President of the People's Republic of China

President of the People's Republic of China
People's Republic of China National Emblem.svg
Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg
Xi Jinping portrait 2019 (cropped).jpg
Xi Jinping

since 14 March 2013
Style Mr President (主席) (informal)
Comrade (同志) (formal)
His Excellency (阁下) (diplomatic)
Status Head of state
Residence Zhongnanhai
Seat West Building, Zhongnanhai, Beijing (de jure)
Nominator Presidium of the National People's Congress
Appointer National People's Congress
Term length Five years, no term limit
Constituting instrument Constitution of the People's Republic of China
Precursor Mao Zedong
Inaugural holder Li Xiannian
Formation 27 September 1954
18 June 1983
Abolished January 1975 – December 1982
Unofficial names State Chairperson
Deputy Vice President
Salary ¥152,121 RMB
($22,000 USD)[1]
Website The State Council of the People's Republic of China
President of the People's Republic of China
Chairman of the People's Republic of China
Simplified Chinese 中华人民共和国主席
Traditional Chinese 中華人民共和國主席
Literal meaning Chinese People Republic Chairperson
Alternative Chinese name
Simplified Chinese 国家主席
Traditional Chinese 國家主席
Literal meaning State Chairperson

The president of the People's Republic of China is the ceremonial head of state of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Under the current PRC Constitution, the presidency is a largely ceremonial office with very limited power.[2] However, since 1993, as a matter of convention, the presidency has been held simultaneously by the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, the top leader of this one-party state. The presidency is officially regarded as an institution of the state rather than an administrative post; theoretically, the president serves at the pleasure of the National People's Congress (NPC), the legislature, and is not legally vested to take executive action on his own prerogative.[note 1]

The presidency was first established in the PRC Constitution in 1954 and successively held by Mao Zedong and Liu Shaoqi. Liu fell into political disgrace during the Cultural Revolution, after which the presidency became vacant. The presidency was abolished under the Constitution of 1975, then reinstated in the Constitution of 1982, but with reduced powers. The official English-language translation of the title was "Chairman"; after 1982, this translation was changed to "President", although the Chinese title remains unchanged.[note 2]

When the current constitution was adopted in 1982, the presidency was designed as a largely ceremonial office, with the Premier serving as the head of government and the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China serving as the political leader of the party; three posts were held by different individuals in the 1980s. That said, in reality political power was concentrated in the Paramount leader, who controlled the Party and the military from "behind the scenes" without holding any of the three posts. However, Presidents Li Xiannian (1983–1988) and Yang Shangkun (1988–1993) were not simple figureheads, but actually significant players in the highest leadership, with their powers deriving from their status of being amongst the Eight Elders, rather than the office of president.[3]

Since 1993, apart from brief periods of transition, the top leader of China simultaneously serves as the president, the leader of the party (as General Secretary), and the commander-in-chief of the military (as the chairman of the Central Military Commission). This individual then carries out different duties under separate titles. For example, the leader meets foreign dignitaries and receives ambassadors in his capacity as president, issues military directives as Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), and upholds party rule as the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

During the Mao era, there were no term limits for the presidency. Between 1982 and 2018, the constitution stipulated that the president could not serve more than two consecutive terms. In 2018, term limits were abolished, but the post's powers and ceremonial role remains the same.

The current president is Xi Jinping, who took office in March 2013, replacing Hu Jintao. He was re-elected in March 2018.

Qualifications and election

According to the current Constitution of China, the president must be a Chinese citizen with full electoral rights who has reached the age of 45.

The president is elected by the National People's Congress (NPC), China's highest state body, which also has the power to remove the president and other state officers from office. Elections and removals are decided by majority vote.[4]

According to the Organic Law of the NPC, the president is nominated by the NPC Presidium, the Congress's executive organ.[5] In practice, however, the ruling Chinese Communist Party reserves the post of president for its current general secretary. Like all officers of state elected by the NPC, the president is elected from a one name ballot.

