The late summer has been an eventful period for observers of the upper echelons of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), where yet another round of purges of senior figures — this time, within the diplomatic and military bureaucracies — appears to be underway. Cursory inferential analysis of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) party-state system suggests that the recent high-profile sackings of China’s foreign minister and senior military officers are likely part of a renewed anti-corruption drive-cum-purge for CCP officials. (Editor’s note: For a fuller discussion of this topic, see “Xi’s Personnel Mismanagement” by Willy Lam, elsewhere in this issue.)
It is possible that such efforts represent a response by CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping and his inner circle to China’s dramatic economic slowdown (China Brief, July 21); or, if unconfirmed reports are to be believed, perhaps even to criticism of Xi’s policies by retired party elders (Nikkei Asia, September 3). The notable absence of Xi from recent high-profile events such as the G20 Summit — where Premier Li Qiang (李强) instead served as the senior PRC representative (China.org.cn, September 10) — remains officially unexplained. Xi’s absence may stem in part from a desire to remain at home during a time of increased domestic insecurity. Amidst these unusual developments, there are also signs that a renewed political loyalty indoctrination campaign for CCP cadres may be underway: such campaigns have long been part of Xi’s toolkit to shore up his own position atop the Party hierarchy, and to assert his personal control over the Party’s political and policy orientations.
The Emphasis on Political Loyalty Ideology During Xi’s Tenure
Throughout Xi’s time in power — and with increasing focus in his second term (2017-2022), and now third term (2022-2027) in office — his administration has placed an even heavier emphasis on ideology and ideological indoctrination than was true under his immediate predecessors. CCP propaganda outlets throughout Xi’s tenure have narrativized the fall of the former Soviet Union as a tragedy, singling out the loss of ideological confidence on the part of Soviet Communist Party members as a key contributing factor.  The officially-prescribed ideological corrective to prevent this from happening in China— “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era” (习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想, Xi’ism/Xi Jinping Thought)—was largely in place by 2017. In the ensuing years the ideology has been hammered home by state organs with ever-greater insistence. Xi Jinping’s officially cultivated cult of personality has now reached absurdist heights not seen since the days of Mao Zedong (毛泽东). 
Early in Xi’s third term, all the signs suggest that the CCP’s focus on ideology — specifically, political loyalty ideology focused on Xi Jinping as the “core of the party center” (党中央的核心) — is only increasing. The 20th CCP Party Congress in October 2022 saw the somewhat surprising elevation of Wang Huning (王沪宁) to the fourth-ranked position in the hierarchy of the CCP Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC, 共产党政治局常委), a promotion that defied the predictions of some outside experts (China Brief, August 12, 2022). Wang bears an unusual profile for such a senior position: rather than possessing experience as a provincial party boss or as a senior figure in one of the party’s core bureaucracies, Wang is a former academic. He has become known in recent years as a behind-the-scenes majordomo for the party’s top leaders, as well as the CCP’s leading ideologist (Global Taiwan Brief, November 2, 2022). Wang’s promotion was likely due to his status as a reliable Xi loyalist, but it also further indicates the importance that Xi places on the propagation of correct ideology within the party. Aside from Wang’s formal post as chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC, 中国人民政治协商会议) and attendant responsibilities for the CCP United Front policy portfolio, his place in the PBSC could arguably be seen as filling a new policy position: that of chief ideologist, as was held in late Soviet-era Politburos by members such as Mikhail Suslov and Yegor Ligachyov.
Plans for the Ideological Indoctrination of Party Cadres
In late 2019, the CCP released the 2019-2023 National Work Program for the Education and Cultivation of Party Members (2019—2023年全国党员教育培训工作规划), which laid out a series of stringent measures for the ideological “education” of party cadres in Xi Jinping Thought. These include near-daily check-ins on the mandatory Xuexi Qiangguo (学习强国) app, assigned mandatory reading materials, and regular sessions of “party cadre collective training” (党员集中培训). The CCP Central Organization Department (中央组织部) was designated as the lead agency responsible for the program, with local and regional party committees given responsibility for organizing and scheduling many of the required activities.
