Home Political science China’s Ethical Revolution and Regaining Legitimacy: Reforming the Communist Party through Its Public Servants
Discourses of Corruption: The Contest Between Different Authorities
For the fulfilment of the China Dream, the new leadership has launched a series of campaigns for improving the moral authority of the Party in an attempt to regain the legitimacy of the Party. The leadership has introduced a high-profile anti-corruption campaign against officials within the Party, which is what President Xi calls “swatting flies and caging tigers.” High-level politicians whose status would have given them immunity from criminal charges in the past have fallen from grace. As Li observes:
Xi, a princeling of Chinese politics, has launched an impressive and powerful attack on corruption. The anti-corruption initiative has broadened to cover a variety of industries such as infrastructure construction, the energy industry, land requisition, mining rights and exploration, government procurement, the financial and insurance industry, law enforcement and the army; wherever grand corruption could possibly take place. The secretive nature of, inter alia, corruption cases prohibits a detailed analysis of the size and status of these cases. Having said this, it is reported that in May 2014, approximately 60,000 cases were filed for investigation—an increase of 34.7 per cent compared to 2013. More than 30 corrupt officials of viceministerial level or above were arrested and investigated within the same period of time. (2014)
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S. Zhang, D. McGhee, China’s Ethical Revolution and Regaining Legitimacy, Politics and Development of Contemporary China,
Along with the anti-corruption campaign, President Xi has also introduced the “eight-point code” (EPC) which imposed restrictions on officials’ behaviours in order to reintroduce and reinforce the appropriate, correct and expected practices of communist officials. In order to improve the effectiveness of the implementation of the EPC and improve working styles among officials, President Xi launched a year-long Mass Line Education (MLE) Programme for the purpose of eradicating the four undesirable working styles: formalism, bureaucratism, hedonism and extravagance (Yuen 2014: 42). The EPC will target the four undesirable working styles through the MLE programme. As one leader explained to us:
In fact, the Mass Line Education Programme of the Party is mainly about the undesirable working styles. It is focused on the unsatisfied work styles that are formalism, bureaucratism, hedonism and extravagance, which are the most well-known problems that the masses very much hate.
Through this programme it is expected that communist members will be resocialized as ethical public servants and therefore restore the hierarchical order within the Party. President Xi described the MLE programme as the “purification” of the communist members by urging officials to make “spicy” efforts to “sweat” corruption out of their thoughts (9 May 2014).
As part of the practices of purifying the Party’s ecology, the mantra produced by the Party’s chief discipline leader Wang Qishan comprises three simple but effective steps: “we must take three steps to adjust relations within the Party: 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.” Through this mantra we can see a clear link between the anti-corruption strategy and the wider “behaviour change” that the Party as an institution aspires to achieve.
There is much similarity here with what Gong suggests are the three different ways by which institutions attempt to modify human behaviour: one is a regulative way in which institutional constraints are imposed on the behaviour of individuals within an institution to force them to act in certain desirable ways. The second is referred to as a normative way by which institutions (defined as rules, norms and other frameworks by new institutionalists) inform individuals of what they are “supposed” to do as their duty. While the first two emphasizes the constraining functions of institutions, the third draws attention to a cognitive type of influence, which “enables” individuals to perform certain actions, as they are conceived of as routines or “the way we do these things” (Gong 2008b: 151).
For corruption, it is the authority of the Party that is taken as a referent object, for which the sovereign power guarantees its effectiveness in working on the agencies of the Party, namely the communist officials. For the anti-four undesirable working styles, it is the hierarchical order (the Party’s moral ecology) that is taken as the object for which the normative power works on the communist officials, by taking them both as the agency of the Party (formalism and bureaucratism in their work) and as an individual subject (hedonism, and extravagance in their private life). As a consequence, the politics of fear, uncertainty and austerity introduced in the wake of these campaigns are reinforced through the processes of the MLE programme, which has as its aim the construction of the integrity of the subject. Thus, the relationship between sovereignty, morality and ethics is being simultaneously articulated by the Party through these interdependent processes. In this context, there is an ever-changing notion of the masses that operates in and through these processes, especially in terms of the reorientation process of urging officials to first serve the masses before serving the self.
In this sense, the Party uses coercive punishment on officials identified as corrupt, so as to create a sense of uncertainty and fear among other officials, who would in turn, it is assumed, cease or avoid engaging in corrupt activities. The ultimate goal of this process is the creation of an ethical environment and a government cleansed of corruption. In the following chapters, we will show how these practices can also result in unpredictable outcomes among officials who present a diversity of orientations to the Party’s attempts to regain legitimacy through practices designed to resocialize Party members into becoming 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 revolutionary mobilizations. Similar to the notion of biopower, governmentality in contemporary China has turned towards the moral ecology of the Party, which is not principally concerned with victory over political adversaries,1 but is more overtly concerned with the elimination of the moral threat and strengthening the Party itself from the inside-out (Christofferson 2016: 19). As such, techniques of biopolitics, such as the “moral health” of communist members, have been adopted in this process of resocializing. It is stated that “the less night-time entertainment, the better the behaviour of the official; the better behaviour, the healthier the body; the healthier the body, the cleaner the mentality” (a middle-level disciplinary inspection official). Thus, biopolitics has become merged with the aspirations of the ethical revolution to improve some of the “unhealthy” and hence “unethical” tendencies within the Party. We will explore this further in Chaps. 6 and 7.
While our main argument will focus more on the process of moraliza- tion within the Party, in this chapter, we will deal with the question on how coercive isomorphism is to be achieved within the Party. In particular, in the Chinese context, we will explore how the distinction between corrupt and not-corrupt is being articulated. In other words, in this chapter we will examine how the Party is attempting to enforce the “dare not” regulation. According to Bacchi, “invariably binaries simply complicate relationships” and as such the distinction between what is deemed corrupt and not corrupt is not clear-cut in all situations. Hence, we need to be aware of where binaries appear in discourses and how they function to shape the understanding of the issue (Bacchi 2009: 7). In the following, we explore the relationship between beliefs, actions and practices by unpacking their conceptual connections in a web of beliefs, rather than by treating beliefs as variables in themselves (Bevir and Rhodes 2010: 67).
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