Home Political science China’s Ethical Revolution and Regaining Legitimacy: Reforming the Communist Party through Its Public Servants
Relationship Between the Legitimacy of the Party and Corrupted Officials
This sovereign mechanism cannot directly be taken as a paradigm to examine law-subject relations in China. As Zhang and McGhee (2014) illustrated, the governmentality in socialist countries is actually the gov- ernmentality of the Party. Thus, the sovereign power in China, as will be demonstrated below, lies not in state laws but in Party regulations. This characteristic of China’s sovereign structure further complicates the status of communist officials. Similar to the concept of the people, the notion of the communist in China always already contains within itself the fundamental moral-political fracture. It is what cannot be included in the whole of which it is a part as well as what cannot belong to the whole in which it is always already included (Agamben 2000: 33). Thus, Party members are not a unitary subject but a set of officials as a whole moral body, and the subset of the corrupted official as a fragmentary multiplicity of needy and excluded bodies (Agamben 1998: 177). This perspective of the Party was described thus by one of our participants:
I think the Party is like a person, he will get sick if he always eats one food, while getting another kind of disease when he changes his diet. If you are sick and don’t treat it, there will be serious problems. Now China is sick like other countries in the world, even those developed countries in Europe which have their own problems. At present, the most serious problem is corruption that involves all of people, the public, top leaders. Therefore, I think it very good that we tackle the problem together. (Mid-level official from the general office of a provincial government)
Thus, the fight against corruption is nothing other than a war within the Party that will come to an end only when officialdom and officials coincide (Agamben 1998: 178). That is to say, when official’s ethics and politics which are linked together through the state of exception begin to become one, that is, all officials becomes sacred and all policies become the exception (148). In this sense, the anti-corruption movement is nothing but the implacable and methodological attempt to overcome the division dividing officialdom, to eliminate the corrupted officials that are excluded (179). It is for this reason that we refer to the anti-corruption campaign and associated initiatives analysed in subsequent chapters as the components of what we call an ethical revolution in China.
Sovereign power requires both the production of bare life to identify its “other” and for that other to be enfolded and secured (Brassett and Vaughan-Williams 2012: 36). In this context, “norms are recognized as such only through infractions. Functions are revealed only by their breakdown. Life rises to the consciousness and science of itself only through maladaptation, failure and pain” (Miller 1993: 60). Through the construction of individual leaders as social pariahs whose corruption signals their need for targeted governance, there is a curious pacification of criticism of the structure of officialdom itself (Brassett and Vaughan-Williams 2012: 38). The movement between the subject positions of Party members and bare life—made possible by the discourse of official problems and the crisis conditions it instantiated—becomes the site of governance (42). Thus, modernity and rapid economic development in China have facilitated and been facilitated in many cases by unethical and corrupt officials; however, in the context of the anti-corruption state of exception in China, their presence “can no longer be tolerated” (Agamben 1998: 179).
As Young finds, although corruption cases may sometimes later lead to additional legal punishment, their purpose is to demonstrate that Party discipline will not replace state law and that Party members are subject to both (Young 1984: 41). What we can observe in this context is a paradox and thus a hybridization of state law and Party discipline. The right to declare the state of exception is not by state law, but rather by Party discipline. This is already the case of the state of exception. Thus, as Agamben argues, like in the camp, the state of exception, which was essentially a temporary suspension of the rule of law on the basis of a factual state of danger, is now given a permanent spatial arrangement, which as such remains outside the normal order. The Party’s independence from judicial control and reference to the normal juridical order is, in the state of exception, being constantly reaffirmed (Agamben 1998: 169). The Party regulations in this regard become the living law (173). In this political-legal system, the Party regulations become indistinguishable from the exception. Thus, the Party is the space of the absolute impossibility of deciding between fact and law, rule and application, exception and rule (173). Thus, every question concerning the legality or illegality of what happens inside the Party simply makes no sense (170).
The Party regulations both hold the member in its power and exclude him or her from its full presence. In this context, there is an “enigmatic doorkeeper,” namely the DIC who endlessly defers officials’ ability to appeal to the law (Attell 2014: 8). It is through the DIC’s dealing with corrupted officials that the recognition of good officials is made actual. Thus, corrupt officials are the constitutive outsider that makes intelligible the goodness of the law-abiding official (Agamben 1998: 174).
Thus, if the Party is the one who marks the point of indistinction between violence and right (between inspection and law) by proclaiming the state of exception and suspending the validity of the state law, then the inspection officials are always in operation within a similar state of exception (Agamben 2000: 104). Thus, this borderline concept of indistinction straddles affirmation-negation relations, by which politics is placed at the threshold between the living being and the logos (Huang 2012: 176). At the end, the normal rule of law is suspended and the fact that corruption may or may not be committed does not depend on the law but rather on the ethical sensibility of the inspection officials who act temporarily as the sovereign (Agamben 2000: 42).
As the Party as a collective transcends the individual cadres, the Party also tries to ensure that it is exempt from blame for the corruption of particular individuals (Hansen 2013: 52). This kind of responsibility sharing is the major characteristic of the Party-state in the process of initiating policy discourses (Zhang and McGhee 2014). It is done symbolically through discursive practices of moral displacement that move credit and blame up and down the layers of the Party-state hierarchy, thereby exempting the central Party hub from the responsibility for the morally suspect actions of its representatives by isolating the individ- ual—or by extension the lower levels of the Party-state—from the Party centre (Hansen 2013: 62). In a sense, the officials suspected of corruption mediate the relationship between the Party and the Chinese people. As such, there is a selective institutionalized practice of anti-corruption in response to the challenges of corruption to Party legitimacy (64). Furthermore, the rightful resistance of local people to act against corrupted local officials is encouraged (66). In this sense, all the problems of the Party are directed at the corrupted officials. Thus, the anti-corruption practice serves to bolster the legitimacy of the Party centre, as the centre is shown to take action against local problems and thus exhibits its care for the public (64).
In this process of responsibility sharing, society’s ills are condensed into the figure of the corrupted official, who is also seen as the root cause of social ills. Through the Party taking the initiative to expose these cadres itself, the Party has created a context in which Agamben calls the achievement of becoming morally unchallengeable (52). In this sense, the attribution of corruption to traditional culture (e.g.,guanxi, as we show in Chap. 4) is one of the ways in which the Party tries to avoid the responsibilities of its own governing system, which has produced the context for corruption to thrive during rapid economic development. The revival of the significance of Chinese traditional morality is in turn expected to simultaneously readjust the people’s perceptions of the Party and to reconstruct the Party’s moral framework in the new context.
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