The structure of Chinese government is, in theory, a model system: democratic, unitary, parliamentary. The one caveat, of course, is the party system: one party, ingrained into the 1982 Constitution, making all classification of the government other than totalitarian moot. To understand the practice, however, we must first know the theory. The Chinese government consists of, like most governments, three branches: an executive, a legislature, and a judiciary.

The Executive
The head of government is the Prime Minister, who is elected by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. He along with his cabinet are the seat of sovereignty. They govern through the principle of democratic centralism, the principle that an elected ruler or oligarchy will make policy based on arguments heard in an elected representative body. The Prime Minister and his cabinet decide the "Mass Line", analogous to the Soviet party line. The vast bureaucracy below them (the various ministers, etc.) uses this Mass Line to give direction to the lower geographical units. Below the national level is the province level (32 provinces); below this are the county and local levels (henceforth referred to collectively as the local level). The National People's Congress also elects a president, who serves as head of state in a largely ceremonial title. Keep in mind this is the theory, because the first President was Mao Zedong, and the first Prime Minister was his right hand Zhou Enlai. The current President is Jiang Zemin Hu Jintao (thanks interrobang), and the current Prime Minister is Zhu Rongji.

The Legislature
As in all parliamentary systems, the line between the executive and the legislative branches is blurry in China: leading the legislative branch is the State Council, the official name of the cabinet. There are thirteen people in the State Council, including the Prime Minister. The State Council is elected by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress. The Standing Committee consists of sixty-five people elected by the National People's Congress to conduct legislative business while the Congress is not in session. The National People's Congress is a unicameral legislature, consisting of approximately 3000 delegates elected every five years. They meet once a year unless called into extraordinary session. There is one delegate for every 400,000 people in a province. There are also delegates from the national labor unions, army, youth league, etc. Each of the provincial delegates are elected by a Provincial People's Congress; each of the delegates to a Provincial People's Congress are elected by a Local People's Congress.

The Judiciary
Officially, China's judiciary is independent, but rarely is the pretense even made anymore. The Supreme People's Court is the highest court in China, and is supervised by the National People's Congress and the Standing Committee. Below it are the Provinical Courts, and below them are the Local Courts.

As I said, this is the theory; the practice is obviously quite different. Because the CCP, the Chinese Communist Party, is ingrained into the framework of the Constitution, each level of the executive and legislative branches of the state have corresponding levels in the Party. Let us therefore examine the Party.

The Executive
The leader of the party is the general secretary. Originally, the leader was the Chairman (as in Chairman Mao), but in 1982 the position was abolished and retitled "general secretary" after the Soviet fashion. Then there is the 12-person Secretariat, and each person heads an office in the Party bureaucracy. These offices correspond to the various ministerships. Below this is are Province committees, which heeds the direction of the bureaucracy; below these are the Local committees.

The Legislature
At the lowest level is the Local Party Congress, headed by the Local Party Committee. The Local Party Congresses in a Province elect a Province Party Congress, headed by the Province Party Committee. These Congresses elect the National Party Congress, consisting of 1721 delegates. This Congress is elected every five years and meets atleast once a year; it also elects a Central Committee of 210 people to conduct party business when it is not in session. The Central Committee elects the Secretariat, as well as the Politburo. The Politburo consists of 18 people; their function is to supervise the Secretariat and assist the general secretary, their leader, in party decisions. They also elect a 6-person Standing Committee, also headed by the general secretary; this committeee functions as a cabinet.

Now for the true power structure in China. The Local Party Committees control the Local People's Congress and government; the Province Party Committees perform a similar function at their level. The Party Bureaucracy controls the state Bureaucracy. Almost every member of the National Party Congress is also in the National People's Congress; the rest of the delegates in that body are carefully selected and approved by the Party. There is always a high rate of crossover between the party and state bodies, and officials in China usually hold two posts: one within the party, and the corresponding one in the state.

Defining the true leadership of China is a harder task, as there have only been four leaders so far: Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao. The general secretary is usually also the President, but the Prime Ministership is usually held by someone else - under Mao, Zhao Enlai, and under Jiang, Zhu Rongji and before him Li Peng. Were it not for Deng, defining the leadership of China would be easy - there is a balance of power between the Prime Minister and the general secretary. However, Deng held none of the important posts, but controlled everything from behind the scenes, for which he is known as the "Invisible Puppeteer." One highly important factor in China is military support; he who is backd by the People's Liberation Army is almost guaranteed power, and Deng was indeed backed by the military. It is reasonably safe to assume that the tradition of tandem rule between the Prime Minister and the general secretary will continue, but, like most things involving China, only time will tell.