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Learning from Good and Bad Examples
As part of the MLE programme, the government began to promote a nostalgic campaign which involved the resuscitation of revolutionary heroes and values. The purpose of this and other campaigns and small group political study meetings under the MLE programme is for the purpose of attempting to reverse the atomization of individuals through linking each unit directly to the state as a cog in the machine of the People as a whole (Weller 1994: 213). The revolutionary heroes under the “nostalgia” campaign were in many ways presented as a prototype for a new kind of human being. The point of this and other campaigns under the MLE programme is to remake people down to the smallest details of their daily lives, rather than to promote any specific behaviours. As a mid-level official from a propaganda department told us, the good examples are to complement what the Party cannot prescribe; they are exemplars of the specific ethic they want to promote:
Our government services haven’t covered all the demands of the people. Therefore, a role model is needed to help with those affairs that government can’t cover. It is related to the development of the civil society, which is about the division of different services and responsibility of both civil society and government in the category of management and public administration.
Historic and contemporary revolutionary heroes and the values embodied were the topic of particular discussion meetings. These discussion meetings would leave no corner of the human soul unswept; every aspect of thought and behaviour was to be brought under official scrutiny (Weller 1994: 199-200). That is to say, the purpose of these discussion groups which included contemporary and historic heroic examples was for the purpose of creating a proper sense of the selfless self, dedicated to the common good over any personal interests. As President Xi says:
As the old saying goes: example is better than precept. Leading officials at all levels should set an example for others, and match their words with deeds. The politburo comrades should start with themselves.
During the MLE programme, the Party attempted to construct a moral environment among officials who were to act as moral exemplars for the purpose of inspiring Chinese society to become moral. The use of examples, as Foucault (and President Xi) suggests, facilitates a deeper or more memorable type of learning. For Foucault, this is associated with the relationship between ignorance and memory, memory being that which enables one to pass from ignorance to non-ignorance, from ignorance to knowledge, while it is understood that ignorance cannot escape from itself on its own (Foucault 2005: 129). As a mid-level official from an education department told us:
Some large scale lectures were organized to publicize those outstandingly honest cadres for the officials at bureau level. We also used negative examples and were expected to analyse their thoughts and behaviours as a warning to other officials. Now we have a lot of case studies, and on-site teaching. For example, when we examine anti-corruption in our classes, some previously sentenced officials will be invited to give a presentation on his behaviour, his whole life, and his opinions on some of the problems, that is, what caused him to commit the crime, money, sex and so on. Such teaching is very lively and persuasive.
The use of both good and bad examples is an effective means for producing effects within the individuals’ own practices. Thus, these examples become the mediator in the individual’s relationship to his constitution as a subject (130). As an official from a discipline department told us:
Loose discipline has become a major concern of the Party, some Party members and cadres regard themselves as the “officials,” forgetting they are the cadres of the ruling Party. If they only remember they are officials, not a member of communist Party, then the Party organization is slack; and this will, inevitably cause a slackness in overall discipline. Therefore, strict Party discipline is listed among the major priorities for the purpose of strictly managing the Party above all.
However, it is clear that the Party has an easier time defining wrongdoings among officials than defining ideal officials. This is why the examples of disgraced corrupt officials have become very powerful. As a low-level official from a finance department told us:
Former Party secretary of the Guyuan County of Hebei province was dismissed because of extravagantly holding the wedding for his daughter. The county takes this as a warning and formulates policies to strictly controlling the banquet scale of weddings and funerals for government officials, which not only well restricts the cadres, but the local people change their customs of holding such ceremonies.
