Home Political science China’s Ethical Revolution and Regaining Legitimacy: Reforming the Communist Party through Its Public Servants
Tension Between “the Communist” and “the Individualist”
In many ways, concerns associated with the moral vacuum amongst Chinese officials are seen as being created by accelerated economic development that has, in turn, generated the development of an “accelerated moral improvement” discourse. For some, globalization and the ideology of development associated with it has valorized cultural differences and assigned equivalences to these practices that accord with the logic of ongoing capitalist expansion (Dirlik 2002: 20-21). Thus, it has been suggested that economic reforms have brought about the failure of the Party system and as a consequence, materialism, consumerism and blatant greed have become the ethos of many officials. Alienation, pessimism and cynicism are therefore pervasive in contemporary China (Hualing 2013: 3). Under these conditions, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain the “reign of virtue” and to sustain enthusiasm in a virtuocratic movement (185).
As a consequence, Confucianism, together with other religious traditions, is being revived to loosen materialism’s grip on contemporary China (Chang 2011: 57). As a low-level official from a policy research department told us: “These problems may have resulted from our fast modernization, thus we need time to get rid of bad aspects of these behaviours, and we also need time to rebuild our moral standards. When modernization is too fast, it can damage moral standards in societies.” In this discourse, the process of modernization and the evolution of traditions, and moral standards are viewed as being interdependent. As discussed in Chap. 2, the developmentalism discourse associated with the West has been a forceful ideology in China and has resulted in the transformation of the Chinese people’s everyday lives (Hairong 2003: 496). For some, the discourses and consequences of developmentalism result in all societies acquiring the technologies of knowledge, and the universalization of those knowledges produces a fragmentation of the global when it intrudes into different social and intellectual universes (Dirlik 2002: 36). Thus the discourse of development transports the disciplinary universe of modernity (Agamben et al. 2009: 17) into a localized form—for example, modernization with Chinese characteristics.
Many officials in China believe that “it is more terrifying having a country without faith than China accepting democracy.” In this sense, developmentalism is a component of the expansionist ideology of the West that rode on the waves of Christian Evangelism and Romantic individualism, and resulted in colonial wars and cultural anarchy (Wang 2012: 753). As a result, a mid-level official from an education department told us: “many people always want to get great benefit at very low cost, wanting to get things done by the easiest way.” Thus, it is the people’s devotion to economic development that has contributed to the creation of the moral vacuum that was previously filled with traditional values but is now filled with developmental values. In this sense, pragmatist values are the remnant caused by tension between traditional values and developmental values. Contrary to the moral values found by Hoffman (2006), which she called Chinese “patriotic professionalism,” we suggest that this context actually generates a kind of “selfish opportunism.”
However, regardless of whether the result is patriotic professionalism or selfish opportunism, the only difference is that the former is a positive formation of the tensions between binaries, whereas the latter is a remnant left over from the binaries. As China Daily declared: “some new unhealthy tendencies in society is closely interrelated with the fact that the Communist ideals of some people are becoming dim and their personal extravagance desires are increasing ” (cited in Gong 2008a: 95). A senior leader from a provincial government explains:
The complexity and arduousness of anti-corruption are also reflected in the environment that brings corruption. In the development of the socialist market economy, commodity exchange principles will penetrate into the inner Party life. This is a fact. All kinds of temptations will affect Party members, cadres ... For so many years, we always attached importance to the style of work, but many problems have not been resolved. Some bad styles developed like mushrooms after the rain. The crux of the problem lies in the lack of proper evaluation of the stubbornness and recurrent, the lack of sustained tenacity, the strict requirements and patience, lack of a long-term, fundamental system.
In this regard, the social and economic transformation in China had overturned many certainties about Chinese society and the Chinese peoples’ place within it. They are threatened by and drawn to the expanding world of business; they are angry about its injustices but seduced by its promises of excitement, status and riches (Osburg 2013: 1). There has emerged a new type of entrepreneurial official in this context, whose success was increasingly dependent on their ability to mobilize resources and generate revenues (Hillman 2010: 4).
These entrepreneurial officials are a hybrid of modern economic values and communist values. In the past, Chairman Mao’s vigorous attempts to shatter the value placed upon the family and other ascriptive bonds, in fact, intensified the desire for the security derived from them (Oksenberg 1970: 324). In many ways, the family, and the economic status and power of families is of central importance in modern China. As a high-level, female official from a provincial government explains:
For example, if a man can work, can make money, and have high social status, he is the ideal. This can only be achieved by being an official in China.
So, if you are an official, it means you can bring a sense of security to the family.
Thus, by gaining economic security for one’s family through material prosperity, there is also a hybridization of being an official, which has profound implications for this study. Responsibility for the family’s prosperity and security is seen as a significant factor in officials’ motivations to accumulate private gains from their public offices. For this reason, as we will discuss in the following sections, the remoralization of officials necessitates the simultaneous reconstruction of family values. This is seen as an important technique for remoralizing the Chinese people in general, but in particular, the wider family membership of communist officials who have benefitted from and, in a sense, have enabled their family members’ corruption, is part of the problem to be tackled by the anti-hedonism and anti-extravagance campaigns.
In many ways, anti-corruption is to counterbalance the economic accumulation and privileges that officials enjoy through obtaining material goods and power. In this regard, it is not the political system per se that is to be tackled, but the entrepreneurial and acquisitive mind set of officials who put their own economic development ahead of the people they are supposed to serve. On the other hand, corruption is seen as contributing to economic inequalities. As a low-level official from a county government told us:
Exacerbating the gap between rich and poor, leading to the differentiation of social classes. In a certain period of time, the ruler strived to reform and open the market up to the outside world in order to let some people get rich, but in fact it is to let themselves get rich first.
Thus, the rules of the market economy are being manipulated by some officials for the sake of their own benefit. The inequality of economic development is consequently seen as being caused by corrupt officials and the biased development strategies of the Party. This in turn leads to the people’s distrust of the Party’s policies in general. Thus, corruption and economic inequalities are seen as dialectically contributing to each other. Thus, the Party is expected to interrupt this dialectic in order to break this vicious circle. This allows the Party to operate outside the boundary of state law, to create a state of exception. It is only through this exception that the Party can stimulate the culture change necessary to shift its public image from a corrupt institution to an institution rededicated to serving the people (and not itself).
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