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

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Enhancing Service Through Recognizing and Eradicating Shortcomings

In order to bring Party officials closer to the people, there are various procedures that members have to undergo in order to achieve the aims of the MLE programme; for example, officials are encouraged to practise self-criticism and to spend time interacting with the masses. As President Xi argues, “The weapons of criticism and self-criticism should be well-wielded with some spice to make every Party official blush and sweat a little” (Yuen 2014: 42). In this context, President Xi further urges officials to “look in mirrors, dress up, take showers and get therapy.” An official from an education department interprets President Xi’s institutions, thus: “look in the mirrors,” as the process of identifying shortcomings and “to take showers” as the process of washing away shortcomings; and getting “therapy” is directly related to the confessional processes involved in the study sessions. Another official from the same department elaborated only on one aspect of the three, namely taking a shower:

It is a process of learning the Party policies and then to find the gaps between their requirements and our behaviours (for example, take a shower, means to wash off the shortcoming). This is the first step, that is to apply what you learned to your actual work.

The metaphor of “bathe the soul” was first used in China between 1950 and 1951, when many were suffering intensive cleansing during the Thought Reform of the Intellectual Movement. During this movement, intellectuals “studied Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao; they were lectured on the revolution by veteran cadres” (Ji 2004: 73). At this time, officials were engaged in criticism and self-criticism in small groups; the more prominent were criticized and humiliated at mass rallies (that was referred to as being washed in a big bath) (73). Many were also forced to write “autobiographies” in which they “repudiated their pre-revolutionary attitudes and actions, attributing them to their own selfishness, their sheltered existence, their class background, and the failings of their teachers and parents” (Ji 2004: 73). We will examine how the bathing of the soul is being instituted in the present day associated with the practices of criticism and self-criticism for the purposes of legitimizing the Party through re-emphasizing the Party’s primary purpose—serving the masses.

This is to say, through criticism and self-criticism, one becomes a penitent and becoming a penitent means living differently from others, which means that one has a particular, spatially determined place in the Party (Foucault 2014: 105). Penance is mortification (111); by the continuous exercise of verbalization, the penitent established the link between veridic- tion and mortification in his body (113). The official needs mortification of oneself with the sacrifice of oneself (112). This sacrifice is a ritual act and a veridiction of oneself through which one shows the truth of oneself (112). This is why the Party asks officials to sweat for the care of others in order to be able to care for the self.

As we have discussed in previous chapters, privilege seeking has been the main driving force for members to join the Party; thus, the attempt to correct the four undesirable working styles and stop corruption through the MLE programme can also be seen as an attempt at replacing an emphasis on privilege with an emphasis on service among governing officials. Thus, the reactivation of the Party’s principle of serving the people becomes paramount, although the notion of the people refers to different object as we discussed above (Foucault 2005: 200). In the following extract, an official from a provincial government explains just how far-reaching the criticism and self-criticism study sessions have been in terms of officials recognizing and attempting to correct their past wrong doings:

The Mass Line Education Programme is dedicated to identifying our problems and evaluating our working styles compared with the Party disciplines.

It has been a serious problem that the leading cadres were indifferent to, not caring about the difficulties of the masses. So the anti-four undesirable working style campaign is effective for those leaders to fulfil their roles and work for the people. After comparing with the standards introduced in the study sessions, many cadres have recognised their own problems like extravagance, that for some, there has been no clear distinction between public and private interests and for others they have recognised their indifference to the people, for example through, disturbing local people when carrying out countryside research etc., and others have recognised how they have competed with others on eating, entertainment, driving better cars, and having access to luxury planes. Now it has changed a lot, we know how to keep the peaceful state of mind, how to change our style of work, and take on more initiatives.

How was this to be achieved? The anti-corruption campaign and eight- point code impose restrictions on official behaviours, including banning the use of luxury cars, eliminating the giving and receiving of lavish gifts, and reducing pomp, banquets, ceremony, bureaucratic visits and meetings (Yuen 2014: 41). As will be discussed here, the eight-point code is an attempt to create a virtuous circle of dutiful service through care of others and the denial of the self. The Party expects such rules to guide its officials in terms of what they “ought not do” (Gong 2008: 151), but in the process of recognizing and adhering to moral practice the possibility of revealing “what they should do” is made possible. In other words, it is through these ought not do disciplines that the Party is attempting to encourage Party members to (re)remember what Party officials are supposed to do and what kind of characters they are supposed to demonstrate based on their oaths on joining the Party.

This attempt to strengthen ties between the people and officials can be seen as the objective spirit of the Party, which refers to the ensemble of objectifications (outer manifestations) of its duty (Bevir and Rhodes 2010: 13). In our case, the distance between the people and officials is to be closed through reclaiming the officials’ duty of serving the people. In Foucault’s words, “care for people” is thus revived in the Party’s contemporary moralization movement and care for the people is the means through which officials are to achieve their ethical subjectivity reinforced by their dutiful service. In the moralization process, there is a necessity to turn the officials’ gaze, to change officials’ motivations, from obtaining more power and material wealth to instead encourage the care of self (motivated by the self’s moral advancement to be an official). Thus, to be an official within the Party is to be engaged in an interdependent relationship that governs not only the behaviour of the governed people but also the self, that is, through the care of the self. In this sense, the care of the people includes the care of the self through denying the self. Care of the self is in service of the care of the people. It involves three points:

First, “care of the self’ could be one form of reflexive ethics and an especially apt set of techniques for modern subjects. Second, relationships and others are nevertheless central to this practice of ethics. Third, this move the self is a response to the dominance in Western philosophy of the idea that self-regard is dispensable. (Amoureux 2015: 87)

The care of the self is a frame of meaning for the extension of regard for the other, in actual fact, it is an ethics where the object of reflection is the care of the self in its particularity as well as one’s relationships with others in their particularity (88). Similar to the hybridized discourse of the mandate of people, as we discussed in Chap. 6, the role of governing the self can also be clearly seen in the teachings of Confucius:

If one tries to guide the people by means of rules, and keep order by means of punishments, the people will merely seek to avoid the penalties without having any sense of moral obligation. But if one leads them with virtue (both by precept and by example), and depends upon Li to maintain order, the people will then feel their moral obligation to correct themselves. (Creel 1953: 40)

Confucius believed that the happiness of people could be achieved only when the government was administered by the most capable of men. Such capability is solely a matter of character and knowledge, which is produced by proper education (Creel 1953: 41). “Proper education” is more than just the teaching of the practical knowledge necessary for administration, but more importantly it is the means of fostering ethical subjects through the instruction of moral administrative practices among officials. The moralizing agency of his society is bound up with an ethical elite and the superiority of this elite resides in the moral superiority of its individual members who are somehow able to actualize through individual self-effort their own potential virtue and wisdom (Schwartz 1970: 166). That is to say, as the system lacked any form of open competition or public criticism, the prime restraint of officials had to be internal and subjective. Thus, the well-being of the political system requires that it be managed by men of superior moral virtues (Pye 1968: 30). In the following sections, we will examine how this superior moral virtue is to be achieved within the Party.

 
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