Thus, negative examples can also facilitate internalization of the codes of conduct, through warning others of the consequences of violating and abusing their role as officials. In many ways, the governmentality of the Party we have been observing in this book seems to operate through the alignment or realignment of roles within the Party. This is also called normative isomorphism. According to DiMaggio and Powell (1983: 152), there is a general principle that socialization, as “the collective struggle of members of an occupation to define the conditions and methods of their work,” instils particular cognitive bases and legitimizations in the actors subjected to them. Thus, role expectations are learned and fulfilled because they go hand in hand with the actor’s self-image or identity and “what such a person must do” (Mollering 2006: 362). This allegedly produces isomorphism in the sense that it is assumed that all actors who play the same institutional role will do so in a standard, recognized and legitimate way (362).
Bad examples, in this context, are yet another mechanism for the development of self-knowledge. Thus, bad examples can help the self confront ignorance about the self and what is right and wrong. In other words, passing from ignorance to knowledge involves mastery and self-awareness. Passing from a status of “to be corrected” to the status of “corrected” presupposes a master, an exemplar. Ignorance itself cannot be the element that brings about knowledge (Foucault 2005: 130). However, among the flagrant abuses of privilege, there are other examples where individuals are being exposed as abusers of privilege which are rather less straightforward, where they invite friends to a family celebration. An official from a county government told us:
Obviously, we often see the notifications of punishment. One is about an official punished using a government car to take him swimming. Another case is some other leaders who were punished for receiving cash gifts worth tens of thousands from his employees on the occasion of his children’s marriage. It was just a wedding, this has produced dilemmas, and it is not polite if you don’t invite your friends and colleagues to the wedding, but when you invite them, you will be punished for receiving their gifts.
As we discussed in Chap. 2, the collapse of the Soviet Union has contributed to the Party’s active search for alternative ideologies (Holbig 2009: 41). Thus, the Party is not only aware of the lessons from the failed regimes of the past, as in the USSR (and the Qin Dynasty, see below), they are also attempting to transform the Party, through better serving the people (rather than just serving itself). Thus, there is a need to examine how the Party is being encouraged to perceive itself. That is, as we discussed in Chap. 6, what we are observing is encouragement to return to its ethical self through serving the masses. The vulnerability of regimes that ignore the needs and aspirations of their people described here was relayed to us by an official from the policy research department, when he explained the weakness inherent in the Qin Dynasty:
Quoting an example from the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), President Xi said that officials should learn lessons from history. The Qin Dynasty was overthrown because the people rejected unpopular policies, including high taxes and extravagance at public expense. First Emperor of Qin thought he conquered the world, so that he was the best on earth by force. But the people still needed to farm and make a living. They needed a family with wife and children. But after he unified the nation, he was busy at putting up grand buildings, repairing the Great Wall and Epang palace.
Thus, it is the reactivation of the fundamental rules of work, of the ends the officials should pursue (i.e., working for the masses), and of the means the officials (i.e., listening to and discerning the needs of the masses) should employ to achieve these ends (Foucault 2005: 483). In this sense, the so-called revival of culture also needs to embrace the notion of “history as bad examples.” History is thus hybridized as both good and bad. As a lower level official from a policy research department elaborates:
Why did the former Soviet Union collapse overnight? Because it didn’t assume the functions that it should have undertaken. The state needs the Party to meet the most basic needs of society, especially in terms of public governance. If the Party can’t fulfil these tasks, the society will abandon it.
Therefore, it was very quiet when the Soviet Communist Party collapsed, a Party with thirty million members, having the world’s most powerful army. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union as a political Party, as a political organization, did not provide the public goods for the people of the Soviet Union. Their only concern was privilege, power, status, fame and beautiful girls.
