Home Political science China’s Ethical Revolution and Regaining Legitimacy: Reforming the Communist Party through Its Public Servants
The Formation of Factions Within the Party
Faction: Tensions Between Officials’ Guanxi and Party Membership
As we have shown in this chapter, factional networks that integrate affect, interest, loyalty and mutual obligation have permeated different levels of the state and the society (Osburg 2013: 85). In these networks, we find the intermingling of official with unofficial, legitimate with criminal and formal with informal worlds (97). The appropriation of state resources by non-state elites, and the official penetration and co-option of informal models of power have not led to an increasing separation between “state” and “society” but rather have generated networks, the nodes of which extend through multiple modes of power and forms of authority (110-111). As Guo argues:
As well as rampant nepotism, there has been wide-spread tendencies associated with the “selling” of official posts that not only jeopardizes the Party’s ability to attract and promote the most talented and committed officials, but more importantly, from the “selling” of official posts, the Party secretary can easily form a self-centered faction that can end up competing with the Party’s authority. Thus, the pattern of the corruption of China’s new elite has now evolved into exchanging power for power in which the vested interest groups cooperate with one another to secure or enhance their political influence or even aim for a monopoly of political power. This trade is also related to guanxi networking, in which some offer their absolute loyalty to others in exchange for protection and career growth. (Guo 2014: 614)
Factions that are organized by culturally sanctioned bonds are made indispensable in local politics due to the increasing bureaucratic complexity (Hillman 2010: 7). As Fabre argues, the power of family, clan, local or labour unit loyalties makes “community loyalties” more significant than an abstract Party “membership” (2001: 461). This means that factions also contain normative dimension, in which, for example, native place association provides a strong cultural resource (Hillman 2010: 17). For example, the former political bureau member Li Jihua reportedly organized a group called the “Shanxi Group” based on officials’ birth place. They met periodically in secret luxury places to discuss political issues, along with billionaires also from Shanxi. In addition to this group, Ling had close connections with Zhou Yongkang, Xu Caihou and Bo Xilai. Many of Ling’s relatives also held important official posts under him.
That is to say, there is a competition between officials’ guanxi with formal organizations and people’s guanxi with individual officials in which an alternative operating mechanism is constructed to break down the legal, moral and cognitive barriers (Li 2011: 19). Thus, as President Xi urges:
It is important to note that one should not equate the Party organization with the leading official “personalities,” the loyalty to the leading official is not the same as loyalty to the Party. There should be no personal bondage in the Party. All the cadres are the member of the Party, not the subjects of individuals. Some cadres believe in “the circle cultures,” eager to engage in the certain relationship to exploit and make connection, who want to get promotion and to be subservient. The relationship between superior and subordinate should not be a cat-and-mouse, ruler and ruled, father and son or the gang relationship in old days just as comrade Mao Zedong used to criticize. (14 January 2014)
In other words, the “circle cultures” invoke and draw on a closed, moral frame of distribution as a means of gaining an advantage in the current system (Osburg 2013: 80). But the moral economies of elite networks can generate the source of immoral consequences for the Party (185), especially in terms of the development of feudal dependencies and subsequently disloyalty to the Party. As President Xi further explains:
The Party members should not make the feudal attachment with each other, gang-up together, or make a special connection. If they do this, this will result in breaches in the Party someday! According to some identified cases, we find that violations involve a bunch of people. The personal bondage is an important reason for these abnormal connections. (14 January 2014)
President Xi’s determination and action to root out grand corruption are unprecedented, not only within the history of the Chinese Communist Party but also throughout all ruling regimes in Chinese history. President Xi has not only toppled high-ranking officials such as Bo Xilai, Party chief of Chong Qing city but has also targeted top-level political “tigers.” Xu Caihou, Guo Boxiong, China’s most senior military officials, and Zhou Yongkang, former secretary of the Central Political and Legislative Committee, are also investigated and put in jail. Thus, in the discursive field of corruption, the Party is more concerned with specific relations (or factions) formed by corrupted officials, than their subjective incentives.
This is also why many anti-corruption measures are viewed as being highly selective for the sake of maintaining the political loyalty of the Party’s core members (Hualing 2013: 18). That is to say, the supremacy of networks is so pervasive in some cases it is preventing officials from being prosecuted (Guo 2014: 618). As a mid-level official from the Disciplinary Department informed us: “from those corruption cases related to high ranking officials, we can clearly see the collusion of interests within the Party. They are surely the most corrupted from the Party’s perspective.” In this sense, corruption, which engenders the formation of factions based on kinship, friendship and economic exchange within the Party, is attributed to the very public abuse of power. In these networks, personal relationships replace public rules and therefore endanger the authority of the centre—the Party.
In other words, the Communist Party gives priority to meta-loyalties and adherence to political principles, and personal relationships among officials are thus discouraged. The universalistic ethic of “comradeship” is dedicated to care for all of society, not just for a few friends, as friendships can be a source of suspicion if they pull officials away from the collective (Hualing 2013: 126). But, it should be recognized that although private friendships can be seen as detracting from public commitments, these factions became even more prolific as a creative response to the new political and economic pressures associated with China’s decentralization (Hualing 2013: ix). They were formed for the instrumental purposes of political competition and privilege seeking (Hillman 2010: 17). It is in this context that we see the tension between being Communist and being Chinese. We will address this particular tension in Chap. 7.
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