Editor’s Note: This post does not reflect the subsequent changes in the NPC’s membership.
UPDATE (Mar. 11, 2018): We have decided to make the data underlying this post available to the public. You can download the Excel file at this link. The first spreadsheet contains all the raw data automatically downloaded by a web crawler we designed; only the “年龄” (Age) column was added by us. Please also see below for a note on the discrepancies between these data and those provided by the Democratic Parties. The second spreadsheet contains data derived from the raw data. While we do not claim copyright to these data, we would appreciate if we are credited with making them available.
The 1st Session of the 13th NPC, the most consequential NPC session in recent memory, has entered its seventh day. The 2,980 delegates—roughly three-quarters of whom have never held such a position—are set to vote on the draft constitutional amendment in just a few hours. The amendment is widely expected to pass, of course. And all eyes are on the number of “no” votes and abstentions, if any. But who exactly are these delegates, allegedly “hand-picked” by President Xi Jinping and poised to reward him with indefinite tenure? We think now is as good a time as any to dissect the composition of this new NPC.
With the help of an old friend, we downloaded the publicly available information of all 2,980 delegates from the NPC’s website, including their gender, ethnicity, month of birth, jiguan [籍贯] (defined below), and political affiliation. (Unfortunately, information that used to be available, including educational background, is missing for the 13th NPC delegates.) We then analyzed the data and made some interesting findings that we present below.
We start by addressing a popular misconception. Many seem to think that all delegates to the NPC are members of the Communist Party of China (CPC). This is not true, as China’s eight minority political parties—the so-called “Democratic Parties” [民主党派]—all have nominal representation in the NPC. There is also a sizeable proportion of delegates without any stated political affiliation. To be sure, the presence of these non-Communists in the NPC in no way affects the outcome of any vote, as all Democratic Parties are subordinate to the CPC. Thus, for all practical purposes, all delegates are CPC members.
According to a 1996 document issued by the CPC United Front Work Department, the membership of each Democratic Party is largely limited to the following:
- Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Kuomintang [中国国民党革命委员会] (“Min’ge” [民革] for short): people associated with the former Kuomintang and Taiwan;
- China Democratic League [中国民主同盟] (“Minmeng” [民盟] for short): intellectuals engaged in literacy education;
- China National Democratic Construction Association [中国民主建国会] (“Minjian” [民建] for short): businesspeople and entrepreneurs;
- China Association for Promoting Democracy [中国民主促进会] (“Minjin” [民进] for short): intellectuals engaged in education, culture, and publishing;
- China Peasants and Workers Democratic Party [中国农工民主党] (“PWDP” [农工党] for short): intellectuals engaged in medicine and public health;
- China Zhi Gong Party [中国致公党] (“ZGP” [致公党] for short): overseas Chinese who have returned to the Mainland and their relatives;
- Jiusan Society [九三学社] (“Jiusan”): high-level and intermediate intellectuals engaged in science, technology, higher education, medicine, and public health;
- Taiwan Democratic Self-Government League [台湾民主自治同盟] (“Taimeng” [台盟] for short): Taiwan citizens residing on the Mainland.
Quite obviously, the CPC holds a supermajority (2,175 or 73.0%) of the seats in the 13th NPC. The next largest group consists of delegates with no affiliation, who hold 426 (14.3%) seats. The remaining 379 (12.7%) seats are roughly evenly distributed among the eight democratic parties, each given approximately 50, except for Taimeng, which historically occupies the fewest seats among the eight.[UPDATE (Mar. 11, 2018): A reader commented that there are some discrepancies between the number of Democratic-Party delegates that we obtained from the NPC’s website and that released by each of the Democratic Parties. We investigated and found that such discrepancies do exist, and can confirm that they were NOT caused by our web crawler. The NPC’s database lists two delegates (one male, one minority female) as CPC instead of Taimeng members (Democratic Party members do sometimes hold dual memberships); erroneously lists three delegates (one minority female, one Han female, one male) as Minmeng members; fails to list one male Han delegate as a Minjin member; and erroneously lists one female Han delegate as a Min’ge member. In other words, according to the democratic parties, only 378 delegates are their members, not 379. Because the discrepancies are relatively minor, we won’t redo our analysis and stand by our conclusions.]