In this sense, it is believed that when the Soviet Union officials stopped providing public goods for people and officials’ prioritization of their own
privilege, power, status, fame, this resulted in a crisis of legitimacy for the Soviet Communist Party. As we have discussed in previous chapters, looking after the people is the same thing as listening to the Party, prioritizing physical pleasures and material gain leads to the degradation of the Party’s moral ecology. Thus, the former Soviet Union also serves as a referent of the undisciplined and unethical Party. As the same official further elaborates:
Before its break-up, the Soviet Communist Party abandoned the principle of democratic centralism, allowing Party members to publish and deliver different opinions from the Party, and implementing so called autonomy of the Party organizations at all levels. Many of the Party members even the members of the leadership became vanguards who spread Western ideology instead of the Soviet history and socialism. The Soviet Communist Party seized power with 200,000 members, defeated fascism when its member reached 2 million, but finally lost its power when it numbered 20 million members. We can learn good lessons from such a 90-year history. It is big Party which had ruled the country for over 70-years. Its demise was a result of ideological confusion and organizational disarray.
In this sense, “discipline,” as we discussed in Chap. 6, as a medium between morality and legality, now becomes a medium between quantity and quality of Party members, and a medium between the Party’s legitimacy and the centralism of the leadership. Thus, by providing history as “bad examples,” the Party would be able to, it is believed, learn from history in view of an “uncertain future.” However, we argue that it is not about the history of others, but about the future of the self that is central to the Chinese Communist Party’s contemporary transformation. Through these historic examples, the Party is able to link the current self with a potential future self in view of self’s survival in the future. As we discussed in Chap. 2, the discourse of China Dream uses history as a referent object of China’s modernization, while simultaneously not denying or rejecting its past (Pye 1968: 54). In so doing, the discourse of China Dream which is rooted in the mysteries of the past has become a mechanism for informing China’s future. We would further say that the discourse of “struggle” in China is not only a struggle for Chinese history but also a struggle for the history of the entire world. In this sense, the implications of the discourse of the China Dream on the studies of international relations should also be closely examined.
Although officials are given advice with prescriptive texts in the various compulsory study and discussion sessions they attend under the MLE programme, they may be vague, empty recommendations which were not really taken up in people’s behaviour and experiences. The Party’s words are not just vague, but even clearly worded statements can mean different things, have different referents and have different political implications, depending on their context. Training programmes are organized jointly by Central Discipline Inspection Commission (CDIC) and organization and propaganda departments, which are seen as the three departments most concerned with “Party building” (Young 1984: 42). In this context, the objective of drawing lessons to instruct Party members on Party style is more important than examining and punishing individuals (42). Successful modelling of behaviour occurs when the model captures attention, when the audience mentally rehearses and then acts out the modelled behaviour, and when they see that the modelled behaviour is rewarded (Foucault 2005: 29).
Thus, self-reflection must always look back for what they have forgotten about being a good official, this includes looking back to old revolutionary examples created by the Party in order for them to remember and resuscitate what they have forgotten. The focus of public self-criticism through the mastership of good examples is for the purpose of bringing out the self whose will is directed towards the only object one can freely will, the self (133). As a low-level official from the propaganda department told us:
It is about the spirit of arduous struggle, ideals that encourages loyalty to the Party through the hearts of the people, so that his heart becomes filled with the people, all for the people, by so doing, our hearts become “the hearts of responsibility.”
However, the problem of “past examples” is that they are too distant to become part of everyday practice taken up by contemporary officialdom in the era of globalization. The Party must prove that the ideal of moral standards can be operationalized in contemporary society. It must provide a “feasible and realistic model” for officials to be inspired by, engage with and have their practice shaped by. It also means that the self-reflection cannot take place without another person (129). This is also why during the criticism and self-criticism study sessions, the presence of colleagues is so important as it aids reflexivity, as we will discuss in the next section. This is why President Xi puts much emphasis on the leaders’ role of being moral models. He says:
If you don’t be strict with yourself, how can you discipline others? The comrades of military commission are in high position, all the army officers, soldiers and people are looking at us. They want to know if we are decent and clean or not? This is the issue concerning the Party and military’s image. We should play an exemplary role in front of the entire army, then we have the confidence to improving the army’s working style. If we are associated with misconduct and are unclean, people will criticize us behind our backs, then how should we discipline others? It’s impossible and useless. (8 July 2013)
This is also why, as we discussed, President Xi who by dint of his god-like great soul is able to embody the indivisible public spirit (Schwartz 1970: 161). President Xi’s leadership style has become an exemplar that inspires and leads officials to construct their own relationship with their better self and thus, their self’s future. As a low-level official from a disciplinary department told us:
From President Xi’s speeches, behaviours, including some of his own viewpoints, we can clearly see there is a style of leadership. I can feel his personal charm. I think I can learn a lot from his speeches. Most of the time I feel he is more comprehensive and so thoughtful. So I think I admire such leaders. And President Xi visited various places, having meals with only four dishes and one soup in the cafeteria. These people will notice the change from being an official to serving the people. In fact in our society, there are still a lot of civil servants working to provide services, their role has returned to the original place.
