More Women, Fewer Cadres: A Preview of Next NPC’s Composition

Editor’s Note: For an analysis of the demographics of the 13th NPC as first seated in March 2018, please see this post.

Since the 7th National People’s Congress (NPC), each NPC’s last session has passed a decision prescribing various requirements for electing delegates to the next NPC (election decision). Following this practice, the 5th Session of the 12th NPC, which concluded yesterday, approved the Decision on the Quota and Election of Delegates to the 13th National People’s Congress (Decision), to a certain extent dictating the composition of the 13th NPC. This post reviews the contents of the Decision, starting with some background information.


The number of NPC delegates is capped at 3,000 by the Electoral Law of the National People’s Congress and Local People’s Congresses (Electoral Law), the national law governing the elections of NPC delegates. That quota is then allocated once every five years to China’s provinces, autonomous regions, and directly governed municipalities (collectively, provinces), as well as to Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan (which Beijing considers a renegade province), and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

For the provinces, two basic rules govern the allocation of the number of delegates:

  1. Each delegate should represent the same number of population—or the proportionality principle.
  2. All provinces, ethnic groups, and sectors [方面] should have appropriate representation in the NPC—the so-called broad-representation [广泛的代表性] principle.

In other words, while population serves as the primary basis for allocation, other factors are taken into account as well. The Electoral Law thus divides the seats assigned to each province into three groups:

  1. A certain number of seats allocated solely on the basis of population;
  2. A (unspecified) base number of seats that is the same for each province;
  3. A certain number of seats allocated for “other reasons.”

The last group of seats not only include those allocated to achieve broad representation, but also include a few that are reserved for Party and State leaders, members of the NPC Standing Committee (NPCSC), and other senior officials (collectively, Central Leadership).[1]

For other regions and the PLA, however, neither the proportionality principle nor the broad-representation principle applies. Instead, under the Electoral Law, the NPC is to separately set the number of delegates to be elected from each of them.

Yesterday’s Decision, while not a detailed allocation plan itself (the NPCSC will release one in late April), sets out some of the unspecified parameters mentioned above and lays down a few requirements to ensure broad representation by NPC delegates.

Contents of the Decision 

Provincial Delegations

The Decision allocates to the provinces the same number of delegates to the 13th NPC as to the 12th NPC (see chart below).


According to an official Explanation of the Election Decision, the allocations for the provinces remain unchanged because the “overall structure” of China’s population has “hardly” changed since 2012, even though its size has increased “slightly.”

Recall that each province’s allocation consists of three types of delegates. According to the allocation plan for the current NPC, those allocated solely on the basis of population each represent 670,000 people (a total of 2,000 seats are allocated this way). In addition, each province is entitled to the same base quota of eight delegates. The final allocation for each province is shown in the chart, after having been adjusted by the NPCSC to ensure broad representation.

The remaining 255 seats are reserved for the Central Leadership, and will be allocated by the NPCSC based on personnel decisions made at the upcoming 19th Party Congress.

Overseas and PLA Delegations

The Decision also allocates to other electoral units the same number of delegates to 13th NPC as to the 12th NPC.

Specifically, Hong Kong is allocated 36 delegates, Macau 12, Taiwan 13, and the PLA 265.

The elections of NPC delegates from these electoral units are governed by separate statutes and follow different procedures.

  • In Hong Kong and Macau, ad hoc councils of election are formed to nominate and elect NPC delegates, in accordance with two measures also passed by the NPC yesterday.
  • In the PLA, NPC delegates are elected by the highest-level servicemen congresses.
  • NPC delegates representing Taiwan are expected to be chosen from Taiwanese citizens who now reside on the mainland by an ad hoc consultative election conference. A detailed election plan is expected to be approved by the NPCSC in late April.

Female Delegates

The Decision requires that—without setting a specific target—the proportion of female delegates in the 13th NPC be higher than the 12th NPC.

