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Tension Between Officials and Legitimacy
As the traditional egalitarian value of communism has largely given way to a capitalist “rich-is-glorious” mentality, Party members’ politically pre?scribed roles may in fact conflict with socially constructed norms (Gong 2008b: 152). Thus the anti-corruption and austerity campaigns are the necessary consequences of resuscitating the spiritual attitude of the Communist Party (Agamben 2013b: 118). As a mid-level official from a county government told us:
A lot of people do not believe the Party because it makes various statements and then acts otherwise. The Party says it is for people’s interests and wellbeing, but some Party officials generally work for their own interests. They take advantage of the Party’s political power, their ruling status, and the rights conferred on them by the people. They serve but mostly for their own profits. There are a lot of corrupt officials.
Saying one thing and then acting in another way is a fundamental transgression of the communist officials’ speech act ritual, that is, the oath he or she swears on joining the Party. In this oath, the officials swear that they will serve the people and be loyal to the Party. This oath making ritual sets up an ethical relationship between the speaker and his language (Agamben 2011b: 71). Furthermore, those officials who serve themselves first and foremost (and as a consequence are also disloyal to the Party) poison the relationship between the people and the Party which leaves the Party vulnerable as the people could, in this situation, withdraw the consent they give the Party to rule. In this situation the Party is faced with a legitimacy deficit. For example:
It may be only through the behaviour of leading cadres that our Party’s image is damaged. The funniest is the official was found to say one thing and do another when he was caught. When people saw the official who talked about anti-corruption seriously and then was accused of corruption later, they would say Party members make a statement and act otherwise, they comply in appearance but are opposed to the Party in their hearts to the Party. How could you ask the people to believe in the Party after this? (Low-level official from the propaganda department)
In this situation, where corrupt officials say one thing and then do another, two negative relationships are introduced between the Party and the Chinese people, and between the Party and its members, which are negatively correlated. It is the relationship between the Party and its members that determines the effectiveness of the relationship between the Chinese people and the Party. If the former is effective, then the negative relationship of the latter would become ineffective; whereas when the former is ineffective, the latter would be effective. By making the officials responsible for their words and deeds, one can expect a clean and honest government (Gong 2008a: 79).
When we interviewed officials, almost all of our participants took the former Soviet Union as a bad example of a communist party. According to these officials, the existence of corruption and the four undesirable working styles are the most important reasons for the collapse of the Soviet Union. The problems associated with the moral degeneration of the Party are thus given a “referent” of real problems. This is why, as we will discuss in Chap. 8, the Party regularly organizes educational campaigns to educate officials to “understand the significance” of being a moral and upstanding official. The lessons learnt from the Soviet Union were very pertinent for many of our participants. For example:
This system in China is similar to that of the Soviet Union. The reason for the former Soviet Union’s collapse is very simple. Because the central government had formed a special group of interest, a privileged class, all the interests were concentrated there. It was driven by social status, position and money. So it was quite typical in the former Soviet Union for official to be motivated by, money, position, women, entertainments, the allocation of all resources. (Mid-level official from the policy research department)
In this discourse, hedonism is seen as an unethical value that seeks material satisfactions based on one’s privileges, which ultimately leads to a legitimacy deficit. Officials have used their privileges for material gain through exploiting the ordinary people and consequently damaging the public interests and the people’s confidence in the Party. For many officials, it is the regulative deficits in the Party that enables officials to misuse public funds, rather than the immoral behaviours of individual officials. As a low- level official from a provincial government explained to us:
If you spend five thousand Yuan on a meal, you can claim ten thousand Yuan invoice. Thus, you can even earn five thousand Yuan by being extravagant. In this situation, will you not to be extravagant? Being wasteful is very simple, as it is not your own money. There are only a few types of people will fling his money around. One is gamblers, because the money comes too fast. Others are drug dealers or alcoholics, or winners of a lottery. It is too easy for them to get the money. When money is earned by oneself by work and effort, like Bill Gates with wealth of tens of billions of dollars, people don’t tend to squander their money? Because of too much centralized power, it is too easy for officials to get money, which leads to extravagance.
As privilege is also a hybrid of the tension between governing others and governing the self, money and pleasure can exacerbate this tension. This is to say, the tension between power and pleasure produces a kind of extravagance. As a result, the officials who are seeking material pleasures and the pleasures of power (through being an official) rarely look to the self for spiritual sustenance. As one of our participants explained to us, hedonistic environments breed hedonistic people:
Hedonism is not about personal losses and gains. It is a kind of life style that can’t be enjoyed by a lot of people. In the dancing hall with expensive wines, it is hard to talk about something healthy; it is more about your own pleasure. Team spirit is shown on the football field, but what can be shown in the karaoke hall? Few people will sing revolutionary songs with tears. I think environment can influence people. (Mid-level official from an education department)
That is to say, in the venues of hedonistic entertainment catering to the desires of elite Party members, a bulk of relationships that make up these networks are forged and maintained through ritualized leisure, and through this, experiences of shared pleasure (Osburg 2013: 26). These experiences are crucial to creating homosocial intimacy, which then can serve as the basis for affective ties between Party members. These networks comprise the “elementary structures” of corruption and organized crime in China (26). Thus, the anti-hedonism campaign has been introduced in order to create a culture of displeasure among officials (towards their pleasure seeking desires) in order to replace the latter with a sense of respect towards their duties. The anti-hedonism campaign thus attempts to create a tension between care of others and care of the self in the forms of culture of guilt, debt and indebtedness to the Party and the people (see Chap. 6).
Thus, the intention of the anti-hedonism campaign is to put the pursuit of pleasure in competition with the spiritualization of the self. The logic being that the pursuit of pleasure can lead to more serious criminal corruption (as discussed in Chap. 6); thus the lack of spiritual efforts within the self leads to further moral corruption. As we have explored in previous chapters, the interdependence of the dynamics of morality (“cannot”), ethics (“do not want”) and sanctions (“dare not”) are also observable in the anti-hedonism campaign. Morality is a set of evaluative norms at the collective level that individuals appropriate in a reflective manner. Ethos is self-evident and unquestioned in a social sphere and thus is adopted in an unreflective, almost automatic fashion. Sanctions or impositions are those norms that are imposed on individuals by an external force and thus are not freely and willingly appropriated. Morality is distinguished from ethos and impositions as it is composed of those evaluative norms that are neither too normalized to be adopted automatically nor imposed by an external force (Shadnam 2015: 462).
The self that is revealed through hedonism and extravagance is propped up by fragile victories and superficiality. The true features of human greatness are not the visible forms of brilliance and power, but individual forms of self-mastery (Foucault 2005: 264). This involves two struggles: the internal struggle, which enables vice to be controlled, and the external struggle, which involves either standing up to adversity or resisting the temptation of pleasures of the flesh (265). These are the necessary qualities of the sustainable relationship to the self (275). The duty towards others becomes the problem of the self. We will return to this theme of the technology and actualization of the self in subsequent chapters.