Between 1982 and March 2018, the president and vice-president were limited to two consecutive terms.[6] However these limits were removed at the 2018 National People's Congress.[7][8]

Powers and duties

Under the current constitution, instated in 1982 with minor revisions in later years, the president has the power to promulgate laws, select and dismiss the premier (prime minister) as well as the ministers of the State Council, grant presidential pardons, declares a state of emergency, issue mass mobilization orders, and issue state honours. In addition, the president names and dismisses ambassadors to foreign countries, signs and annuls treaties with foreign entities. According to the Constitution, all of these powers require the approval or confirmation of the National People's Congress. The president also conducts state visits on behalf of the People's Republic. Under the constitution the "state visit" clause is the only presidential power that does not stipulate any form of oversight from the National People's Congress. As the vast majority of presidential powers are dependent on the ratification of the NPC, the president is, in essence, a symbolic post without any direct say in the governance of state. It is therefore conceived to mainly function as an symbolic institution of the state rather than an office with true executive powers.[2][6][9]

In theory, the president has discretion over the selection of the premier, though in practice the premier has historically been selected through the top-level discussions of the Chinese Communist Party. Upon the nomination of the premier, the NPC convenes to confirm the nomination, but since only one name is on the ballot, it can only approve or reject. To date, it has never rejected a personnel nomination.[10] Since the premier, the head of government in China, is the most important political appointment in the Chinese government, the nomination power, under some circumstances, may give the president real political influence.[11]

Therefore, the title "President" in this case does not mean the same as in the United States or other presidential states, but rather as an approximation in terms of its power compared with parliamentary systems.

In 2019, a report of U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said that everyone should stop calling Chinese leader Xi Jinping “President” instead of “General Secretary” under Xi's one-party leadership.[12]

The president also has multiple modes of transports which he/she controls and can alter at any time.

By plane

The history of transporting heads of state dates back to the time of CAAC Airlines.

Lower officials would be transported in a CAAC Boeing 707. Chairman Mao Zedong had a personal Ilyushin Il-18 which he used on his visits. After he died, the aircraft was withdrawn from service and preserved at an aviation museum in China. In the 1970s, the position of Chinese president was abolished, but Mao Zedong and Hua Guofeng were Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party successively. With the introduction of the Boeing 747, officials started using the CAAC Boeing 747SP for international trips. After the CAAC was split up into six in 1988, the 747s were handed over to Air China, and officials continued using 747SPs under the CA livery.

When Jiang Zemin came into power and succeeded as Party General Secretary in 1989, the 747SPs were permanently returned to passenger service, and 747-400s were utilized. They were used throughout the use of Jiang, Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping. The 747-400s originally belong to Air China, but one month before the president goes on an official trip, the chosen plane is specifically inspected and retrofitted for VIP use. After the president returns to Beijing, the 747-400 is inspected and converted back to passenger configurations.

In the 2010s a Boeing 747-8 painted in the CA livery was seen around the world, under the fake rego B-2479 and the real rego B-2485. Rumours spread, saying this would be China's new Air Force One. In 2016 it was seen landing in Hamburg for VIP configuration, and since then, it has been on loan to the Chinese Government from Air China for use by the president. Although no official photos have been released, the inside is thought to have a far more lavish interior, including conference tables, seating for the press, private bedrooms, and other features.

After the 747-8 was introduced, the 747-400s now carry ministers and serve as decoy aircraft. On some occasions, an Air China Boeing 737 has even been used for transport. In the late 2010s, the president started importing his own presidential car on foreign trips. For this reason, an Air China Boeing 747 cargo aircraft is used for transportation of freight.

In order not to confuse air traffic control between a normal CA flight and a flight carrying a Chinese government member, all aircraft carrying government people fly under the callsign CA1 to CA100, since normal CA flights fly under the callsign CA101 and above.

Political ranking

For President Liu Shaoqi, he was also the first Vice Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, ranked second in the Chinese Communist Party, behind Chairman Mao Zedong.[13] For President Li Xiannian, he was also the 5th ranked member of the CCP Politburo Standing Committee, after CCP general secretary and premier.[14] For President Yang Shangkun, he was not a member of CCP Politburo Standing Committee, but he ranked third after CCP General Secretary Zhao Ziyang and Deng Xiaoping.[15] Since Jiang Zemin, the president is also the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, ranking first in party and state.[16]

Order of succession

Article 84 of the Constitution of China. If the office of president falls vacant, then the vice-president succeeds to the office. If both offices fall vacant, then the chairman of the NPC Standing Committee temporarily acts as president until the NPC can elect a new president and vice-president.[17]

Post title

The title of the office (国家主席, Guójiā Zhǔxí) was unchanged in the Chinese text, but a new English translation of "President of the People's Republic of China" has been adopted since 1982, instead of "Chairman of the People's Republic of China".