To realize this goal, the Explanation of the Decision urges all electoral units to “take effective measures” and “do well the work of nominating, recommending, and electing female candidates.”

While the requirement that women representation rise gradually was only added to the Electoral Law in 2010, it has been included in each election decision since the 7th NPC (1988–1993). And except for the 8th and 10th NPCs, the percentage of women has indeed been increasing—however slightly (see chart below).


Source: NPCSC Credentials Committee

If the percentage were to rise by the average increase over the last two NPCs, there would be approximately 25% women in the 13th NPC. In this respect, the 13th NPC would fare even better than the U.S. Congress, where women currently hold only 19.4% of the seats. This isn’t cause for complacency, however, because China only came in a mediocre 74th out of 193 countries in terms of women representation in national legislatures. Women may hold up half the sky, but they are probably still decades away from holding half the seats in the NPC.

Grassroots Delegates 

The Decision stipulates that the proportion of grassroots delegates in the 13th NPC should be higher than the 12th NPC.

In line with an Electoral Law provision that mandates appropriate representation by grassroots delegates, this requirement seeks to tackle the chronic problem that, for a long time, NPC delegates have been too elitist, consisting mostly of “mid-level to senior managers.”[2] Specifically, the Decision orders the electoral units to elect more “front-line [一线]” workers, farmers, and professionals (such as teachers, lawyers, and doctors)—those who take orders from the “managers”—as well as more migrant workers.

The 11th NPC made the same requirement five year ago, and as a result:

  1. Workers and farmers gained 13.42% of the seats in the 12th NPC, up 5.18% over the 11th NPC.
  2. Of them, 31 were migrant workers, against only three in the 11th NPC.
  3. Grassroots professionals made up 20.42% of the seats in the 12th NPC, up 1.20%.

Because the Decision doesn’t name a specific goal, we need to wait and see how many more voices from the grassroots there will be in the 13th NPC.

Party & Government Cadres

The Decision further requires that the proportion of delegates who are leading Party and government cadres [党政领导干部] be lower than the 12th NPC.

The Decision doesn’t define “leading Party and governmental cadres.” But according to Party regulations, they (simply put) refer to the leadership of Party committees, Party disciplinary inspection commissions, people’s governments, people’s congresses, courts, and procuratorates, as well as the leadership of these bodies’ internal departments.

Yesterday’s Decision marks the second time that such a requirement is included in an election decision. In 2012, the 11th NPC first ordered the reduction of cadres’ seats, and their proportion subsequently dropped by 6.93% to 34.88% in the 12th NPC. The Decision doesn’t include a target, and it’s unclear how much the percentage would further decline.

Other Requirements

To ensure broad representation, the Decision also asks that ethnic minorities be given around 12% (or 360) of the seats in the 13th NPC, and that each minority hold at least one seat. Such a provision dates back to the 5th NPC (1978–1982), and has been implemented fair well. In recent NPCs, ethnic minorities consistently hold around 14% of the seats—more than both the guideline percentage and their proportion in China’s population, at 8.49% (2010 Census). Clearly, the broad-representation principle rather than the proportionality principle guides the allocation of ethnic minorities’ seats.

Lastly, 35 seats are given to overseas Chinese who have returned to China, in accordance with past practice. And re-elected delegates should make up a “certain” proportion.

Delegates to the 13th NPC will have been elected by January 2018, and the election results will be certified by the NPCSC in late February 2018. At that point, we’ll have a clearer picture of the demographics of the next NPC.

[1] Zhao Xiaoli [赵晓力], On the Composition of NPC Delegates [论全国人大代表的构成], 24 Peking U. L.J. [中外法学] 973, 981 (2012).

[2] Liu Leming [刘乐明] & He Junzhi [何俊志]. Who Represents and Who Is Represented? Analysis of the Composition of Delegates to the 11th NPC [谁代表与代表谁? 十一届全国人大代表的构成分析], China Governance Rev. [中国治理评论], no. 2, 2013, at 106, 132.