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The Discourse of Formalism and Bureaucratism: The Contest of Order Within the Party

Within the communist system, many policies issued by the centre may be taken just as a set of formalities in the local context (Sun 2008: 68). This is because many policies in China are not only unattractive to local officials, but they also tend to be non-quantifiable with little guidance on implementation (O’Brien and Li 1999: 174). In this context, formalism is the seeming compliance and cynical acceptance that accounts for little more than adherence to rituals (Pye 1968: 113-116). As such, even when official procedures are earnestly followed, they can still end up just being formalities (Sun 2008: 68). In this sense, formalism is a rather paradoxical ethical paradigm, in which the connection between the subject and his action is broken (Agamben 2013b: 82). Formalism is thus closely associated with a kind of hierarchical dysfunction. The result is that within the Communist Party, the role of leaders can become limited to the drawing of circles on documents and then signing his (or her) name on them, or passing on the instructions of the paramount leaders to their subordinates and reporting to his boss the main events or trends in his region (Yao 2002: 283). In this chapter, we will examine the relationship between formalism and bureaucratism in the context of anti-corruption and anti-factionalism in contemporary China. We will also examine the ethical revolutionary aspirations included in the anti-four undesirable working styles initiatives.

© The Author(s) 2017 135

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_6

Similar to Chap. 4, in this chapter, we will examine various tensions within the Party that helps us to understand and examine the discursive fields of formalism and bureaucratism in contemporary China. In this process we will critically examine how desirable working styles and undesirable working styles are being articulated. As we will demonstrate below, many of these problems are closely associated with the current Party structure, which we suggest is a virtuocratic-like political system (see below). Unlike the problem of corruption as explored in Chaps. 4 and 5 wherein the authority of the Party is taken as a referent object, the problem of the “four undesirable working styles” refers to the dysfunction 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 and codes for delimiting working practices.

In this process, the politics of fear and uncertainty that is generated by the anti-corruption campaign is becoming combined with the prob- lematization of the hierarchical order associated with 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 to be done in the name of improving the Party’s moral ecology. In this discursive field, normative power works on communist officials by representing them as both the agents of the Party (that produces 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.” This is to be achieved through the formation of “objective responsibility” and “subjective responsibility” (Gong 2008: 151). 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 macro to micro levels). Thus, the relationship between sovereignty, morality and ethics is being simultaneously articulated by the Party through these interdependent processes.

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