Theoretical discussions about the Chinese citizenship rights suggest four distinctive aspects: rural-urban inequality, state-granted rather than natural born, socioeconomic rights prior to political entitlement, and collectivism overriding individualism. From a longitudinal and comparative perspective, this study examines how the most authoritarian party newspaper - thePeople's Daily- has constructed the idea of citizenship rights and manifested the four characteristics between 1978 and 2012, covering the three administrations of Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao. Through content analysis and discourse analysis, we find that the official construction of citizenship rights enduringly employs instrumentalism to maintain the Party's authority. Nevertheless, in each leadership, there exists a dominant political rhetoric that fundamentally shapes the construction and function of citizenship rights: rights were constructed upon the socialist ideology and legal system in Deng's administration; under Jiang, the strong diplomatic strategy prioritized national sovereignty over rights and reinforced rule by law; in Hu's era, socioeconomic rights were emphasized and good governance highlighted. Political goals, the development of legal system and the style of political leadership have contributed to the periodical changes of the construction of citizenship rights.