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I’ve spotted an interesting similarity between China’s ruling party and the Vatican. Not their policies on anything controversial – that would be too easy, and rather crude. It’s the ratio of the ruling to the ruled.

According to my colleague Richard McGregor, China’s 1.3bn people are governed, indeed managed, by just the 300 members of the Central Committee of the Communist party of China.

And, as observed by Brian Appleyard in his recent piece on the Pope in the Sunday Times magazine, 1.3bn Catholics are told how to live by what boils down to a few hundred men in the Vatican:

For an obscure reason, the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics bow the knee to a capricious, largely Italian bureaucracy, which they believe is the gatekeeper of heaven. About 3,000 people work at the Vatican. This includes support staff. So, in effect, no more than a few hundred people run this city state, which aspires to care for every human being on Earth.

Now, I’m not comparing life in China with being catholic – it’s obviously spurious or even ridiculous. But the interesting thing here is the numbers. In simple terms, both China and the Vatican are in the business of setting doctrine, and trying to get it adhered to. China is a state which uses more forceful means, the Vatican basically plays on faith, and to a certain degree, guilt.  But 300 to 1.3bn? That’s 4.3m people per committee member or priest.

The modern US is approximately 400m governed by 435 in the House of Representatives, plus 100 in the Senate. India is a population of 1.1bn with a government of around 800 (545+250) – about 1.4m people per parliamentary member. And that’s a fairly extreme case.

Great empires come and go, but in terms of ruled to ruling, there’s been nothing like this.