The Common Program of the People's Republic of China 1949-1954

Article 12 of the Common Program

According to this Common Program article general elections are to be held on a short term to form a National People’s Congress (NPC). Prior to this general election, there will be elections on local level and a national census. The census started on June 30, 1953 and the results were published on November 1, 1954
Fig. 12.1 Results of the national census
Source: Wikipedia
Until then, local Representative Conferences of All Circles (RCAC) have to fulfil the tasks of the local people’s congresses. On July 31, 1949, the CC issued an instruction on the election of RCAC. In this order is stipulated “within two or at most three months after the liberation, cities with more than thirty thousand population should promptly hold a conference of representatives from various sectors. This is an important method for the Party and government to maintain close ties with the people.”

On December 4, 1949, the central government promulgated the regulations for the RCAC and states that the ultimate approval of the founding of these RCACs lies in Beijing. "Qualifications for representatives of the Provincial People’s Congresses: All people who oppose imperialism, feudalism, bureaucratic capitalism, support the common program, and have reached the age of 18, except those suffering from mental illness and deprivation of public power, regardless of ethnicity, class, gender, faith can be elected as a representative." In these elections, mayor, vice mayors, and other officials are elected.
"The primary responsibilities of the township government were: (1) carrying out decisions and orders issued by the higher governmental authorities; (2) implementing decisions made by the township people’s congress and approved by the provincial government; (3) managing and supervising work of various sections of the township government; and (4) conveying the township people’s will and opinions to higher authorities and making recommendations concerning township affairs to higher governmental authorities."
In the interim period between the abolition of the military administration and the elections for the provincial and national NPC’s, the RCACs have to take over the administration. Mao Zedong remarks "We must endeavour to make a success of the conferences of people from all circles so that people from every walk of life can unite in a common effort. All matters of importance to the people's governments should be submitted to these conferences for discussion and decision. Representatives at these conferences must have the right to express their views fully; any attempt to hinder such expression is wrong.”
In reality, participants and voters do not enjoy much freedom. The list of candidates is made up of exactly the number of candidates to be chosen. There is no competition. The CCP controls the founding of the RCACs. The party top decides to forbid elections in Shanghai for the position of mayor and vice mayor because as the newspaper Jiefang Ribao comments "It has to be admitted that, in nature, this conference is still not of the type of people's conference as approved by the Central Government for Peking.... As a result of the absence of certain objective conditions -the organizational power and the political consciousness of the masses are not yet up to the required standard-this conference can only follow in the footsteps of the first [Shanghai conference, . . . and] not yet assume powers similar to those of the Second People's Conference in Peking .... This conference ... is rather an inevitable extension and development of the first.... Given further time for development, this conference shall naturally assume the character of the people's conference convened in Peking.” A year later, the situation has improved and the RCAC elects the military commander Chen Yi as mayor.

In his speech of February 28, 1951, Liu Shaoqi explains the methods of election in Beijing. “Eighty-three per cent of the Representatives of the Peoples' Congress are elected by the people; seventeen per cent are invited after agreement with the various circles; three per cent are nominated by the Government. All the representatives are not elected in the same way. Some of them are elected by the voters' assemblies, which make use of the factories, industrial enterprises, and colleges as units. The representatives of the peasants in suburbs, of business men, industrialists, youth, and women, and the Regional representatives, are elected by the electors' assemblies, which exercise the right of voting for the people at large."

