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When Xi Jinping came to power in late 2012, he proposed a “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” which he called the “China Dream.” Many argue that the China Dream discourse is an attempt by the Communist Party to revitalize the glorious period of Chinese traditional civilization, thus attempting to provide the Party with the instruments to sustain its legitimacy. As such, the new leadership has launched the anti-corruption campaign against officials within the Party, which President Xi calls “swatting flies and caging tigers.” High-level politicians, such as Zhou Yongkang and Guo Boxiong whose status would have given them immunity from criminal charges in the past, have fallen from grace. Along with the anticorruption campaign, President Xi has also introduced the “eight-point code” which imposes restrictions on officials’ behaviours in order to reintroduce and reinforce the appropriate, correct and expected practices of communist officials. Through this process, it is expected that officials will be resocialized as ethical public servants. In order to improve the effectiveness of the implementation of the “eight-point code” and for improving the “working styles” among officials, President Xi Jinping launched the “Mass Line Education” programme for the purpose of eradicating the “four undesirable work styles”: formalism, bureaucratism, hedonism and extravagance. He described these interdependent programmes as a “purification” process whereby the Party members can make “spicy” efforts to “sweat” corruption out of their thoughts.

© The Author(s) 2017 1

S. Zhang, D. McGhee, China’s Ethical Revolution and Regaining Legitimacy, Politics and Development of Contemporary China,

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-51496-3_1

In this book, we examine these various measures in order to determine the rationality, techniques and effects of President Xi’s initiatives. The book is based on original fieldwork, in which we interviewed 50 officials working in provincial government, universities, state-owned companies, and other public sectors, organizations and departments during 2014-15. We reflect on their experiences in this context including their witnessing of colleagues who have been accused of corruption, their own attempts to learn the Party’s decrees (in the “eight-point code” and the “four undesirable work styles”) in study sessions, their experiences of what they perceive as the forced changes to both their working and lifestyle behaviours, and the practices of conducting criticism on others and also selfcriticism in various Party meetings (to sweat corruption, etc., out of their thoughts) in this context. Through the analysis of our data, we show that these practices result in unpredictable outcomes amongst officials who present a diversity of orientations to the Party’s attempts to regain legitimacy through practices designed to resocialize Party members into ethical public servants. However, as well as exposing officials’ attitudes to these practices, we also show that in contrast to the dominant assumption that legitimation can only be fulfilled by democratization, President Xi aims to sustain the Party’s legitimacy not by democratizing its political structure, but by resetting the ethical subjectivity of the Party through these initiatives. For all of these reasons, we believe that the aspiration behind this “ethical revolution” deserves objective academic scrutiny.

In this book, we argue that the epistemological framework of contemporary legitimacy studies is based on an array of binary oppositions. Similarly, argumentation, such as the “domestication of modernity” or “alternative modernities,” also endorses many oppositions, such as local versus global, Western versus non-Western and modernity versus tradition. This approach implies a linear development narrative in which “developing countries” must “catch up” by learning from the modern and powerful West. As such, scholars are often immured in the order of colonial modernity by means of compulsive comparison. We advocate moving beyond this comparative consciousness, as it is conditioned, influenced and shaped by the “operational infrastructure” of colonial modernity. In this regard, we advocate employing Agamben’s paradigmatic approach (2005), which does not necessitate the comparison of predefined examples, but, rather, calls into question dichotomous oppositions.

Following Agamben, we believe that the relations of difference are in fact constitutive in the sense that there is an inclusive-exclusive structure within binary systems, wherein there can be inner solidarity and also contest between binaries. Within this structure, we employ Agamben’s notion of the remnant that suggests the impossibility of “the part” and “the all” to coincide with each other thus disrupting dialectical thought. In this sense, the remnant is a paradigm of dichotomous division, or the paradigm is the remnant of the dichotomous division. Within this structure, we find that if the remnant of the division is the negative result of the contest between opposing powers, then hybridization is the positive end of this contest that combines the two sides of the division. They are the obverse of modern politics, which “maintain a secret solidarity with the very powers they sought to fight.” But, we can only value what is positive or negative based on one’s central concern. This qualifier on what is positive or negative refers to the “programmatic aspect.” Beyer (2013) refers to this as the system constituting itself through its own reflexivity.

Thus, in this book, we explore how the Party is formed inversely by the other that is the remnant and hybridization, which maps an open interior whose abstract spacing always already includes the other. In this conceptualization, the Party operates solely at the margins of the Party, that is, at the threshold between the Party and its other. In our case, formalism and bureaucratism, as produced by the tension between the centre and the periphery of the Party, are (re)unified to form the Party’s other. Similarly, hedonism and extravagance, as produced by the tension between “the privileged” and “the ordinary,” are (re)unified to form the communists’ other. Thus, we are able to shift the ethical problem from the level of the relations between norm and action to that of form of life in terms of, for example, how both officials and communists ought to behave.

