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

Tension Between Work and Family

As we discussed in Chap. 5, officials’ families are also being co-opted in the anti-corruption campaign in the attempt to resocialize officials. In the anti-four undesirable working styles, through disciplining officials’ diet and travel habits, it is also expected that by regulating hedonist lifestyles, the officials would spend more time with their wives and families, rather than having frequent banquets with other officials or businessmen. As an official from the disciplinary department told us: “officials are now going back home right after leaving their offices. They no longer dare to go out for dinners and entertainment.” By encouraging officials to go back home after their eight-hour working day, it is more possible to create a seamless process of monitoring officials’ activities.

It is expected that the officials will be overseen by their unit during the work day, and they will be monitored by their wives, children and relatives when they are out of work (outside working time and during the weekends). As the wife of an official told us, “I am now acting as a Party’s inspection official at home to oversee my husband’s life. I feel I am empowered as he always comes back home now.” In order to achieve this, there is evidence of inspection officials policing and patrolling the streets, monitoring luxury restaurants, private clubs and other places. The assumed needs of families are also changing, in that, it is argued that there is a need for spaces for autonomy for the cultivation of inner selves, rather than flashy interiors for the satisfaction of personal desires and to strike material envy in the hearts of their peers (Osburg 2013: 133). In this process, Party inspection officials are allied with family and relatives in monitoring officials on a 24-hour basis.

Why is this an important aspect of the anti-corruption and antihedonism campaign? It is assumed that over time, the identities, desires and relationships associated with the outside world of society come to overshadow officials’ domestic selves, often leading to a sense of estrangement from the home (66). While male officials were expected to perform certain normative roles associated with the domestic sphere, for example, as fathers, sons, husbands, and the failure to fulfil these roles could result in condemnation by their families and peers, the bulk of their time and energy was devoted to relationships associated with the “outside” world of career (66).

The problem is the influence of their web of associates and the culture of work leads them to sacrifice their bodies and families for the sake of their social networks (129). However, despite the emergence of a culture of fear created by the anti-corruption campaign, a culture of secrecy has arisen among officials who try to continue to be hedonists in this context. As an inspection official informed us:

Delivery of gifts is in a more secret way, for example, instead of physical goods, they will send out gift books, redemption coupons, use electronic commerce to provide money envelopes, electronic gifts prepaid card, etc.

As gift-giving has become a disciplinary problem for officials, they cannot allow themselves to be too visible (59). The appearance to onlookers of even an innocent or normal dinner with friends and family is something all officials have to now consider, for example:

Frankly speaking, ordinary people would also, when seeing an official’s life, wish that they could follow in the same direction. That is why everyone is chasing fortune due to the existence of such official oriented culture and tradition. However, the problem is, now when one is eating at a high-end restaurant, one will be suspected of dinning on public funds, even if one is spending one’s own money. (Mid-level official, disciplinary department)

Moreover, even if the spouses of officials may have high salaries or family money to pay for their families’ expensive lifestyles, the officials would still be regarded as hedonists. As an official’s wife complains:

What is the definition of hedonism? If my husband’s salary is very high, can I buy some luxury brands? It is my personal choice as to whether I can wear luxuries or not. But the Party requires us to restrain ourselves not to be hedonistic and extravagant even if I spend my family money. It says you must live as normal people and strive for a better country. You cannot show off yourself and your family if you are a Party member. It seems the poorer the officials, the stronger the Party.

In this discourse, the officials’ families therefore are also expected to endure sacrifices for the sake of maintaining the virtue of Party officialdom.

The anti-hedonism campaign has wide-ranging implications for officials’ (and their families) consumption patterns through introducing a culture of suspicion, in which many activities will be perceived as being “hedonistic” and potentially an indication of corruption. An official from a provincial government told us:

I think austerity is very good. Dinner parties and singing are not necessarily unhealthy, but I think it is better to change the way we communicate, to be healthier and more open, not to be like secret agents hiding our communication. It is okay to have dinner with intimate friends, and to talk about more personal problems, but there’s no need that all of us have to be like this.