In many ways, the MLE programme is dedicated to resetting and reestablishing the correct roles officials are expected to play in society in service of others (the masses) and in the presence of others (other officials). So what is presupposed by this education movement is the question of ignorance of the self, that is, the self who does not care for others and, consequently, did not will the self (Foucault 2005: 133). The constitution of the self as the object capable of orientating the will, of appearing as the will’s free, absolute and permanent object and end, can only be accomplished through an intermediary (Foucault 2005: 133). While interacting in situations that have normative expectations, “I” as the subject continuously evaluates my actions in relation to my moral identity, which is encoded in “me” (Shadnam 2015: 7). In other words, the appropriation of morality is through giving a self-account in relation to morality, in which the self (the “I”) as a reflexive process when encountering moral norms turns upon itself and reflects upon the “me” in relation to those norms (Shadnam 2015: 10).
This is to say, the self’s will is both directed and freed by the other through remembering. When the self is interrupted by the other, the will becomes the remnant between the binary, whereas the will is also the hybridization between the self and the other. The remnant might be the cynic, and the hybridization between rhetoric and philosopher (Foucault 2005: 154). In the next chapter, we will focus on the problem of technology of the self and the will of the self within the Party’s disciplinary apparatus. Before that, in the next section, we will examine the process of self-criticism and its relationship with discipline and ultimately the governance of the Party.
“Self-Cultivation” as Separation and Unification Between the Care of the Self and the Care of Others
It is in the Party’s attempts to remind its members of the Party’s original purpose and its expectations with regard to the role of officials that there is a shift from a “theory,” through an interest in its practical application, to an ethic (Nivison 1956: 54). This conversion involves the renunciation of oneself, of dying and being reborn in a different self and a new form, which no longer has anything to do with the earlier self in its being, its mode of being, in its habits (Foucault 2005: 211). Thus, conversion is a long and continuous process through self-subjectivation (215). Furthermore, the latter must be accompanied by a personal philosophy, demanding that the individual embraces “self-cultivation,” the deepest soul searching (Nivison 1956: 54). Self-cultivation here becomes the mechanism for the closing of the gap which separates “theory” or “principle” (which are subscribed to as external to the individual) from genuine belief and understanding— which is the realization of “principle” in the subconscious attitude, character, conduct or “practice” of the individual (Nivison 1956: 56). While self-criticism is part of Confucian philosophy, mutual criticism, as noted above, during these particular meetings (i.e., criticism and self-criticism study sessions) is more of Communist mechanism (59). As a consequence, we can say that the Communist Party is a combination of united-front nationalism and of ideological moulding stressing self-cultivation (Nivison 1956: 54). In this sense, hybridization happens through self-cultivation.
