The past couple of months have witnessed the launch of two major nationwide campaigns by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under Xi Jinping’s leadership. These could lead to major, and possibly far-reaching, changes. While they will further reinforce Jinping’s authority, they have the avowed objectives of further tightening controls over the country’s propaganda and culture apparatus including “new media” and strengthening controls over CCP members.
The “mass-line” campaign in the CCP is of particular importance as it includes identifying and ridding the party of those “wavering” in ideals, faith and the ideology while simultaneously enforcing party discipline. Last year’s incident involving ousted politburo (PB) member Bo Xilai and his police chief, Wang Lijun, was certainly a major reason. One objective is to reduce the number of members in the party to better manage it. The campaigns have generated a real sense of unease within the CCP rank and file and among China’s journalists and intelligentsia.
The year-long “mass line” campaign launched in mid-July is a virtual throwback to the Mao-style leadership model for self-improvement and solving intra-party contradictions. Its special “criticism and self-criticism” sessions are intended to eliminate bureaucracy, corruption and extravagance among cadre. It is additionally intended to enforce discipline and also streamline the CCP.
China’s official news agency Xinhua had disclosed that of CCP’s 82.6 million-plus members, over 26.6 million had joined the party in 2002-2011. It observed that corruption among CCP cadres had become rampant consequent to “reform and opening up” and that as the CCP grew, it became increasingly difficult to manage and administer. It regretted that a minority of members was “wavering in ideal and faith, had lack of awareness of the CCP’s goal and sense of CCP’s discipline and even ideological decay, corruption and degeneration”. This had reduced CCP’s vigour and vitality, harmed its image and prestige among the masses, weakened its ability to blaze new trails and rally people around it, and its combat effectiveness.
On January 28, 2013, CCP Central Committee (CC) general secretary Xi Jinping presided over a PB meeting to study arrangements “to strengthen the work of recruitment and management of CCP members under the new situation”. The PB meeting stressed intensified controls on recruitment, management and controlling the number and raising the quality of CCP members. It emphasised recruitment of farmers, young workers and intellectuals. CCP cadre and members are seriously apprehensive that the PB resolutions probably herald a substantive purge in CCP.
The campaign was kicked off at a special four-day “criticism and self-criticism” meeting in June, attended by the entire 25-member PB. Presiding over the meeting, Jinping urged PB members to speak out, but simultaneously cautioned them to adhere to the party line. To emphasise the importance of the drive, he attended four half-day sessions in Hebei Province on September 23-25, where he sought “real criticisms and self-criticisms”, and not “fancy words”.
Each of the seven PBSC members also fanned out to different provinces to supervise the sessions. Premier Li Keqiang inspected the Guangxi-Zhuang Autonomous Region, Zhang Dejiang travelled to Jiangsu, Yu Zhengshen supervised session in Gansu, Liu Yunshan went to Zhejiang, Wang Qishan inspected Heilongjiang and Zhang Gaoli visited Sichuan. Each specified the requirements for the local “mass line education” campaigns. Forty-five central supervisory teams led by vice minister-level officials are also inspecting administrative units and enterprises across China. The campaign has now spread to all 31 provinces and autonomous regions, with party secretaries instructing cadre to be “honest” in the criticism and self-criticism sessions. A key feature includes a direction to the cadre to speak with a “unified voice” so that inner-party differences are not discernible in public. It was explained that one objective is to prevent “liberal” hostile forces from exploiting the differences.
The PLA has also been brought within the ambit of the campaign and a series of orders issued to encourage moral behaviour, bolster military training and advance the fight against graft and official extravagance. This includes Jinping’s unprecedented orders to generals and officers to live and train as common soldiers at least for two weeks in a year as part of the campaign to promote morality, reduce distance between officers and soldiers and improve work methods.
There is uncertainty among members over the campaign’s future direction. Apprehensions have been heightened by the call for “open” and “honest” criticism and self-criticism sessions. These have got accentuated with the recent remarks by 56-year old Zhao Leji, PB member and Jinping’s choice to head the party’s organisation department. In a statement released by Xinhua on October 10, Leji called for making “rectification open to the masses, so that the people judge”.
Concern that the campaign could be veering to the “Left” was reflected in the publicity given by the official media, including CCP mouthpiece People’s Daily and its subsidiary Global Times, to the public apology tendered by a “princeling”. Chen Xiaolu (67), son of the late Marshal Chen Yi and a former Red Guard student leader at the Beijing No. 8 High School, and some classmates apologised to teachers at an alumni meet for what they did during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) when, according to official accounts, over 2.3 million officials were investigated resulting in numerous deaths. Separately, former Chinese premier Wen Jiabao appeared on China Central Television in mid-October, when he praised Jinping’s father Xi Zhongxun, but also sounded caution against a seeming tilt towards Cultural Revolution-style campaigns.
The “mass-line” campaign is not a surprise as the events preceding the 18th Party Congress, especially the Bo Xilai incident, had compelled the CCP leadership to introspect and decide to reemphasise the party’s traditional values, ideology and discipline. All seven PBSC members elected at the Congress have been hardened by their experience during the Cultural Revolution and embody the values. In his first speech to the PB’s first collective study session on November 17, 2012, Jinping had also stressed the validity of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought and referred to the “Four Cardinal Principles”.
The writer is a member of the National Security Advisory Board and former additional secretary in the cabinet
secretariat, Indian government.