The voting is regulated by secret ballot which takes place only in colleges, where the voters are all literate and are experienced in voting. Elsewhere, the voting takes place by a show of hands after the list of candidates has been discussed. The selection of candidates was regulated, for example, the electoral wards were delineated by the City Consultative Council of Beijing. Large industrial plants and higher educational institutions, each with several thousand voters, were entitled to elect three delegates. Smaller plants and institutions were allotted one or two delegates, while those with a minimal number of voters were amalgamated for the selection of a common delegate. City districts elected two or more delegates based on their population size. Electoral commissions were established in mills, factories, institutions, and educational establishments one month before the conference convened. Overall, 61 percent of the delegates to the third Beijing all-sections conference were elected through indirect ballot, 22 percent through direct ballot, 3 percent were appointed by the city government, and 14 percent were invited.
Liu Shaoqi states secret and direct elections are only possible if everyone can write and read. He posits “…in the big cities should have three sessions annually; in the medium-sized and small cities, four sessions; in a province, one session; in a district, two sessions. The Peoples' Congress in villages should meet as often as it is stipulated in the laws.”
Chang (1956) remarks “It is stated that the elections up to 1953 of 13,637,000 people's representatives to the All-Circle Representative Conferences at all levels, with approximately 75 per cent of the representatives from the worker and peasant classes, marked the consolidation of the political leadership of the proletariat."
Zhou Enlai wrote in the magazine “People’s China” of October 1950 the remark: "...a few cities and counties" had convened People's Congresses; all other cities, and 1,707 counties, had organized Representative Conferences of All Circles; and "most" administrative villages had established one or the other." At the end of 1950, in 20 provinces and 7 other administrative units and in the cities Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and Nanjing, the first meeting or more of the RCAC are convened. In August 1949, the northeast Region, which has been under CCP administration for a longer period, has even elected a people’s government: “…commanders begun to relinquish authority to civil party cadres, in part because many units under Lin Piao’s fourth field army and Nieh Jung-chen’s North China field army had been moved south to reinforce continuing military operations.”
In the rural districts the CCP has decided that two thirds of the membership should be elected from farm workers, poor peasants and new middle peasants, while one-third of the membership was to be elected from old middle peasants and other working elements.
Deng Xiaoping does not agree with these quotas “On March 6, 1950, regarding the case that among 196 representatives in a county conference, there were 133 peasant representatives, 19 worker representatives, and government representatives for the half of the remaining 44 quotas, he (Deng Xiaoping) criticized at the enlarged meeting of CPC East Sichuan committee that, this conference could not be called as representatives of the people from all walks of life, but peasants’ conference only, which certainly could not unite the masses and differentiate the enemy.” Zhou Enlai writes in the above-mentioned article also about the function of the RCAC "uniting various strata, parties, groups and nationalities among the people, and enabling both the government to hear the opinions of the people and the people to understand and supervise the work of the government.” In other words, the RCACs are advisory meetings. The majority of the delegates in these RCAC are members of the mass organizations. (See Table 10) The same organizations which are represented in the CPPCC. The RCACs are also used in the persecution of counterrevolutionaries. RCACs or enlarged RCACs organize mass rallies against counterrevolutionaries. For example, on March 24, 1951 in Beijing, March 29 in Tianjin, April 29 in Shanghai and Wuhan.
The establishment of RCACs encountered difficulties, particularly in southern China. In the province of Guangxi only 28 Xians out of 70 in total have elected a RCAC. The party does not always manage to exert full control over these RCACs. Initially, individuals benefiting from different industries collaborated, selecting one of their members to act as a manager of the local Business Federation and as a standing committee member of the local RCAC. Subsequently, they bribed the chief of a tax affairs bureau to leverage his influence and secure the position of business-section head in the Xian People's Government.
Representative Conferences of All Circles