Following this framework, we show that the anti-corruption movement is less associated with the rule of law and is more a matter of the Party’s disciplinary regulations in which an open-ended state of exception has been introduced for the purpose of identifying and eliminating the legal, moral, economic and fundamentally political enemies of the Party. Thus, the operative binary code here refers not to legal or illegal, but moral or immoral. In this state of exception, the Party’s regulations become the “living law,” in which the biopolitical body of Party membership has become the regulations and criterion of its own application. As a result, those Party members suspected of corruption, that is, who have violated their oath of ethical service on joining the Party, are rendered as bare life, through being deprived of their rights, status and privileges. In many ways, the anti-corruption campaign’s aims could be described as having essentially moral and amendatory intentions.

However, we show that due to its enforced nature, the “performance by design” approach adopted under the anti-corruption campaign has not been, and will not be, as effective as the Party desires it to be. Although the Party’s discipline inspection system has the authority to compel Party members to conform to the Party’s political will through fear of exposure and punishment, it does not necessarily have the moral authority or persuasive power to engender an “inner sense of duty” in them to pursue the moral standards expected of them. This is why the Party’s chief discipline leader Wang Qishan has introduced three simple but effective steps: “officials will first not dare to commit corruption (dare not), second they will be prevented from committing corruption (cannot), and the last they will not want to commit corruption (do not want), so that we can fulfil our China Dreams.” Thus, in our analysis, we combine anticorruption practices and practices of austerity measures imposed by the Party to illustrate that these two levels of government are annexed by a practice of the self on the self. We argue that the aim of this combination is to turn the gaze of officials from the abuse of the self (the accumulation of wealth and power) at the expense of the care of others (the masses), to in turn facilitate the emergence of an ethical and responsible care of the self (and others). This is done through the various aspects of what is called the “Mass Line Education” programme, which contains traces of what DiMaggio and Powell call the three isomorphic processes: coercive, mimetic and normative isomorphisms.

Just as in our previous book where we argue that the governmentality of the Party is often accomplished through the government of the people (Zhang and McGhee 2014), in this book, we will develop this argument by demonstrating how the government of the people (the legitimacy of the Party) is to be achieved through the Party’s government of officials. We will also explore the common ground between these two levels of governmentality and Confucius’ thinking on good governance, especially the techniques which encourage the formation of ethnical subjectivities amongst officials who should be dedicated to working for the masses (and not just for themselves).

In summary, in this book, we expose the many ways in which the Party is still revolutionary, in terms of this most recent revolution dedicated to mobilizing Party members to become ethical subjects. Thus, in the context of the Party’s history of the military revolution, Cultural Revolution and Economic Reform (or economic revolution), we argue that under President Xi Jinping, the Party is launching an ethical revolution within the Party for the sake of sustaining its legitimacy. This book examines the various combined components of this ethical revolution, including anticorruption, anti-four undesirable working styles and Mass Line Education programme from the perspective of the 50 current Party officials we interviewed. The book offers an example of how we can move beyond the either-or approach that often prevents us from understanding the various singularities of the world. This book will act as a bridge between Chinese scholars and Western scholars, and will provide a refreshing new perspective on China’s politics in the English-speaking world. The book is organized around nine substantive chapters.

Chapter 2, entitled “The China Dream, History, Religion and Modernization,” will introduce the background of President Xi’s initiatives and the discourse of the China Dream. We examine various academic attempts to explain the discourse of China Dream as one of the causes of the revival of traditional culture in the era of globalization. We argue that the discourse on the revival of culture is in actual fact a resistant discourse to modernization, while the discourse on the “China Model” that uses “Washington Consensus” as its reference point is based on the consciousness of colonial modernity.

Chapter 3, entitled “Comparisons, Paradigms and the Remnant of Division: Our Approach,” will present the theoretical framework of our book, that is, a paradigmatic approach that moves beyond linear comparison. Based on this approach, we will present our research questions: How is it that Chinese officials will be “socialized” into the practices and norms of extant institutions for the purpose of fulfilling the potential of the China Dream? In other words, how is the China Dream discourse operationalized through Party instruments, namely the communist members. In this chapter, we will contextualize the discourse and explain its articulation in three interdependent subdiscursive fields: anti-corruption, anti-four undesirable working styles and the Mass Line Education programme.

Chapter 4, entitled “Discourses of Corruption: The Contest Between Different Authorities,” will examine participants’ views on the corruption and anti-corruption crackdown in China. As will be demonstrated, the configuration of knowledge on corruption is a rather complicated process, in which officials use legal, moral, economic and political discourses (or a mixture of them) to depict the enemies of the Party as “corrupt.” We will examine the various tensions that exist in the relationships between the public and private, moral and legal, top and bottom, tradition and modern, which in combination form the discourse on corruption.

