Desktop version

Home arrow Political science arrow China’s Ethical Revolution and Regaining Legitimacy: Reforming the Communist Party through Its Public Servants

Tension Between Duty and Personal Will

As officials are not seen as the divine owners of power (which is owned by the people) but the operators of it, officials are supposed to be good in the use of power and should not try to seize it and misuse it. Thus, there should be no pleasure in using power for the fulfilment of their duties. The problem is that many officials seek pleasure and enjoyment while fulfilling their duties, rather than being ethical and doing their work selflessly. The result being that they become diverted from their duty to serve the masses to serving the self. This gives rise to tensions between “the care of others” and “the care of the self.” To tackle these problems, the Party has employed a range of measures. As a mid-level disciplinary official explained:

We carried out a special rectification project to correct the problems in dealing with the work style, such as, the difficulty of ordinary people seeking help from government, bad attitudes amongst officials when dealing with the people’s affairs. We issued the circulars on some typical cases and dealt with some related personnel, for example, who were late for work, chatting online, watching videos, leaving their posts, to promote the further improvement of the work style of cadres of the provincial authorities.

In this discourse, it is the officials’ behaviours and attitudes that are being tackled. In other words, their approach to work and the purpose of their work is being reoriented towards the service of ordinary people. If formalism is a kind of work style that works without appropriate aims, then bureaucratism is a kind of work style that works without following appropriate forms (rules). The officials described above fulfilled their duty not by doing what they have to, but by doing what they are willing to (i.e., enjoying privileges through work). Another related aspect was raised by officials’ concerns about the consequences of a leader’s work style. For example:

The third point is the atmosphere, whether the leader makes frequent changes in policies; too arbitrarily etc. Without a fair and open environment, everybody in here even with high wages or fast promotion will feel unsettled and anxious. They are always threatening to leave and even don’t know what tomorrow will bring. (Mid-level official working in the Financial Department)

Arbitrary here means working or making decisions without following appropriate procedures. As we will discuss in the next section, in the virtuocratic system, there is a sphere in which the ruler can make arbitrary decisions; an area in which decisions are taken, in principle, on personal rather than on functionally appropriate grounds (Van Der Sprenkel 1964: 354). The privileges of decision makers can easily break down institutional procedures and thus lead to policymaking through their personal will. This is to say while laws are public, many of the mandates governing public administration in China are often secret, especially their internal ranking (Rothstein 2014: 7). Thus, anti-bureaucratism is an attempt to deprivilege bureaucratic officials, so that they work for their “duty to do,” rather than their “will to do.” The will to do, especially when it is for the purpose of self-promotion, self-importance and the enjoyment of unearned privilege, is often the entry point into further wrongdoing and potential corruption. According to a mid-level disciplinary official:

A low level official from a provincial government went to the country- level to inspect the construction of toilets in the rural areas. Actually this official is only the head of the research group (whose rank is even lower than some local officials), but he proposed excessive requirements. He wants a police car to clear the way for him. So the local authority had to make difficult decisions, not only did they arrange the police, but also invite him to dinners, giving him gifts afterwards. They are afraid of such leaders’ irresponsible remarks, which will mess up things and more or less affect the local leader’s future. This is actually a problem of work style; it is almost corruption. However, the local authority has to meet his demands. From this case, we can see the gradual progress from a work style problem to corruption, from a normal behaviour in work to an illegal behaviour and finally reaching the corruption stage. You can seldom find cases of immediate corruption; they tend to develop over time.

As noted above, overly bureaucratic officials are often associated with both power-seeking behaviour and hedonist lifestyles in terms of seeking materialist pleasures which can escalate thus leading to further corruption. A number of officials we interviewed also talked about this causal relationship between undesirable working styles and eventual corruption. As such, many of our participants described the fundamental problem or tension in all levels of the Party, that is, the tension between being overly focused on the self in terms of power, money and pleasure, rather than being focused on others (the masses)

According to Agamben, tension between governing the self and governing others should generate a respect for one’s duty, however, this is a purely negative feeling of subjection to a command and devoid of all pleasure (2013b: 116). In other words, the duty is only a remnant produced by the tension between governing the self and governing the people. Thus, privilege and will to power is a hybrid of this tension. In our case, the care of the people is inserted into the care of the self in the name of the Party’s infinite debt towards the masses. The Party can only seek to prove over and over again their legitimacy to the masses. The care of people can never be fully fulfilled and yet is constantly sought for fulfilment (De 2013: 28). Thus, it is through duty that the practice of governing is legitimized. Thus, respect is only a shadow that duty throws on the subject (Agamben 2013b: 117). This rationale is similar to what we have discussed in Chap. 5 in terms of a shadow state operating within the Party, or the disciplinary inspection works in the state of exception.

If it is true that the power of law is exposed through the shadow state, it must also be equally true that the authority of moral rule can only be seen from the respect to duty (the shadow that the duty throws on the subject). In this sense, respect for one’s duty can be an unpleasant exercise on the self. Thus, in a similar vein to anti-formalism, if the duty is a remnant of the tension between governing the self and governing others, then the privilege is thus a hybridization of this tension. Duty and privilege are, as discussed above, the “Party’s other.” In other words, officials either assume their duty or enjoy privilege. As a low-level official working in an education department told us:

I think the reason is that the ambition of being an official is particularly prevailing in China. Since ancient times, local magistrate will take care of you; they received more respect than even parents. So a lot of people think I can do everything when I am an official. I can make the decision to decide the direction of society.

In this discourse, care of others is closely related to being an official; however, this leads to a distorting sense of power and privilege. In other words, it is only officials who have the privilege of caring for others and of the self. That is, if you want to care for others and thus take care of the self, you have to be an official in China.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >

Related topics