Tension Between the People and the Leader
There is also a tension between the means of work that is “the interpretation of the needs of the masses” and the ends, that is, “for the masses.”
It is assumed that the function of knowledge that comes from the masses could provide the official with the necessary equipment for the struggle to work for the masses (Foucault 2005: 240), whereas working for the masses would enable the Party to formulate the ethical subjectivities of officials. As a mid-level official from a provincial government advocates:
Leading cadres, to fight against bureaucracy, should mean that: our work is in the service of the people; we make our points more clearly in our speeches, and, we hold meetings that do not last too long. Nowadays, we do simplify the meetings, their duration is shorter, and we avoid long statements by the leaders with empty talk. Our work now focuses on the people, the masses, because of the request of the Mass Line principle that our policies should be from the masses and for the masses so that we can fully consider their interests.
Policy knowledge and related work that is “from the masses and for the masses” also refers to the tension between the duty of officials and their practical ability of actually connecting to the masses and thus satisfying the first policy doctrine of the eight-point code: “reconnect to the masses.” In this context, it is the ability to perform according to this specific policy doctrine that is paramount. In the process of advocating “working for the masses,” there is an aspiration for the Party to return to its ethical self, in which, as in any navigation, the objective is to return to the port (248-249). In other words, the masses are the Party’s port, shelter and the origin of its power. Thus, in summary, this involves the reactivation of the fundamental rules of work for officials: the ends being working for the masses, and the means, listening to and discerning the needs of the masses, to be employed to achieve these ends (483). Failure to act on these principles, from a Confucian perspective, is the root and essence of moral rot (Nivison 1956: 57).
What is meant by the masses? According to a mid-level official we interviewed from the Disciplinary Department, the masses “broadly means the masses of the people, Party members and non-Party members or, league members or people without any Party affiliation should be included.” As we discussed in Chap. 4, what constitutes “the people” has undergone great changes in terms of class, education, gender, race and age in China (Hu 2000: 5). The people is a juridico-political and cultural notion in which a people or peoples belonging together is through respect for law and custom (Dillon 2015: 53). People are formed by some combination of religious, racial, linguistic, cultural, ethnic, social, economic or political ligatures of belonging; on the other hand, population is merely datum (187). The people is neither the whole nor the part, neither the majority nor the minority. Instead, it is “that which can never coincide with itself, as whole or as part, that which infinitely remains or resists each division, and with all due respect to those who govern us, never allows us to be reduced to a majority or a minority” (De la Durantaye 2009: 299). Thus, the unification of the multitude of citizens in a single person (that is called the People) is something like a perspectival illusion; political representation is only an optical representation (Agamben 2015b: 33).
According to Agamben, the people have no political significance; the people have always already vanished into the sovereign (37). As a result, the multitude (the people) dwells in the state as the object of the duties and concerns of those who exercise the sovereignty (38). In this sense, working for the masses, which is the moral purpose and objective of the Party, is a matter of interpreting the Party’s doctrine and the ability of connecting the Party’s governance to the governed population. Thus, the people can never be present and thus can only be represented by (40), in our case, the Party. Ideally, the Party represents the interests of the people by connecting with the people; however, the “reality” is often some distance from this ideal. As a low-level official from a provincial government explained:
The problem is that there is more and more distance between the officials and the people. Most of the time, officials are thinking what tasks they must complete, then what is the next task. But there is no consideration about what tasks are really meeting the needs of people, and this is what should be promoted in this respect.
A number of our interviewees commented on the problems of lower-level officials who are more connected to “the people” and more aware of how to solve some of their problems but have no power to formulate policy and make decisions to help “the masses.” Thus, power is in the hands of high-ranking officials who are somewhat disconnected from “the masses.” Thus, there is tension between the local and the central that bureaucrats who are holding decisive power are too disconnected to serve the people, whereas the local officials who are mostly connected to the masses do not have enough power to act. Thus, there is a mismatch between political power and knowledge about the masses. This mismatch, however, sometimes serves as a balancing force between the centre and the local. The mismatch between political power and knowledge also downgrades the authority of the Party leaders, as they are often seen as “unable” even to take care of themselves and thus are generally perceived as being unable to take care of others. As a low-level official working in the general office of a county government told us:
In the past, high level officials were privileged and follow a very rigid principle of hierarchy, for example, the subordinate had to open the door for the leader when they got out of the car, which is very bureaucratic. Public opinion will query whether the leader can take care of a city, region or a nation if he even can’t even hold up an umbrella by himself.
This tension between high-level officials and the ordinary rank-and-file officials generates a remnant, which is “work without appropriate contents.” In this sense, the tension that generates privilege (as we discussed in Chap. 4) also leads to formalism. The work carried out by officials has to always try to balance the tensions between the satisfaction of leaders and that of the masses. As a consequence, when the tension seems impossible to solve, the satisfaction of the leaders is always prioritized. As a low- level official working in another county government informed us:
This is the difference between formalism and problem solving approaches. The focus of formalism is to make the leader happy, and nobody cares whether or not it solves the real problems of the masses. They just care whether the leaders are happy and satisfied or not.
This also leads to factionalism and primary loyalties (to the Party and the care of the masses) being diverted to loyalty to local leaders (as we examined in Chap. 4). Thus, formalism is closely associated with the goal of pleasing leaders; however, within this dynamic, a dysfunctional relationship between formalism and bureaucratism can be observed. While high- ranking leaders advocate the “three dares” to erase formalism, namely: to take responsibility; to put in resources and to overcome hindrances to productive growth (Chien 2007: 270), the low level officials, on the other hand, advocate anti-bureaucratism, for example: “The formalism is actually derived from bureaucratism. Where there is bureaucratism above, there is formalism to deal with below” (a low-level official working in the general office of a county government).
For all levels of officials, meetings become the norm and content of their work, and officials see convening meetings as the primary way of fulfilling their duty. In the context of anti-formalism and anti-bureaucratism, documents on reducing the number of documents were duly issued, and rounds of meetings were held to discuss reducing the number of meetings (Smith 2009: 59).