Chapter 5, entitled “State of Exception: The Examination of AntiCorruption Practices,” will examine how the Party uses coercive punishment against officials identified as corrupt, so as to create a sense of uncertainty and fear among other officials, who as a consequence, it is assumed, will cease or avoid corrupt activities. As we will show, anticorruption practices in China become a state of exception in the name of the moral emergency of the Party, through which the maintenance of the continuing legitimacy of the Party justifies the necessity of the state of exception. As a result, those officials suspected of corruption become remnants who lack any legal rights.

Chapter 6, entitled “The Discourse of Formalism and Bureaucratism: The Contest of Order Within the Party,” will examine various tensions within the Party that in combination form the discursive field of formalism and bureaucratism. In this process, we will critically examine how “desirable working styles” and “undesirable working styles” are being articulated. As we explore below, all of these problems are closely associated with the current Party structure, which we suggest is a virtuecratic-like political system. Unlike the problem of corruption as explored in Chaps. 4 and 5, with which the authority of the Party is taken as a reference object, the problem of the “four undesirable working styles” refers to the dysfunctions within the hierarchical order of the Party (which is perceived as another symptom of the Party’s moral ecology). These problems although not punishable by law are being tackled by the Party’s disciplinary mechanisms through the introduction of a series of prohibitions.

In this process, the politics of fear and uncertainty that is generated by the anti-corruption campaign (as we show in Chaps. 4 and 5) is becoming combined with the problematization of the hierarchical order that is seen as problems inherent in the processes of policy making (bureaucratism) and policy implementation (formalism) within the Party. It is believed that when the authority of the Party is legitimized through anti-corruption, the hierarchical order within the Party can thus be stabilized. All of this is done in the name of improving the Party’s moral ecology. In this discursive field, normative power works on the communist officials by representing them as both the agents of the Party (that produce the problems of formalism and bureaucratism through their work) and as individual subjects (who live hedonistically and extravagantly in their private life as we will explore in Chap. 7). As a result, the problem of collective morality is fundamentally linked to the problem of individual ethics, that is, the construction of the integrity of the subject in the name of eradicating corruption and also “undesirable working styles.” It is this complex system of power that enables different modes of power (sovereign, disciplinary and biopolitical) to operate across the Party and among subjects (at various levels from the macro to the micro). Thus, the relationship between sovereignty, morality and ethics is being simultaneously articulated by the Party through interdependent processes.

Chapter 7, entitled “Discourse of Hedonism and Extravagance: Tension Between the Agency and the Actor,” will show that the discourse on hedonism and extravagance is about the tension between the subject’s agency and the self in the struggle for balance between the restrictions laid down by the Party and the freedom officials enjoy (or more accurately, enjoyed). In this struggle, the normative power of the Party “works on” its members who live hedonistically and extravagantly through reinforcing “their duty to be.” Thus, as we will show, the new disciplinary measures adopted by the Party are dedicated to the regulation of officials’ individual behaviours in order to turn officials’ gaze towards their corrupt self as the site from whence their ethical self might emerge.

Thus, the discourse of the care of the people (the masses) includes the care of the self through denying the self. It is expected that by regulating the everyday behaviours of officials, the ethical subjectivities of officials can be reformulated and through this collective process, the morality of the Party can be restored. This process can be described as a means of restoring the ethical virtue of officials through governing their habits. In this context, respect for one’s duty thus becomes a sacrificial exercise (through the abandoning of enjoyable but prohibited practices) on the self. It is assumed that living ascetically is a sign of an ethical subject and it is further assumed that ethical subjectivity will lead to virtuous work. Thus, the austerity measures (such as the eight-point code) are not only associated with the imposition of a doctrinal principle but are also for creating a sense of sacrifice among officials, which is deemed essential for creating a sense of respect for their duty.

In Chap. 8, we will present the The Mass Line Education Programme as a set of techniques for governing the self. In this chapter, we will briefly review themes related to the governing of the self with regard to what we have developed in terms of the anti-corruption campaign and the anti-undesirable working styles programme in order to link the technology of governing others and the technology of governing the self under the Mass Line Education Programme. That is, we will address the problem and expectations with regard to governing the self included in the Mass Line Education Programme in order to explore how officials are expected to govern themselves and, in turn, are supposed to govern others. We will elaborate on how the dissemination of the Party’s precepts, as techniques of governing, have been institutionalized, thus enabling us to link this institutionalization of techniques of governing to the techniques of the self. We will demonstrate that in many ways the Mass Line Education Programme is an attempt to form a series of technologies of governing the self, which can be interdependently divided into: reflexivity in the form of memory (gives access to the truth), meditation (carries out the test) and method (fixes the certainty that will serve as the criterion for all possible truth). By so doing, we will prepare readers for engaging with what we develop in the following chapters, with regard to the actual technologies of the self operating in this context.

