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Discourse of Hedonism and Extravagance: Tension Between the Agency and the Actor

As we have shown in Chap. 6, formalism and bureaucratism are about the contest of orders within the Party. In this chapter, we will show that the discourse of hedonism and extravagance are about the tension between the subject’s agency and the self in the struggle for balance between the restrictions laid down by the Party and the freedom officials enjoy (or more accurately, enjoyed). In this struggle, the normative power of the Party “works on” its members who live hedonistically and extravagantly through reinforcing “their duty to be.” In this context, respect for one’s duty thus becomes a sacrificial exercise (through the abandoning of enjoyable but prohibited practices) on the self. It is assumed that living asceti- cally is a sign of an ethical subject and it is further assumed that ethical subjectivity will lead to virtuous work. Thus, austerity measures are not associated with the imposition of a doctrinal principle, but are for instilling a sense of sacrifice among officials that is essential for creating a sense of respect towards their duty.

These austerity measures denote the virtue of the Party in view of a set of expected habits that officials should embody (Agamben 2013a: 15). It represents a mode of “inhabiting” according to a rule and form of life within the Party (16). Through these temporal, spatial and material sanctions, the entire life of individual officials is expected to be transformed into ethical officialdom (22), which can also be called the “spiritualization of official’s every activity” (23). This is the process where truth is absorbed

© The Author(s) 2017 173

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_7

into spirituality, through the subject’s own transformation of his mode of being (Foucault 2005: 178). Spirituality is an awareness that the individuated being is not completely individuated but still contains a certain non- individuated share of reality (in Agamben’s case Genius, or in our case the Party), which must not be just preserved but also respected, and in a way, even honoured, as one honours one’s debts (Agamben 2015: 12).

The prohibitions that were introduced by the eight-point code thus work to limit the freedom of officials in their governing practices. As we will explore in this chapter, in many ways, it is a balance between the restrictions of the structure and the freedom of subjects that is to be achieved. The duty to do (public good) is merged with the duty to be (private ethics) through the duty not to do (e.g., undesirable working styles and corruption as we discussed in Chaps. 5 and 6) and duty not to be (as we will discuss in this chapter). It is not about introducing new prohibitions or new moral ideas that the Party has invented. But rather, it is a case of introducing new techniques for imposing traditional morals in the form of a new mechanism or an ensemble of new mechanisms of power for inculcating these moral imperatives (Foucault and Carrette 1999: 121). Thus, the subjectivities of officials are worked upon through the culture of fear (anti-corruption), the culture of prohibitions (anti-four undesirable working styles) and finally a culture of the self (the ethical practices of self).

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