On January 13, 1953, Mao Zedong announces the time is ripe to hold general elections for the NPC and to formulate a constitution. Mao Zedong orders the other politburo members to read a list of compulsory readings. Mao Zedong and the highest leaders of the CCP personally oversaw the formulation of the constitution, although certain non-communist individuals also held significant roles in its development and interpretation. These individuals were experienced in the constitutional debates of the GMD era, and the intellectual and political currents of that period, with their inherent contradictions, tensions, concerns, and priorities, profoundly influenced the entire process. Mao Zedong states: "…military activities on the mainland have already ended, land reform has already been basically accomplished, and people from all walks of life have become organized. Therefore, the conditions are now ripe for convening, according to the stipulation of the Common Program of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the National People's Congress and people's congresses at each local level."
Only shortly before, Mao Zedong had a different opinion. In October 1952, Liu Shaoqi handed over a letter from Mao Zedong to Stalin, in which Mao Zedong proposed to postpone the elections and the formation of a National People’s Congress until after China had basically entered socialism. (See Meeting) Stalin disagrees. (See below) Mao Zedong concedes.
Stalin's criticism was that the process of formulating both the Common Program and Organic Law of the Central People’s Government was elitist and disconnected from the everyday concerns of ordinary Chinese, and therefore prompting the drafting of the 1954 constitution. The CCP aimed for the 1954 constitution to appear more accessible and democratic, though it did not anticipate its longevity. According to a constitutional report delivered by Liu Shaoqi on 15 september,1954 Report on the Draft Constitution, the 1954 constitution was envisioned solely as an interim measure to facilitate China’s gradual transition towards a genuinely socialist society.
In the middle of 1954, there was an extensive discussion among the Chinese populace regarding political and social rights, citizenship duties, state symbols, political structures, and ideology. Numerous individuals posed insightful and often forward-thinking inquiries concerning law, citizenship, class dynamics, and political authority, and they proposed thought-provoking ideas for reform. However,rather than directly interpreting the draft constitution themselves, the masses primarily relied on the interpretations provided by its promoters and propaganda. This approach offers two advantages. Firstly, given that China's literacy rate in the 1950s was very low, the draft constitution was largely incomprehensible to the majority of the population. Therefore, instead of expecting the masses to read the draft constitution independently, the party deemed it more practical and efficient to have others explain it to them. Consequently, the masses' understanding of the draft constitution would inevitably be limited and superficial. However, through the interpretations provided by its promoters and propaganda, the masses could still connect with specific aspects of the draft constitution, such as those pertaining to gender equality and universal suffrage.
The big difference between the Common Program and the constitution of 1954 is: “Under the Common Program, the co-existence of both capitalism and socialism was tacitly acknowledged by the CCP. It is in this sense that, compare to the Common Program, the 1954 constitution is more ideologically orientated, for it laid down a socialist state building trajectory in the next ten to twenty years....the 1954 constitution did explicitly reject the possibility of the co-existence of capitalism and socialism in the long run” The comforting tone found in the preamble of the Common Program, which highlighted the CCP's commitment to "uniting all democratic classes," was absent, replaced by the inclusion of numerous politically charged terms to depict the socialist transition. For instance, there was mention of gradually "eliminating" the "rich peasant" rural economy, and the state asserted its right to "expropriate" private property.
According to article 6 of the Organic Law of the CPPCC, a plenary session of the CPPCC shall be summoned once every three years by the National Committee. The CCP is reluctant to hold such a plenary session or to hold an election for the NPC. The party takes the decision to postpone the elections. In October 1952, during Liu Shaoqi’s visit, he informs Stalin of this delay. Stalin is strongly against this decision. Stalin reiterated his stance and supported it with several points. Firstly, he noted that the government of the PRC had not undergone an electoral process. This absence of elections allowed adversaries to question its legitimacy, branding it as merely a self-declared military dictatorship. Secondly, the country lacked an official constitution. The Common Program provided little reassurance in this regard, as both its legitimacy and that of all PRC laws were shadowed by their origins in the unelected CPPCC. Thirdly, Stalin pointed out that the multi-party coalition government established by the Common Program posed a significant security risk to the CCP. Many members of the minor parties had close affiliations with foreign countries, particularly the United States and United Kingdom, and could potentially act as spies for these hostile powers. Stalin argued that the CCP could address these issues and undermine its adversaries' propaganda by simply holding elections in 1954. Given its substantial popular support and experience in mass mobilization, it was assured to dominate such elections.
Back in China, Liu Shaoqi convinces Mao Zedong and on December 24, 1952, the meeting of the permanent committee of the CPPCC decides to hold elections. The CCP and the minzhu dangpai adopt a list of candidates. A committee screens the candidates and in doubt the CCP takes the final decision. The number of candidates does not exceed the number of seats in the NPC. The election of the NPC is an indirect election, the members of the provincial people’s congresses chose the members of the NPC. Deng Xiaoping explains this procedure by saying “… because most people were unfamiliar with national policies and the names of state leaders, subjecting top Party and government functionaries to a popular vote was impossible.” In reality, even this procedure is not followed. On July 5, 1954, the national committee of the CPPCC approved a list of candidates. The provincial people’s congresses chose almost unanimous these ‘authorized ‘candidates. "Due to the full democratic consultations before the voting, the votes garnered by the elected deputies were very concentrated: 9 received 100 per cent of the votes (539 votes); 19 received one vote less than the full vote; 3 received 2 less; 2 received 3 less; while even the lowest one received only 4 less than the full vote. Even greater uniformity was shown in the election of 46 deputies to the National People's Congress by the Kwangtung Provincial People's Congress: 'The result of the voting showed that there was no invalid vote. All the 46 elected deputies were returned on from 99 to 100 per cent of the votes cast.”

