There has long been debate about what is the right number of seats on the Politburo Standing Committee, and some sources say the leadership has recently reached a consensus on reducing this from nine to seven.
Cheng Li, from the Brookings Institution, said the number of seats on the committee could very well change, as the party constitution did not specify a fixed number.
The committee that was formed at the 12th and 13th party congresses in 1982 and 1987 had only six members, while that formed at the 14th and 15th party congresses in 1992 and 1997 had seven. Since the 16th party congress in 2002, it has had nine.
Changes in the number of members more often reflect the horse trading for power among factions, rather than any changes in social or economic conditions that require a reshuffling of portfolios.
Recent reports have said that the number of committee members would be cut from nine to seven, so that decisions and polices could be 'implemented faster and better'. Analysts believe that such a change would strengthen party general secretary Hu Jintao's influence after his retirement.
Reports before the 16th party congress in 2002 said it was outgoing party chief Jiang Zemin who added two extra members, pushing for the appointment of Li Changchun as propaganda tsar, and for Luo Gan as internal security chief, to continue Jiang's legacy of persecuting the Falun Gong spiritual movement.
If the number of committee members has been cut to seven, then it should be back to what it was before 2002's 16th party congress, which might suggest scrapping the seats now reserved for the country's propaganda and internal security chiefs.
The committee is not a group of equals; each member has a rank and responsibility for a specific portfolio. Hu is ranked first and is the convenor of both it and the Politburo. He also controls some of the most important portfolios, including military and foreign affairs. But like all his colleagues, he must win consensus from the rest of the group for major decisions.
Regardless of what other formal offices they may hold, the committee members are the ones who make the important decisions in China's political system. For instance, Li Changchun, ranked No 5, currently holds no government post besides being a mere member of the National People's Congress. But he is the party's propaganda chief, in charge of all media and internet censorship. As Forbes puts it, he 'controls what 1.3 billion people see, hear, and speak'. Zhou Yongkang , ranked No 9, is also 'just' an NPC member, but in reality controls China's internal security forces.
In theory, as described in the party's 2007 constitution, the Central Committee is the top decision-making body and elects the party's general secretary, its Politburo and the Politburo Standing Committee. Members of the Politburo should come from the Central Committee, and members of the Politburo Standing Committee from the Politburo. The party's general secretary should also be a member of the committee.
China has had no supreme leader since the death of Deng Xiaoping in 1997. Since then, the party has said the country was ruled by a collective leadership with the party chief, its general secretary, at its core.
The inner workings of the Politburo Standing Committee are not well known, although it is believed it reaches decisions by consensus. This is a complicated matter involving much bargaining and manoeuvring for factional advantage, with committee members owing their jobs to horse trading among political factions, retired leaders, and different constituencies and interest groups.
The number of members in the Communist Party of China as of 2010, about 6 per cent of the population