Big Business and Cadre Management in China

  • Kjeld Erik Brødsgaard Copenhagen Business School
  • Kasper Ingeman Beck Copenhagen Business School
Keywords: Chinese Communist Party (CCP), elite politics, state-owned enterprises, government-business relations, nomenklatura, government officials


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.

Author Biographies

Kjeld Erik Brødsgaard, Copenhagen Business School
KJELD ERIK BRØDGAARD is Professor of China Studies at the Department of International Economics, Government and Business, CBS. His current research covers state–Party–business relations; the nomenklatura system and cadre management in the CCP; Chinese business groups; and Chinese economic thinking and development.
Kasper Ingeman Beck, Copenhagen Business School
KASPER INGEMAN BECK is Postdoctoral Researcher at the Department of International Economics, Government and Business, CBS, and is affiliated with the Sino-Danish Center for Education and Research, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences. His current research covers Chinese state-owned enterprise reforms and governance; state-owned capital funds; and state–Party–business relations.


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