Fig. 12.2 Provincial representation at the National People's Congress 1954
Source: Nelson (1982). Page 169
* Population in thousands.
It is notable that despite the party's transformation of elections from a mechanism of choice to a means of legitimizing appointed candidates, it wholeheartedly embraced its dominance in the electoral process and considered it entirely justifiable. In the elections of 1937 and 1947, the GMD state favoured certain outcomes, yet it did not outright forbid opposition or fully control competition. Conversely, the CCP's new system ensured a predetermined result in each election. To facilitate this system, the communist government mobilized a vast number of individuals from party organizations and the general populace. Never before had election preparation been executed with such meticulousness. The party's rationale can be summarized as follows: as the Communist Party regards itself as the party of the people, it naturally represents their interests, and therefore, what the party desires invariably aligns with the desires of the people. Consequently, rather than maintaining a low profile, the party actively promoted these elections as a novel form of democracy.
In addition, Hill (2017) remarks "The election and the propaganda campaign that preceded it were, despite pronouncements from the government, intimately linked to the climate of pervasive political violence that characterized the early years of the People’s Republic. Although the election was ostensibly not intended as a mass political campaign that targeted “enemies,” it is not surprising that many saw it as exactly that."

This article 12 of the Common Program states that the NPC is the supreme organ of state power. In reality the power is vested in the CCP. As per a 1949 decision by the CCP Central Committee, party committees, rather than government agencies, were designated as the highest decision-making bodies within all work units. Decisions taken by these committees were mandated to be followed without question by all government agencies, military units, and mass organizations. Initially intended as a temporary measure to streamline the command of revolutionary forces, this arrangement evolved post-assumption of power, extending unified leadership across all societal domains. Under the influence of party radicals, this structure was frequently reinforced. Consequently, party committees were instituted in every governmental organization, with party secretaries wielding ultimate authority.

02-12-1949 General Rules for the Organization of the Provincial People's Congress. Most delegates are from social, cultural and functional organization. [↩]
Yang (2003). Page 41 [↩] [Cite]
List of Delegates to the First People's Congress of All walks of life in Guangdong Province This list shows the composition of the 1st RCAC in 1950 in Guangdong [↩]
Cited in Steiner (1950b). Page 53 [↩] [Cite]
Kovalyov (1953). Page 6 [↩] [Cite]
Chang (1956). Page 523 [↩] [Cite]
Cited in Barnett (1951). Page 77 [↩] [Cite]
Whitson (1973). Page 521 [↩] [Cite]
Steiner (1950b). Page 52 [↩] [Cite]
Cited in Wu (2015). Page 97 [↩] [Cite]
Cited in Barnett (1951). Page 77 [↩] [Cite]
Moseley (1973). Page 39 [↩] [Cite]
See Moseley on page 53 et seq. he describes the founding of the RCAC in Nanjing. [↩] [Cite]
Solinger (1984). Page 147. [Cite]
"...negativity and resistance caused some elections to slip out of the Party’s control. In one early voting district (in Shanghai), for example, all three of the officially-nominated candidates failed to earn half of the vote and thus were not elected." Zhang (2014). Page 1077 [↩] [Cite]
Mao Zedong states: "1) the 1936 Stalin Constitution and Stalin’s Report; 2) the 1918 Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic Constitution (read Volume One of the Collected Materials on the Constitution and Electoral Law edited by the Government Office); 3) the Romanian, Polish, East German, and Czechoslovakian Constitutions (read the Collected Constitutions of the People’s Democracies published by the People’s Press. The various national constitutions collected in this volume are similar with minor variations. Select the Romanian and Polish Constitutions as relatively new examples, select the German and Czechoslovakian Constitutions as relatively detailed examples with minor points of difference. If you have time, read the others); 4) the 1913 Tiantan Draft Constitution, the 1923 Cao Kun Constitution, the 1947 Chiang Kai-shek Constitution (read Volume Three of the Collected Materials on the Constitution and Electoral Law. These represent three models: a ministerial system, a federalist system, and a presidential dictatorship.); 5) the 1946 French Constitution (read Volume Four of the Collected Materials on the Constitution and Electoral Law. This represents a comparatively progressive and complete capitalist ministerial system constitution). Please inform me of your opinion." Cited in Tiffert (2009). Page 67 [↩] [Cite]
Tiffert (2009). Page 62
In January 1953, thirty-three individuals were selected by the CCP as the members of the Constitutional Drafting Committee, a number of the selected discussants received their legal education abroad, in countries such as the U.S, Germany and Japan. The Committee included 20 party members, 7 party members from influential minor parties in the United Front of which 2 are also member of the CCP and 6 independent members. Some were legal and linguistic experts. The actually drafting was done by the Constitution Drafting Small Group, comprised of Mao Zedong and three of his secretaries Tian Jiaying, Hu Qiaomu and Chen Boda. [↩] [Cite]
Li (2001). Page 41 [↩] [Cite]
Diamant (2015). Page 1. [Cite] The proposals for a constitution are published in the People’s Daily, on June 15, 1954. During the following three months approximately 150 million people from all around the country participated in a national discussion of the proposals. The drafting commission gathered 1,160,000 questions and opinions during the nationwide discussion.
See 14-06-1954 30th meeting CPGC and speech Mao Zedong [↩]
Hu (2014). Pages 12-13. This constitution was to a considerable extent modelled on the 1936 Constitution of the SU [↩] [Cite]
Diamant (2015). Pages 11-12 [↩] [Cite]
Tiffert (2009). Page 13. [Cite]
Stalin repeats his arguments, made in July 1949 during the visit of Liu Shaoqi. "Stalin therefore suggested that the Chinese comrades should ensure that they achieved a majority in general elections and formed a one-party government. He advised them to hold the elections in 1954 and to link them to the promulgation of a new constitution, which would have to replace the proposed “Common Program.” This constitution should not be socialist in nature, but should reflect existing social conditions. Both of these, the elections and a new constitution, were also necessary to counteract accusations “by the enemy” that the Communists had come to power by military means in China and lacked legitimacy." Heinzig (2004). Pages 224-225 [↩] [Cite]
Gluckstein (1957). Page 347 [↩] [Cite]
Hill (2019). Page 197 [↩] [Cite] [Cite]
Hill (2019). Page 203 [↩] [Cite]

