China is a one-party state, with real power lying with the Chinese Communist party. The country is governed under the constitution of 1982 as amended, the fifth constitution since the accession of the Communists in 1949. The unicameral legislature is the National People's Congress (NPC), consisting of deputies who are indirectly elected to terms of five years. The NPC decides on national economic strategy, elects or removes high officeholders, and can change China's constitution; it normally follows the directives of the Communist party's politburo. The executive branch consists of the president, who is head of state, and the premier, who is head of government. The president is elected by the NPC for a five-year term and and is eligible for reelection. The premier is nominated by the president and approved by the NPC. Administratively, the country is divided into 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, and four municipalities. Despite the concentration of power in the Communist party, the central government's control over the provinces and local governments is limited, and they are often able to act with relative impunity in many areas.
China began to build a modern legal system in the late 1970s, after opening itself economically to the rest of the world. Since then it has developed legal codes in the areas of criminal, civil, administrative, and commercial law. The legal system is not independent of the government, however, a problem that is especially acute on the local level, where corrupt officials manipulate the process to protect themselves and limit citizens' rights.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.