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Tension Between Officialdom and the Way of Life
Tension Between Prohibitions and the Way of Life
The eight-point code can be seen as an example of the imposition of norms on individuals by an external force and thus are not freely and willingly appropriated (Shadnam 2015: 462). It is an attempt to produce in individuals an “interiorisation of the catalogue of prohibitions,” which replaces the prohibitions of actions by the prohibitions of thoughts and intentions (Horujy 2015: 60). By so doing, the eight-point code is an attempt to connect collective morality to individual ethics, that is, the construction of the integrity of the subject (the duty to be) in the name of anti-undesirable working styles (i.e., duty not to do and not to be). As an official from the disciplinary department explains:
The four undesirable working styles can be divided into two kinds of styles, which are separately related to “dishonesty” and “corruption.” Formalism and bureaucracy are the problems of “dishonesty,” and the hedonism and extravagance are mostly “corruption” problems. For our Party, the key issue is to solve the problem of “corruption.” For example, accepting gifts, gift cards in business activities, joining in the banquets hosted by the relevant units, acceptance of products from grassroots units, dining and wining on public money, receptions exceeding appropriate standards, extravagance and waste and so on. It is easier to judge the problems of corruption as they are more detailed, which is the main focus to promote the implementation of the eight point codes.
Thus, similar to the problem of corruption, anti-hedonism and extravagance are first of all easier for the Party to tackle. In this sense, the eight- point code is designed to constrain officials’ ways of working and ways of living in order to facilitate their becoming ethical subjects. In the process of austerity, officials experience a double displeasure, the displeasure of being ordinary and the displeasure of being ordinary while being an official who has access to considerable material recourses. It is not a possession of power and resources that requires officials to be ethical, but the good use of them. This is also what Foucault calls telos, by which an individual is committed to a certain mode of being that is characteristic of the ethical subject (Foucault 1997: xxxviii). In dealing with these tensions, there is the culture of the self, which is
in conditions where there is a set of values with a minimum degree of coordination, subordination, and hierarchy; secondly where these values are given both as universal but are also only accessible to a few; thirdly, where a number of precise and regular forms of conduct are necessary for individuals to be able to reach these values that requires effort and sacrifice, that is, to access these values, you must be able to devote your whole life to them; and finally, to access these values is conditional upon regular techniques and procedures that have been developed, validated, transmitted, and taught, and that are also associated with a whole set of notions, concepts, and theories, in other words, with a field of knowledge. (Foucault 2005: 179)
In other words, a culture of the self requires individuals to internalize various ideals and norms that they associate with an external body which they believe is concerned with their good, and strive to regulate themselves in accordance with the dictates of that external body (Bevir and Rhodes 2010: 48). This is what the Mass Line Education Programme, as we will gradually reveal in the following chapters, aims to achieve through various techniques, such as: teaching and learning models, criticism and selfcriticism sessions for officials and a whole range of surveillance activities within the Party. The eight-point code has, in turn, been translated into a number of state documents that provide strict guidance and standards dictating activities such as the hospitality associated with visiting delegations. For example:
A lot of state documents forbid the reception of delegations. For example, before their visit, they need to send us an official letter indicating the purpose of their visit. According to the rules, the number of staff accompanying and hosting the delegation is limited according to the size of the delegation. There is a standard cost of the meals during their visit. We can only host one banquet with a very strict cost standard and all other meals are limited to buffet. If there is no substantial purpose, we are not allowed to receive the delegation. (Mid-level official from a state-owned company)
In addition to these strict regulations on hospitality, officials are also no longer encouraged to work overtime as a practice of sacrifice. President Xi urges officials that “they should not sleep too late for the sake of health; they should have a better management of time” (16 January 2014). In this discourse, the sacrificial practice of working overtime is to be replaced by the “optimised management of time.” In other words, the Party attempts to replace the spiritual end of salvation with worldly ends such as health and well-being by secularizing pastoral power. When people accept such ends, they examine, confess and transform their own behaviour in accordance with the regime of biopower (Bevir and Rhodes 2010: 49). Fundamentally, the Party attempts
to determine which life is capable of regulating itself in the cause of its selfimprovement, adaptation and change; and which forms of life have most to teach about these processes offering a kind of best practice of living and preferred forms of life. Different life forms display differing capacities in this respect. It therefore follows that some forms of life may be less capable or incapable, and even hostile or resistant, to self-regulation in the cause of self-improvement and adaptation. All life in some degree or another may have to be coached in its biopolitical self-governance and some life may have to be subject to more than coaching. Recalcitrant and intransigent forms of life may require punishment and correction. Ultimately some life forms may be regarded as inimical to life itself and these will have to be eliminated. (Dillon 2015: 70)
In this process, along with anti-corruption, the purpose of the eight-point code is not only to balance the relationship between the culture of work and the culture of the self, but more importantly to move beyond this relationship to facilitate the internalization of its prohibitions in officials. That is to say, by virtue of the great diversity of the possible modes of man’s relation to himself, of the strategies and goals of self-transformation, the eight-point code attempts to be realized through transforming officials into ethical subjects. As an inspection official from the disciplinary department told us:
We should keep sober and strengthen our determination to maintain a moral situation and increase the intensity of punishment to strengthen the “dare not”; we must adhere to tackle the problem within the Party, choosing the right people with better standards; we also need to deepen reforms, improve the system, strengthen supervision and management, improve the incentive and accountability mechanism, strengthen the “can’t”; we will also strengthen the Party’s spirit, enhance the sense of purpose. Carry forward the fine traditional culture, increase our confidence, strengthening the “do not want to.”
