[…] The Central Organisation Department is its third and least-known pillar of power and the key to its hold over personnel throughout every level of government and industry. Far from undermining the department’s position, the freedoms unleashed by the market economy have made personnel control more essential than ever in fending off rivals for power. The ability to vet government staff for their loyalty to the leadership, senior officials believe, is also essential to the party’s grip on power into the future.
The department has been headed since late 2007 by Li Yuanchao, one of the more open-minded figures of the new generation of Chinese leaders. Mr Li studied briefly at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and has been at the forefront of moves to cultivate ideas to modernise the party. His day-to-day duties at the department, however, are decidedly old-fashioned.
The department replicates what was known in the Soviet Union as the nomenklatura, the “list of names” of party members who formed the Communist ruling class through their eligibility to fill prized jobs in any sectors the state controlled. “The system is all from the Soviet Union but the CCP has taken it to an extreme,” says Yuan Weishi, of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangdong. “China is more radical. [The party here] wants to lead everything.”