The appointment of two ministers who are not members of the Communist Party of China (CPC) generated much talk earlier this year - but that was just the beginning.
A senior Party official yesterday said the CPC is determined to tap more of the talent outside the Party to help with the country's economic and social development.
"The practice of selecting government bureau leaders from among the ranks of non-CPC members will continue in the long run," Chen Xiqing, vice-minister of the United Front Work Department of the CPC Central Committee, said yesterday.
Chen also said the Party, which has traditionally represented the interests of farmers and workers, has been reaching out to people in new social strata, namely people in the private sector and those with floating professions, to encourage them to contribute to the country's development.
The France-trained non-CPC scientist Chen Zhu was named the health minister, while the Germany-trained Wan Gang, who is a member of the China Zhi Gong (Public Interest) Party, was named science and technology minister earlier this year. They were the first non-CPC members to be appointed to ministry-level posts since the 1970s.
Apart from being made government leaders, non-Party members can also now participate in the national decision-making process by joining the national or local legislatures or political consultation bodies, leading judiciary organs or simply by submitting reports on policy, Chen said.
"New ways for non-Party members to participate in the country's decision-making process will be explored after the 17th National Party Congress," Chen said in an online interview.
The CPC Central Committee has issued a series of directives and recommendations for the appointment of non-Party members to political posts in recent years.
In addition to being eligible for political appointments, non-Party members who belong to the new social strata have gained prominence with the rise of the market economy in recent years.
It has been estimated that more than 150 million people in China fall into this category.
Song Fufan, an expert with the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, said the country's process of reform and opening-up had created more social categories.
"The CPC has risen to the challenge by not only becoming more tolerant of non-CPC leaders and experts, but also by being eager to absorb them in administrative jobs," he said.
Sectors such as the sciences, technology, health and culture that need the leadership of high-level experts are the ideal areas in which non-CPC members can be absorbed, said Song.