A 2019 report by the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a bipartisan commission within the United States Congress, recommends that the Chinese leader Xi Jinping be called “General Secretary” rather than “President”, arguing that the title "president" incorrectly implies that the Chinese leader is democratically elected.[18]

In August 2020, American lawmakers have introduced a bill to change the way the federal government refers to the general secretary of the CCP, prohibiting the use of the term “president”.[19]


Establishment in 1954

The office of State Chairman (the original English translation, as noted above) was first established under the 1954 Constitution. The ceremonial powers of the office were largely identical to those in the current Constitution.[20]

The powers of the 1954 office differed from those of the current office in two areas: military and governmental. The state chairman's military powers were defined in the 1954 Constitution as follows: "The Chairman of the People's Republic of China commands the armed forces of the state, and is Chairman of the National Defence Council (Chinese: 国防委员会)."[21] The National Defence Council was unique to the 1954 Constitution, and was mandated as the civil command for the People's Liberation Army. It was abolished under the 1975 Constitution.

The state chairman's governmental powers were defined in the 1954 Constitution as follows: "The Chairman of the People's Republic of China, whenever necessary, convenes a Supreme State Conference (Chinese: 最高国务会议) and acts as its chairman." The members of the Supreme State Conference included the main officers of state, and its views were to be presented to the main organs of state and government, including the National People's Congress and the State and National Defense Councils.[22] The Supreme State Conference was also unique to the 1954 Constitution. It was abolished under the 1975 Constitution and later Constitutions have not included a similar body.

History up to 1974

CCP Chairman Mao Zedong was the first to hold the office of State Chairman. He was elected at the founding session of the National People's Congress in 1955. At the 2nd NPC in 1959, Mao was succeeded by Liu Shaoqi, first vice chairman of the Communist Party. Liu was reelected as State Chairman at the 3rd NPC in Jan 1965. However, in 1966, Mao launched the Cultural Revolution and by August 1966 Mao and his supporters succeeding in removing Liu from his position as party vice chairman. A few months later Liu was apparently placed under house arrest, and after a prolonged power struggle the 12th Plenum of the 8th Communist Party Congress stripped Liu Shaoqi of all his party and non-party positions on 31 October 1968, including the post of State Chairman. This was in violation of the Constitution, which required a vote by the NPC to remove the state chairman.[citation needed]

After Liu's removal in 1968, the office of State Chairman was vacant. From 1972 to 1975, however, state media referred to Vice State Chairman Dong Biwu as "acting state chairman."[citation needed]

Abolition in 1975

When the 4th NPC was convened in 1975, its main act was to adopt a new Constitution which eliminated the office of State Chairman and emphasized instead the leadership of the Communist Party over the state, including an article that made the CCP Chairman Supreme Commander of the PLA in concurrence as Chairman of the party CMC.[23] The 5th NPC was convened two years early, in 1978, and a third Constitution was adopted, which also lacked the office of State Chairman. The office was finally reinstated in the fourth Constitution, adopted by the 5th Session of the 5th NPC in 1982.

Restoration in 1982

In the 1982 Constitution, the president was conceived of as a figurehead of state with actual state power resting in the hands of the General Secretary of the Communist Party, premier of the State Council and the chairman of the Central Military Commission, and all four posts were designed to be held by separate people. The president therefore held minor responsibilities such as greeting foreign dignitaries and signing the appointment of embassy staff, and did not intervene in the affairs of the State Council or the party.

In the original 1982 Constitution plan, the party would develop policy while the state would execute it. The original goal was to divide state power in order to prevent a cult of personality from forming as it did with the case of Mao Zedong. Thus in 1982, although Deng Xiaoping was reckoned as the country's "paramount leader," he was one of four main leaders–Hu Yaobang, the party general secretary; Zhao Ziyang, the premier; Li Xiannian, the president; and Deng, the chairman of the Central Military Commission. The current political structure of Vietnam is similar to the structure China followed in the 1980s.