Chapter 9, entitled “Technologies of the Self,” following the discussion of the institutionalization of techniques through criticism and selfcriticism study sessions in Chap. 8, will examine in detail how the care of the self is to be practised within the self through the culture of “selfcultivation.” The question that drives this chapter is: How is the governing of the self, or the care of the self, to be achieved within the self? We show from our participants’ perspectives that learning “the code” (Party decrees and regulations) is linked with techniques of knowing oneself through the processes of self-criticism and criticism. We examine our participants’ experiences of these complex combinations of techniques associated with moral guidance, the examination of conscience, memorization (and remembering) and avowal through compulsory study sessions. We will show that the process of self-cultivation includes (1) turning one’s gaze towards the self through remembering; (2) revealing truths through self-criticism; (3) knowing the self through the criticism and guidance of others; (4) knowing the self through the politics of shame, sincerity and honesty; and (5) internalization and reconciliation of the relations to the self. By so doing, these processes are an attempt by the Party to try and ensure that its dictates are thoroughly processed and that officials internalize the code in all aspects of their lives.

Chapter 10, entitled “Remnant and Hybridization: The Effects of Governing,” will show that the compulsory criticism and self-criticism study sessions were designed for the officials “to bathe the soul,” in order to perform penance and ultimately to transform the self; however, officials can and do create “multiple sites of resistances” that undermine the hegemonic control of the Party. For example, sometimes they neither follow what the Party requires nor refuse to act, but act in an empty form without meaningful ends. This is also called “using formalism to counter formalism.” The anti-corruption campaign has created a sense of fear among officials and the eight-point code has attempted to impose an institutionalized process whereby new identities and interests can be internalized by officials. However, according to our participants, these processes often are the cause of a kind of inactivity, rather than facilitating the presumed ethical subjects. As well as examining the creative resistance to the ethical revolutionary processes explored in this book, we also explore the hybridizations that can emerge in the context of the apparent incompatibility between Asian and Western philosophical traditions. We examine how these contradictory practices can also produce various hybridizations which we explore in this chapter: the linking of science and technology with national development, termed “techno-nationalism”; and the linking of neoliberalism and socialism, termed “patriotic professionalism.”

In general, in our book, we present evidence of the reaffirmation of the Leninist organizational discipline, creation of a modern governmental bureaucracy and neoliberal marketization, which is also called “late-socialist neoliberalism.” Thus, we argue that in the process of the combination of authoritarianism and neoliberalism, a hybrid form of legitimacy has been produced that is predicated on the Party being successful in introducing its ethical revolution for the purpose of resocializing the Party; that is attempting to introduce an ethical revolution in order to resocialize Party members and through this develop new kinds of subjectivities. These subjectivities, as we will discuss throughout the book, are associated with expectations with regard to producing ethical Party members and also highly capable professionals with a global outlook for the purpose of fulfilling the China Dream. Thus, we argue that it is through these various combinations that we can expose the Party’s attempt to balance various tensions and “solve problems” produced by emergent imbalances.

However, the current ethical revolution, associated with anti-corruption, anti-four undesirable working styles campaigns and also the “Mass Line Education” programme, is only a halfway point in the journey towards the formation of new subjectivities amongst Chinese officials. In view of fulfilling China’s regional and global dream, that is, the economic and geopolitical stability, and advancement of China in the region and beyond, the “chilling effect” of the anti-corruption and anti-four undesirable working styles campaigns is potentially holding China back and thus must be subject to correction in the near future. Thus, the current anti-corruption and anti-four undesirable working styles campaigns are components of what we call an unfinished revolution.

The identification of problems (or unintended consequences) that have emerged from various campaigns and programmes associated with the current ethical revolution, further paves the way for President Xi to reform the Party’s motivation mechanisms in order to introduce further mechanisms for the improvement of the Party in terms of increasing professionalism and efficiency, in order to drive forward the China Dream. We call this the second half of the ethical revolution, namely, the “professional revolution.” That is, the China Dream entails a paradoxical revolution, which is half ethical and half professional. Its aim is to produce a hybrid subjectivity that is both ethical and professional. Having devoted this book to the first half of President Xi’s revolution, we will examine the various hybridizations in the second half of President Xi’s professional revolution in our next book.


Agamben, Giorgio. 2005. The Time that Remains: A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans. Stanford University Press.

Beyer, Peter. 2013. Religions in Global Society. Routledge.

Zhang, S., and D. McGhee. 2014. Social Policies and Ethnic Conflict in China: Lessons from Xinjiang. Palgrave Macmillan.

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