We then compared the ten political groups—nine political parties and the “nonpartisans”—in terms of the delegates’ average age, female representation, and ethnic minority representation (see Fig. 2). First, an average delegate to the 13th NPC is about 50 years old, regardless of his or her political affiliation. Second, there is significant variation in ethnic minority representation across the groups. While Han delegates consistently hold more seats than minority delegates regardless of political affiliation, the ratio ranges from as high as 10.2-to-1 (Minjian) to as low as 3.1-to-1 (nonpartisans). Overall, non-Hans occupy 14.7% of the seats (a 5.8-to-1 ratio), much higher than their share of the Chinese population (8–9%) (more on this below). Finally, in all non-Communist groups, the two sexes have almost equal representation (with men always occupying slightly more seats than women). (If we have to guess, this rough equality is by design.) Within the CPC, however, men outnumber women by five to one: more evidence that women are largely excluded from prominent (even if largely rubber-stamping) positions within the CPC.
The 2,980 delegates are on average 52 years old, with most (1,632 or 54.8%) in the 50–59 age group. The youngest six delegates are 22 years old, while the oldest delegate, Ms. SHEN Jilan from Shanxi, is 88; she has been a delegate since the 1st NPC. Figure 3 shows an apparent trend: The older a delegate is, the more likely he or she is a CPC member, male, and of the Han majority. The 50–59 and 60–69 age groups, which include most of China’s current central and provincial Party and government leaders (who effectively serve ex officio), are only 10.5% ethnic minority and 16.7% female.
Women hold almost a quarter of the seats in the 13th NPC, or 24.9% (742) to be exact. In terms of female representation in national legislature, therefore, China is ranked higher than the U.S. and Japan, but lower than most other developed countries (and numerous developing countries). Male delegates are on average five years older than their female colleagues. The former is also more likely to be Han and CPC members. Quite unexpectedly, in fact, fewer than half of all female delegates are CPC members.
There are 55 officially recognized ethnic minorities in China. Collectively, they are apportioned 14.7% of the seats in the 13th NPC—a percentage both higher than their proportion in the Chinese population and than the guideline value set by the 12th NPC in 2017 (“approximately 12%”). Figure 5 shows the ten ethnic minorities with the most seats in the 13th NPC. Except the Manchu, they are also the ten largest minorities in China, according to the 2010 national census (though the order is different). While all 56 ethnic groups are represented in the 13th NPC, half (28) are each represented by only one delegate. Han delegates are on average almost five years older than non-Han delegates, more likely to be CPC members, and significantly (not in the statistical sense) more likely to be male.
The approximately 3,000 seats in the 13th NPC are apportioned among the 31 provincial-level administrative regions on the Mainland principally according to their population (adjustments are made to take into account, for example, the ethnic minority population in each region). Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan are given fixed numbers of seats—36, 12, and 13, respectively. For more information on the way the seats in the NPC are apportioned, please refer to this post.
Figure 7 shows the ten largest and smallest delegations to the 13th NPC. It should be no surprise that the largest delegations—which occupy 46.1% of the seats—represent provinces that are among the most populous in China. The inverse is true for the ten smallest.
We also tallied the delegates’ jiguans [籍贯]: a term that is variably understood as (1) one’s grandfather’s place of long-term residence; (2) one’s father’s place of long-term residence; or (3) one’s birthplace. It is unclear which definition each delegate used, but it seems that CPC leaders (e.g., Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, and Wang Qishan) tend to choose from the first two—thus we will loosely define jiguan as one’s place of ancestry. The top ten most common jiguans are almost identical to the ten largest delegations, with Guangdong replaced by Zhejiang. But the former group occupies considerably more seats than the latter (62.0% vs. 46.1%). The bottom ten delegations and jiguans also largely overlap, with Gansu and Hong Kong in the former replaced by Shanghai and North Korea in the latter.
Lastly, we surveyed the delegates’ surnames. The ten most common surnames (see Fig. 9) are borne by delegates (mostly Han) who occupy 41.2% of the seats. The top six are also the six most common surnames among the general Chinese population, in the same order, according to a 2014 report. Four Han delegates have compound surnames [复姓]: one Huangfu [皇甫], three Ouyangs [欧阳], and one Shangguan [上官]. Most ethnic minority delegates also have single-character surnames; the most prominent exceptions are the Uyghurs, whose surnames are at least two-character long because they are phonetic transcriptions of their names in the Uyghur language.
 These delegates are further divided into two groups: independents [无党派] (literally “no political affiliation”) and commoners [群众]. The former is an exclusive cohort comprised of people “who have made positive contributions to and some impact on the society, mostly intellectuals,” according to a 2005 CPC document. In this post we treat the two groups as a whole, because no delegate is designated “无党派.” Instead, the word “无” (none) is used to describe the political affiliation of close to 400 delegates. Based on historical data, however, they cannot all be independents (there were only three in the 12th NPC).