Home Political science China’s Ethical Revolution and Regaining Legitimacy: Reforming the Communist Party through Its Public Servants
Politics of Fear and Uncertainty
Politics of Fear Through Governing Public Appearances
Through the state of exception, the Party becomes a hybrid of law and fact in which the two terms have become indistinguishable (Agamben 1998: 170). In this space, immorality among Party members is seen as a permanent threat to the legitimacy of the Party-state. Therefore, the anticorruption campaign’s goal is to deter corruption through the elimination of corrupted officials. As Wang Qishan, the Party’s chief discipline leader, vows:
The anti-corruption struggle remains grim and complex, the construction of a clean government and the anti-corruption struggle should always be on the agenda. We must maintain a strong political force, to punish, frighten and warn the leading officials.
In this discourse, there is a sense of promoting a permanent culture of fear among officials. Higher-level officials in particular are to be put under considerable pressure; they are not only more powerful and their activities more traceable but also their fate of being investigated over corruption charges will have considerable ripple effects across all levels of the Party and among other public functionaries. Some believe that anti-corruption enforcement may create shock more than hope and offer surprises more than remedies (Hualing 2013: 19). There are tendencies inherent in campaign-oriented and highly pressurized administrative and political systems, like China, namely the tendency to excess, to over-respond, and to consequently secure irrational results (Bernstein 1970: 266). As President Xi elaborates:
Anti-corruption struggle will never stop, it has won the hearts of the people. But it is still complex, “anti- four wind”2 needs to be eliminated but more focus has to be on touching the root causes. We need to be determined to maintain the high-pressure situation so that gradually officials can’t or daren’t do so, it is good for privileged officials to feel fear and respect for laws and regulations.
In this discourse, “dare not” is to be achieved through the politics of fear in the state of exception. That is to say, as Foucault argues, “terror, at its core, is not the height of discipline; it is its failure” (cited in Christofferson 2016: 19). Therefore, “dare not” or the terror is the precursor for the actual reconstruction of the Party’s discipline in the name of the anti-four undesirable working styles. We will deal with this problem and its relations with anti-corruption in greater detail in the following chapters.
Moreover, the facilitation of this culture of fear is enhanced through the seeming omnipotence of disciplinary inspection officials and the open- endedness of the work of the DIC. As Wang Qishan says:
It is fine that you didn’t see Mr. Wang Qishan. But you can see the frequent appearance of Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. There are quite a lot of reports about the inspection on CCTV these days. You saw the leader and deputy leaders of the inspection group, as well as all the chief leaders of the group who are inspecting our Party committee. Our work is on the public stage, this is where the pressure is from. Looking for problems and to frighten others have become the sword for maintaining a clean Party and government. This is only the beginning without an end. This is also the view of President Xi.
The effect of this is similar to what Foucault called the “panoptic modality of power,” that is, the inspection teams seem to be functioning ceaselessly and the gaze of inspection officials is alert everywhere (Foucault 1991: 195). In this model of discipline, officials are wondering where the gaze is located, and thus panicking about when inspection officials will come knocking on their doors, especially when members of his/her factions have already been publicly targeted.
The regular public exposure of suspected corruption cases is also noteworthy. As News reports indicate: “China will name and shame corrupt officials working in the central Party and other government departments on a regular basis amid an anti-corruption drive. Such cases, complete with violators’ name, position, work place, violation details and punishment, will be made public via newspapers, radio, TV, the Internet and other mass media forms” (Xinhua News 6th March 2015). In this programme, a senior disciplinary official said, “Case exposure is better than a thousand words and the most vivid form of discipline and work style education. It incites fear in violators and also serves as a warning for potential wrongdoers.”3 The penance of officials in the front of court, media and so on is in actual fact a publicization of the private (Agamben 2000: 122). Thus, the one who repents is twice disgraced: the first time because he committed an act for which he has had to repent and the second time because his repentance (Agamben 2000: 128) is usually on public display.
For many sensitive cases involving high-ranking influential officials, the Party always chooses Friday evenings to make the case public. This is, as Foucault finds, the revelation of corruption fulfilled in its ritual, in its appropriate procedures in its regulated time (2014: 74). In other words, the display of sovereign violence happens in the most peaceful of public places (Agamben 2000: 105). As we will discuss in the following sections, in order to discipline the Party, there are also various techniques adopted to govern the practices of officials, in terms of their travelling, learning, eating, talking and consuming habits.
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