“Self-cultivation” that embraces “criticism and self-criticism” thus takes on a dual role: it is a device for achieving uniformity within a scattered, heterogeneous and growing Party; and on the other hand, it blends Communist ideas with national symbols and motifs that have occurred in China (Nivison 1956: 55). In terms of Confucianism, the conversion of the self through self-cultivation is first and foremost a domestic and personal process. For Confucianism, the process of self-cultivation must begin locally, whereby moral change is brought about in people through inner conversion, rather than external compulsion. Thus, in order to influence the world, transformation has to commence within the individual and from the home (Chang 2011: 50). As Confucius says:
When one is well cultivated, one will be able to put one’s house in order and, with harmony in one’s house, one may go on to render one’s service to one’s country and make one’s contribution to the world. In other words, when one’s knowledge is extended, one’s intention will become sincere and one’s mind rectified, thus one’s personal life will be cultivated. When one’s personal life is cultivated, one’s family will be regulated and then one’s state will be well governed; and when all the states are well governed, there will be peace and harmony throughout the world (ШМ, -&Ш, ?иИ> TBT).
There is also a functional relationship between taking care of the self and taking care of others in Western traditions. Like Alcibiades in Greek philosophy, the care of the self, in this sense, is instrumental with regard to the care of others, and the amplifying effect this will have on the country and the world. In other words, I practise on myself so that I can become a political subject (Foucault 2005: 175). Thus, this self-reflexivity involves both an internal dialogue within the plural self as “thinking” and the external dialogue between the self and others as “politics” (Amoureux
2015: 98). Thus, it is an ethical reflexivity that enables a critical ontology of the self, which is enabled through a willingness to take the self as an object of inquiry, and an openness to self-transformation via internal and external dialogue (101). That is to say:
By routinely mediating on one’s experience, and exploring certain ideas in writing and then putting these ideas to the test in practice, the aspiring Stoic could fashion a singular “script” for himself, one that enabled him to transform the truth, such as he understood it, into an ethos—a form of life that would meet both the claim of reason, and the need for courage. (Miller 1993: 340)
In the West, this culture of the self refers to salvation that one must be saved and one must save oneself, in order to inspire others to save themselves. In this sense, care of self can lead to the salvation and prosperity of others, the family, the state and the world, and vice versa (Foucault 2005: 176). Finally, through caring for the self in the act of memory, the soul discovers both its being and its knowledge at the same time (176). In this process, one takes care of the self for oneself, and this care finds its own reward in the care of self (177). Thus, for the traditional Chinese and the Western process of self-cultivation, we find the same tension between care of the self and care of others, but in a slightly different order. For Chinese, it is through caring for others that one must care for the self, whereas for the West, it is through caring for the self that inevitably leads to the care of others.
This can also be seen from the paradigm of the Western Prince’s good conduct. As Foucault finds, the care of people for the Prince is only a job, whose moral structure and fundamental principles are like those of any other professional activity. Thus, the Prince or King will only produce his own good but also the good of others in the care of the self. It is in caring for himself that he will inevitably care for others (Foucault 2005: 200-202). The care of others is like a supplementary reward for the operation and activity of the salvation you exercise with perseverance on yourself (192). Thus, although the same tension is operative both in China and the West, the way of viewing this tension is in sharp contrast.
So the technique of knowing oneself is self-criticism, criticism and learning the codes. This process attempts to ensure that the Party’s codes are thoroughly processed and officials are encouraged to internalize the codes. The codes are supposed to influence aspects of their thought and everyday lives (Ji 2004: 228). However, as self-criticism meetings are only periodically organized, the observance of officials’ thoughts and behaviours must be reinforced through the activities of other agencies, such as inspection officials, as we discussed in previous chapters. An official from the disciplinary department told us:
Even if the officials realized their own problems and made changes gradually through participating in these self-criticism sessions, how can we find out it their behaviours are consistent with what they say in the study sessions?
For example, is it necessary to listen to the comments of his colleagues to see whether he is consistent in his behaviour? It is important to focus on his daily routines rather than periodic examinations. We need some additional assessments on them, which will take effort, time and manpower.
Again, this is how disciplinary power is annexed to the power of governing the self. Furthermore, in the realm of governing the self, there is a complex combination of techniques associated with moral guidance, the examination of conscience, memorization (and remembering) and avowal. We will examine these techniques in Chap. 9.