steps” in Beijing. It took him only fifteen years to go from a vice-department head at the Beijing Agricultural Academy of Science to vice-[government] Department head (a member and secretary-general of the Beijing CPC standing committee), moving up seven levels in rank.

Obviously, most Beijing officials will need a bit more patience for their political careers.

But the above-mentioned experts’ research has shown that whether an official’s career will progress smoothly or not can be judged by looking at a few initial standards. For example, starting work early and entering the Party early can be advantageous conditions for future ascension in the ranks. Among the C.V.s of officials that we researched, most of those whose official careers progressed smoothly had already held jobs by the age of twenty, and the time they had been in the Party was comparatively long. And in the early stages, the earlier officials were able to advance to high positions at a young age, the more they were able to separate themselves from others in their positions in the future, using their ages to their advantage and creating positive momentum propelling them into the “running in short steps” fast lane.

Additionally, sufficient education is also necessary. Shan Aihong said, “Compared to ten years ago, the level of intellect and academic records among Beijing officials have risen substantially. Whether they had it already or earned it after becoming an official, officials with Masters degrees or higher hold one half of Beijing municipal department and office-level posts, and among them there is a corresponding group that holds doctorate degrees.

Part II of our translation of this article coming soon!

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