Big Business and Cadre Management in China

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Leading cadres in China are subject to rotation. An interesting form of rotation takes place between big business and the political world. That means one fifth of China’s governors and vice governors have a business background as heads of one of China’s large State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). How this takes place and which qualifications the involved business leaders possess are shrouded in mystery. Based on prosopographical studies of Chinese business leaders who have participated in the Chinese Executive Leadership Program (CELP), this article attempts to open the black box. The study examines the career pathways of CELP participants in Party, government and business positions. The study shows that 84 of the 261 CELP SOE participants (2005-2018) were subsequently promoted, and 20 of these promotions were from SOEs to leading Party and government positions. In some cases, former business leaders became Party secretaries in important provinces or ministers in key ministries. The article also argues that Chinese business leaders have managed to keep their administrative ranking in the Chinese nomenklatura system. In fact, Chinese business leaders are quasi officials (zhun guan) and form an important recruitment base for leadership renewal. As such, the article suggests that the rotation of cadres within the ‘Iron Triangle’ of Party–government–business constitutes the main unifying and stabilising factor in the Chinese political system.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCopenhagen Journal of Asian Studies
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)53-76
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Chinease Communist Party (CCP)q
  • Elite politics
  • State-owned enterprise
  • Government-business relations
  • Nomenklatura
  • Government officials

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