In the 1990s, the experiment of separating party and state posts, which led to conflict between Deng Xiaoping and Zhao Ziyang during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, was terminated. In 1993, the post of President was taken by Jiang Zemin, who as General Secretary of the CCP and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, became the undisputed top leader of the party and the state.[24][25] When Jiang Zemin stepped down in 2003, the offices of General Secretary and President were once again both given to one man, then–Vice-President Hu Jintao, the first vice-president to assume the office. In turn, Hu vacated both offices for Xi Jinping in 2012 and 2013.[26]

On March 11, 2018, the National People's Congress, by a vote of 2,958 in favor, two opposed and three abstaining, passed a constitutional amendment that allowed the President to serve an unlimited number of five-year terms. This was widely interpreted as part of an expansion of Xi's power, effectively making him paramount leader and president for life.[8] Xi explained the decision in terms of needing to align the presidency with his more powerful posts of General Secretary of the Party and CMC Chairman, which do not have term limits.[27]

List of heads of state


Xi JinpingHu JintaoJiang ZeminYang ShangkunLi XiannianYe JianyingZhu DeSoong Ching-lingDong BiwuLiu ShaoqiMao Zedong


Other heads of state


# President Date of birth Age at ascension
(first term)
Time in office
Age at retirement
(last term)
Date of death Longevity
1 Zedong, MaoMao Zedong 1893122626 December 1893(26 December 1893) 60 27560 years, 275 days 04 2124 years, 212 days 64 12264 years, 122 days 197609099 September 1976 30,20782 years, 258 days
2 Shaoqi, LiuLiu Shaoqi 1898112424 November 1898(24 November 1898) 60 15460 years, 154 days 09 1879 years, 187 days 69 34269 years, 342 days 1969111212 November 1969 25,92070 years, 353 days
Presidency vacant
acting Biwu, DongDong Biwu 188603055 March 1886(5 March 1886) 85 35685 years, 356 days 02 3272 years, 327 days 88 31888 years, 318 days 197504022 April 1975 32,53489 years, 28 days
acting Ching-ling, SoongSoong Ching-ling 1893012727 January 1893(27 January 1893) 83 16183 years, 161 days 01 2421 year, 242 days 85 03785 years, 37 days 1981052929 May 1981 32,26388 years, 122 days
Presidency abolished
3 Xiannian, LiLi Xiannian 1909062323 June 1909(23 June 1909) 73 36073 years, 360 days 04 2954 years, 295 days 78 29078 years, 290 days 1992062121 June 1992 30,31482 years, 364 days
4 Shangkun, YangYang Shangkun 190708033 August 1907(3 August 1907) 80 25080 years, 250 days 04 3524 years, 352 days 85 23685 years, 236 days 1998091414 September 1998 33,28091 years, 42 days
5 Zemin, JiangJiang Zemin 1926081717 August 1926(17 August 1926) 66 22266 years, 222 days 09 3539 years, 353 days 76 21076 years, 210 days Living 34,73595 years, 36 days (Living)
6 Jintao, HuHu Jintao 1942122121 December 1942(21 December 1942) 60 08460 years, 84 days 09 36410 years, 0 days 70 08470 years, 84 days Living 28,76578 years, 275 days (Living)
7 Jinping, XiXi Jinping 1953061515 June 1953(15 June 1953) 59 years, 272 days 8 years, 192 days (Ongoing) Incumbent Living 24,93668 years, 99 days (Living)

Spouse of the President

Since the first president, six presidents have had a spouse during term of office. The current spouse is Peng Liyuan, wife of President Xi Jinping.

No. Spouse President Tenure
1 Jiang Qing Mao Zedong 27 September 1954 – 27 April 1959
2 Wang Guangmei Liu Shaoqi 27 April 1959 – 31 October 1968
3 Lin Jiamei Li Xiannian 18 June 1983 – 8 April 1988
vacant Yang Shangkun 8 April 1988 – 27 March 1993
4 Wang Yeping Jiang Zemin 27 March 1993 – 15 March 2003
5 Liu Yongqing Hu Jintao 15 March 2003 – 14 March 2013
6 Peng Liyuan Xi Jinping 14 March 2013 – Incumbent

See also