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Turning the Gaze Towards the Self Through Remembering

Once the process of self-reflection commences, officials are required to speak and write self-examination reports in set formulae—carefully crafted words, phrases, slogans and scripts expressing politically correct thought (Ji 2004: 2). In these self-examination reports, they are expected to report (and present) what they have done wrong and explain why they did what they did in front of their comrades during study sessions and other meetings. This is a centrally coordinated attempt to remake officials by forcing them to speak and write themselves into being a new type of official, as far as possible (2). The first step of this process is the examination of conscience, in which the one divides oneself in two as the judge of the self and the one who is judged (Foucault 2014: 98).

In the process of examining one’s conscience, errors and mistakes in behaviour and judgement are exposed. In general, the reason individuals commit errors in the first place is because they do not bear in mind the ends (the consequences) of their actions. That is, they did not appropriately apply the rules of conduct that could be deduced from the general principle that must regulate the conduct of individuals (98-99). Through the criticism and self-criticism study sessions, officials are encouraged to confess their errors and temptations and to articulate their desires. That is, they must reveal these things to other members of the Party, thus bearing witness against himself (Horujy 2015: 53). This is one of three techniques that are normally used in the governing of the self: reflexivity in the form of memory (gives access to the truth), meditation (carries out the test) and method (fixes the certainty that will serve as criterion for all possible truth) (Foucault 2005: 460). In other words, the examination of conscience ties the individual to the obligation to search within himself for the truth of what he or she is; there is also an obligation to interpret this truth in order to take a decisive move towards one’s salvation; the final obligation is to manifest this truth to others, through a certain number of rituals, processes and procedures (Foucault 2014: 92).

The examination of consciences requires the form of memorizing acts committed in the past. The primary aim of this memorization is to reactivate the fundamental principles that must regulate the conduct of individuals; the examination must also permit the adaption of one’s conduct to these fundamental principles (99). One cultivates this art of memory in order to remember and reactualize, and to better inculcate in one’s thought and in one’s conduct the rules and codes that must govern in general one’s behaviour in life (99). It is not about discovering the truth about the self, but of remembering and memorizing a truth one may have forgotten (99). Thus, it is necessary for officials to remember what the Party requires them to do, such as the oath of the Party, the eight- point code and the other codes of conduct issued by the central Party. Thus, examining one’s conscience is a purifying practice, by which one is brought into contact with the spiritual or ideal world (96).

In order to facilitate the process of memorizing the many principles laid down by the centre, the Party’s decrees are coded in formulae, which Ji calls “numerical formulae” (e.g., four undesirable working styles, “ten forbidden behaviors,”1 and the like). The Party also organizes information schematically, linking individual items to a central concept that provides a clue which will assist its recall. Once numerical formulae have been mastered, they became an aid to communication, for they code a number of lengthy items into two or three words, making it unnecessary to spell them out every time they are mentioned (Ji 2004: 63). Similarly, keywords were also used as a single, monosyllabic code for summarizing information and expressing complex ideas to ease learning and memorization (such as the fight against both “Tiger” and “Flies”) (65).

Monosyllabic keywords are also used to denote a sense of the accessible. As we discussed in Chap. 6, bureaucratism was also found to exist in speech making; thus, in order to avoid boredom and thus lack of connection with the masses, leaders were required to limit the length of their speeches. In this regard, President Xi’s speech is often viewed as vivid and thus more accessible and resonant to “normal officials” and the people. As a low-level official from an education department told us:

People are very willing to listen and read President Xi’s speeches, as his speeches are very close to the people and more approachable. So we are very confident, he has his own thoughts. His language is directly from the grass-root people, very cordial and easy to understand, for example: when it comes to anti-corruption, he requires fighting both “tiger” and “flies,” “lock the power up in the cage of rules and laws,” “cat can’t be locked in cowshed, and the cage should be fastened,” which have become buzz words in the media. When he refers to strengthening the sense of procedures, he used metaphors such as “pulling out the radish with the soil.” When he mentions some unspoken rule, he says “neither gift nor visit leads to demotion; but both visits and gifts will keep your promotion”; “with relationship you can succeed everywhere, without relationship you can do nothing” etc ... The language is vivid, close to people’s life.

Thus, languages that are often employed by the people are used by President Xi. Metaphors and grass roots idioms further keep the principles of the Party more vivid, which enable President Xi’s speeches to be accessible and resonant. Resonance is particularly important for the processes of internalization of Party discipline and for officials to understand, in simple and memorable terms, the direction of travel the Party is attempting to inspire.

