The process for selecting and promoting Communist Party officials is deeply flawed, research by its Organisation Department has found.
Top leaders were monopolising promotions, nepotism was rampant and appointments were bought and sold, it said.
The findings came after the department, which is under the Central Committee, sent teams out across the country and distributed questionnaires to more than 3,000 cadres in 16 provinces, the People's Daily reported yesterday.
President Xi Jinping has called on the party to improve its recruitment process, stressing that the quality of cadres, not the quantity, was most important.
The study, by the department's Party Building Institute, said high-level officials were monopolising the promotion process in their jurisdictions.
The centralised power was distorting the recommendation, inspection and multi-candidate election of cadres, it said.
Elections were not meaningful due to the influence of high-level officials over the outcome, it said. Nepotism and the buying and selling of positions were also common.
The study said the personal secretaries of some high-ranking officials were often promoted in order to protect the bosses and stave off any future corruption investigation.
"All this corrupt and unfair behaviour that the study cited has existed in the selection and appointment of officials for decades," said Professor Cai Lihui, a political analyst at Guangzhou's Sun Yat-sen University.
"It's the result of a lack of checks and balances in China's government. No one can limit the power of the officials and the party."
"It's a common belief among many top-level officials that power is higher than the law," Cai said.