The People's Republic of China consists of 23 provinces, 5 autonomous regions, and 4 municipalities (China considers Taiwan to be its 23rd province). Under the constitution of 1982, the legislative body is the National Party Congress. Members are elected for five-year terms. A standing committee of the Congress enacts decrees and ratifies treaties. The Congress selects a president (head of state), who serves a five-year term, and also appoints the State Council (cabinet), headed by a premier. The highest judicial authority is the Supreme People's Court.

In practice, all power is exercised by the Communist party through its Politburo, Politburo standing committee, and Central Committee. The chairman of the party is ordinarily China's most powerful person.

Although the constitution guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press, these freedoms exist only in a very restricted sense. All adult citizens are allowed to vote, but for each office there is only one candidate, chosen by the party.

China's army, with a strength of about 2,900,000, is the largest in the world. Its navy is designed for coastal defense and consists mainly of submarines, destroyers, frigates, missile boats, and patrol craft. The air force has about 4,500 combat planes.