General rules governing the organization of the conference of provincial people’s representatives of all circles. Passed Dec. 2, 1949; promulgated Dec. 4,1949.
General rules governing the organization of the conference of municipal people’s representatives of all circles. Passed Dec. 2, 1949; promulgated Dec. 4,1949.
General rules governing the organization of the conference of hsien people’s representatives of all circles. Passed Dec. 2, 1949; promulgated Dec. 4,1949.
General rules governing the organization of the conference of ch‘ü people’s representatives of all circles in large cities and municipalities. Passed Nov. 3, 1950; promulgated Nov. 13, 1950.
General rules governing the organization of the ch‘ü people’s governments in large cities and municipalities. Passed Nov. 3, 1950; promulgated Nov. 13,1950.
General rules governing the organization of the conference of ch‘ü people’s representatives of all circles. Passed Dec. 8, 1950; promulgated Dec. 30,1950.
General rules governing the organization of the conference of hsiang (or administrative ts'un) people’s representatives of all circles. Passed Dec. 8, 1950; promulgated Dec. 30, 1950.
General rules governing the organization of the ch‘ü people’s governments and ch‘ü administrative offices. Passed Dec. 8, 1950; promulgated Dec. 30,1950.
General rules governing the organization of the hsiang (or administrative ts‘un) people’s governments. Passed Dec. 8, 1950; promulgated Dec. 30, 1950.
 10-03-1951 Construction of people's congresses at all levels and from all walks of life across the country
Directive of the Government Administration Council regarding the convening of conferences of ch‘ü people’s representatives of all circles in cities with a population of more than one hundred thousand. Apr.24, 1951.
General rules governing the organization of the consultative committees of the conferences of provincial and municipal people’s representatives of all circles. Passed Aug. 3, 1951; approved Aug. 16,1951; promulgated Aug. 18,1951.
Decision of the Government Administration Council regarding the relations among the local consultative committees at all levels. Passed Aug. 51 promulgated Aug. 18, 1951.
Opinions regarding the work of the consultative committees of the conferences of provincial and municipal people’s representatives of all circles. Passed July 19, 1951; issued Sept. 6, 1951
Notification by the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference regarding the exercising of the functions and powers of its local committees by the consultative committees of the conferences of provincial and municipal people’s representatives of all circles. Oct. 17,1951.

Chapter 2 of Common Program