In the process of making the self’s past practices into an object of scrutiny, the officials are not only reflecting on what they have done in the past and what they are supposed to do in the future but are also reflecting on what the purpose of the MLE programme actually is. The reflection on past wrongdoings establishes a tension between the self and the self, and the latter process reveals a tension between the self and the Party. This is an uncertain terrain that produces hybridization and where divergent paths can be chartered. Having learnt the decrees laid down by the central Party, officials are then required to reflect on their past behaviours in comparison to the Party’s disciplinary requirements. Remembering and reflecting on the errors committed in the past serve to measure the distance between what was done and what should have been done (Foucault 2014: 99). For example, as a low-level official from a finance department explains to us:

There are the bad effects of hedonism and extravagance. It certainly deviates from the image of the China Communist Party, and it is too early to appear in a developing country like China. In America, there is actually also the upper class, they made no secret of their life of luxury, but ordinary people may not be upset, because the gap between the rich and the poor in the US is not so big as in China. And extravagance, official standard, bureaucracy actually exacerbates the gap, so is the difference in people’s social status, which will of course lead to social instability and disharmony.

The lifestyle officials previously enjoyed (such as hedonism and extravagance) initially becomes an object to be worked upon. In this process, officials are expected to confess to fellow colleagues in criticism and selfcriticism study sessions in order to reveal what he or she has done in the past. Facilitators and fellow officials present will encourage confession, reflections on behaviours and will ultimately guide those wrongdoers to find the right path for the sake of transforming their subjectivities. In other words, to carry out self-criticism is for the purpose of curbing excesses in future behaviours through exposing their past behaviours (Nivison 1956: 61). In this sense, “the care of the self” is the operative practice, whose rationale is to modify sensibilities of the self through delicate techniques (Connolly 1993: 373).

There are three types of interdependent technologies employed in this process: techniques for producing objects; techniques of communication, through which individuals communicate between themselves; and techniques of government, through which individuals act on each other’s conduct in order to attain certain ends or objectives (Foucault 2014: 23). As a low-level official from a provincial government told us:

A criticism and self-criticism session was held among the leaders. It was the purpose of regulating the Party’s political life and for developing the work style within the Party to a new stage. In the sessions, only problems associated with leaders were discussed. The requirement was that the results of the session was to be announced under five headings which were: rectification actions, responsibility recounting, time table, progress and effects. The purpose of this was to establish a benchmark in the Provincial Government organs and set a model for others in order to clear the dust in thoughts and behaviors.

Through the process of leaders demonstrating their full commitment to the criticism and self-criticism sessions, they have in a sense become role models whereby their actions and willingness to change have encouraged their subordinates to follow their example. Many of our participants have become fully involved in the sessions in the spirit of rectification, for example:

The meeting has implemented the spirit of rectification, targeting the existing problems, to fight against evil and wrong thoughts by criticism and selfcriticism. It required the Party members to give full play to their functions; and constantly improve the level of services; to ensure that the central and provincial government decrees and decisions implemented at grassroots. (A mid-level official from a provincial government)

As Foucault notes, this technique of self-examination involves the subject’s movement towards himself and the self’s turning back on itself (Foucault 2005: 248). By shifting the officials’ gaze on the self (spirit of rectification), there is a relationship to one’s self to be constructed, which is an exacting, rigorous, restrictive and austere morality (258). As a high- level official from a provincial government further explains to us:

The first purpose of self-examination is to find the problems of the self and to understand the problems. You also need to reflect on what your colleagues present to you with regard to what you have done wrong, and finally tackle the problems of yourself, which is called rectification. The rectification is not enough; it needs to be sustainable. A system of rules needs to be established to maintain it.

Sustainability here is to be achieved through establishing a connection between the officials’ reflexivity, rectification and the Party’s rules of conduct. In some extreme cases, officials are required to cultivate a Confucius virtue of reflexive self-criticism, which is the ability to “consistently watch himself when he is alone” (Nivison 1956: 60). In this process, watching the self is simultaneous with internalizing the rules that have been established to remind the self of the self. This is also the final stage of what Wang Qishan proposed, namely: “Do not want.” Thus, the relationship between reflexivity of the self on the self and knowledge of the truth is established in the form of memory (Foucault 2005: 455).

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