In fact, it is to remind officials that they are spending too much time worrying about their “wealth, reputation, and honour,” but they are not concerned enough about their “virtue” and their “soul” (Foucault 2005: 491). In this process, officials must undergo tests (see also Chap. 6), in order to practice and exercise the truth that enables the subject not only to act as he/she ought to, but also to be who he or she ought to be and wishes to be (318-319). As a low-level official working in higher education told us:
I think the reason why leaders mention the hedonism is to remind you not to forget frugality as a communist. Why? Because some leaders used to live more a luxurious life embodied by what they eat and wear. Some of them will choose to wear big brand clothes, live in 5 star hotels, eat at dinners at price as high as at least 500 Yuan/per person. As we are revolutionary members, these kinds of lifestyles are more capitalist. Now their 200 square metre office become as small as 20 square meters, which would make them very uncomfortable. The salaries of officials can’t afford their lifestyles. Where is the money for them to afford such high consumption? Someone else will pay for it, but they won’t do it for no reason, then comes the deals between power and money.
From the above, we can see that the anti-hedonism campaign has been introduced to create a sense of “discomfort” among officials; second, their diet and clothing habits are problematized; third, hedonism is seen as a preparation for corruption; fourth, hedonism is seen as a residue of capitalism whereas communists are supposed to strive for “frugality.” The interplay between hedonism and frugality can also be seen in the discourse on officials’ drinking habits. For example, one of the officials we interviewed from the education department compared drinking water and drinking wine:
When you are at home you drink boiled water, this may result in you feeling insignificant. When you are out socialising and drinking wine, which can invigorate the circulation of blood, it can give you a whistling in the dark, it can give you nerve paralysis, it can help you relax, but it does not last long.
I think the problem of hedonism is that the time spent by officials in drinking wine is much longer than the time spent on drinking water at home.
So drinking wines refers not only to drink, but also how he does his work. Finally, a lot of people become busy in eating and drinking parties, where people can speak out their requests directly rather than in a long process whereby they would establish interpersonal relationships in a normal way.
Thus, apart from tackling personal relationships among Party members, as we will discuss below, it is the officials’ drinking, diet and working habits that are being problematized under the anti-hedonism and antiextravagance campaigns. The purpose of this is to create a culture of displeasure. It is also to constrain the time officials spend on outside activities for them to give more space and time for work and for inner spiritual activities. As a mid-level official from a financial department says:
It is a natural thing that officials would spend the money on and seek out pleasure, when he is promoted to a certain rank. For example, if I were promoted to a higher position, I would feel I was qualified and I have the right to enjoy, doing what I would like to do. It is the environment that encourages such behaviour. As a high-rank official with rich resources, power and money, you would be abnormal if you chose not to do the same as others.
In this discourse, as we have discussed in Chap. 4, what is seen as unhealthy (or abnormal) by President Xi is often regarded as normal by local officials. In this regard, hedonism is a kind of privilege that one uses to seek material satisfactions. This kind of privilege, compared with corruption and bureaucratism, requires less power to achieve and thus is relatively more prevalent and endemic. For the culture of hedonism, there is a double pleasure, a pleasure of being an official (being privileged), and a pleasure of having material enjoyment (based on the privilege of being an official). These pleasures would thus inevitably lead officials to seek more and more satisfaction from power and material accumulation than caring of the self. These pleasures are thus seen as acting as distractions on officials’ ability and willingness to become self-aware, and thus could contribute to the failure of forging an ethical officialdom.