As a consequence, officials are avoiding activities that might be perceived as conspicuous consumption and are putting their energies into healthier pursuits. As a low-level official working in higher education told us:

The problems among different units are different. If you change the venue of entertainment from clubs to recreation and sports activities, they can be very healthy and helpful for the Party. The Party should not ban all of official activities.

In this tension between night club entertainment and healthy sporting activities, officials’ bodies become an instrument for purifying themselves and for becoming more virtuous. In this relationship, virtue must go through the body in order to become active. Therefore, one must take care of one’s body (Foucault 2005: 426). This has extended to how lower- rank officials care for their superiors. For example:

It was right to regulate the behaviours of high rank leaders, so you can see everything can become simple, no empty talk and more attention to details.

It is ridiculous for leaders to have others carry their bags, take the cups and hold the umbrella. This is a physical change of every individual’s behaviours; gradually there will be a qualitative change in the leader’s mentality too. (Low-level official from a county government)

Doing things for oneself rather than being served by others is a politics of the body associated with patience, endurance and abstinence (Foucault 2005: 428). That is to say, one must accustom oneself to an austere life in order to have courage with regard to the external world; control of oneself is to be achieved through physical effort (427). This austere life is a form to be given to official life, which enables individuals to have the appropriate attitude towards themselves and the events of their life (429), in the process of fulfilling the China Dream. The austere life would also give individuals the strength to treat wealth and goods with the necessary indifference and with correct and wise nonchalance (429). It is an exercise of abstinence for developing a lifestyle, rather than with the intention of regulating one’s life in accordance with precise interdictions and prohibitions (430). It is through personal tests in the form of strains, difficulties and even suffering that officials can be prepared for the real strains and the actual sorrows, misfortunes and hardships they may experience in fulfilling their duty (438).

As observed by many of the officials we interviewed, during the campaign against corruption and the four undesirable working styles, ordinary officials and ordinary activities are being affected by the indiscriminate austerity measures. Thus, all places that can be used for the creation of private relations among officials are prohibited, whether they are healthy or unhealthy. In this sense, pleasure and practices of building up private relations are the main targets of this campaign. As a result, there is a prevailing attitude of cynical disinterest among dis-privileged officials, which undermined the morale of local government, and reduced the potential for enthusiasm (Smith 2014: 13). As a low-level official from a finance department told us:

On the issue of anti-corruption and anti-four undesirable working styles, there are some different understanding in society. Some people believe that corruption is a gust of wind, it will pass quickly. The anti-corruption bid is on the top wave, they will discipline themselves just for this moment. Some people believe that the anti-corruption bid will affect the development of the economy, lead to the decline of consumption, some even thought that the pressure of the economic development is due to the anti-corruption campaign. Some people believe that anti-corruption made the cadre become timid and over-caution, and unwilling to do practical things.

A female official from the same department raised the question: “why should we stay in the government?” In her case, she is a mid-level official with relatively little power. Her salary is comparatively lower than her non-official friends who have similar educational backgrounds. She also feels a sense of unfairness when she is affected by the all-inclusive cracking down on, and surveillance of, all officials’ ways of living. While it may not be loved, or even respected, in the eyes of ordinary cadres the state does have legitimacy and thus resilience (19). That is to say, by demonstrating the harshness of the anti-corruption campaign and rigour of the anti-four undesirable working styles initiatives, officials can become the victims of, or disadvantaged by, the fall-out from them. The seemingly contradictory values are embedded in the official’s subjects. As this female official further elaborates: “I still stay in the government just because I want to work for the country to do make the country better with my own effort. It is called ‘sentiment’ (qingcao).” Through the everyday frustrations of government work, a shared status or identity is cultivated, binding them in a common dissatisfaction with the level of development. While they may not always enjoy their work, the regime has succeeded in persuading nearly all of the local political elite and many ordinary cadres to identify with and internalize these ideals (18). In other words, the Party is preserved by its Others.

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