The goal of this “Party spirit education” (党性教育) and “education on ideals and convictions” (理想信念教育) was to ensure that the current generation of cadres would “inherit red genes” (传承红色基因), and “cultivate a spirit of struggle” (培养奋斗精神) (China Brief, December 31, 2019).
On August 31 this year, the CCP Politburo held a meeting that reportedly included concurrent “deliberation” (审议) on new draft documents related to cadre indoctrination: Cadre Education and Cultivation Work Regulations (干部教育培训工作条例) and the Nationwide Cadre Education and Cultivation Program (2023-2027) (全国干部教育培训规划 [2023－2027年]). To date, the full text documents have not been released, and only a vague description of the new plan has been made available from PRC state sources (PRC Government, August 31). (In 2019, the full text of the previous plan was released, allowing for fuller analysis of its contents. It is unclear whether the full text of the 2023 plan will be released, after the nominal period of “deliberation” has passed.)
The brief official state media description of the new plan is vague, but there are hints as to what it holds in store. The summary makes it clear that indoctrination in the official ideology will be front and center: “[We must] comprehensively implement Xi Jinping Thought for Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era, seriously implement all requirements for party building in the new era and the new era party organizational line.” The text also prominently asserts the importance of “politics” for party cadres—using coded language that, within CCP discourse, means loyalty to the central CCP leadership. Accordingly, party cadres will be instructed and evaluated based on “political judgment” (政治判断力), “political comprehension capability” (政治领悟力), and “political execution capability” (政治执行力). The overall process must serve to “strengthen political gatekeeping” (加强政治把关), with the clear implication of screening out those deemed less than fully committed to the party and its leader (PRC Government, August 31).
The Political Loyalty Tenets of “Xi Jinping Thought”
The official description of the new cadre training plan also emphasizes that cadres will be taught to “profoundly understand the ‘Two Establishes’… strengthen the ‘Four Consciousnesses’, be steadfast in the ‘Four Confidences’, [and] achieve the ‘Two Upholds’.” These ideological arcana make little sense to those not immersed with the CCP’s internal propaganda, and could be easily dismissed as the sort of brain-bludgeoning empty jargon for which CCP discourse is justly notorious. However, these four official slogans (提法) are key elements of Xi Jinping Thought that center upon loyalty to the CCP as an institution, and to Xi as the CCP’s absolute leader. This set of numerical formulations has been drilled into the party bureaucracy ad nauseum in recent years—and even constituted the centerpiece of a two-day Politburo “democratic life meeting” (民主生活会) at the end of December 2022 (Dangjian, January 3).
The new plan for indoctrinating party cadres appears poised to drive these themes home even further still. The official meanings of these four slogans are as follows:
The “Two Establishes”
The “Two Establishes” (两个确立) asserts the correct decision made by the CCP at its 18th Party Congress in 2012 to establish “Comrade Xi Jinping as the core of the party leadership, [and] in the central position of the whole party” (习近平同志党中央的核心、全党的核心地位). As stated in an official commentary, “The Two Establishes “strengthen the leadership core and scientific theoretical guidance, [they] are concerned with the future prospects and destiny of the party and country, [and] the fundamentally important question of the success or failure of the cause of the party and people” (Renminwang, November 16, 2021).
The “Two Upholds”
The “Two Upholds” (两个维护) are to “resolutely uphold General Secretary Xi Jinping as the core of the party center, [and as holding] the core position of the entire party; [and to] resolutely uphold the authority of the party center and centralized, unified leadership” (CCP News, Feb. 22, 2019).
The “Four Consciousnesses”
The “Four Consciousnesses” (四个意识) consist of “consciousness of politics, consciousness of the general situation, consciousness of the [party] core, and consciousness of alignment [with the party]” (政治意识, 大局意识, 核心意识, 看齐意识) (CCP News, March 20, 2017).
The “Four Confidences”
The “Four Confidences” (四个自信) consist of maintaining “steadfast confidence in the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, confidence in theory, confidence in the system, [and] confidence in [our] culture” (坚定中国特色社会主义道路自信、理论自信、制度自信、文化自信) (Xuexi Shibao, November 11, 2017).
While it remains as difficult as ever to peer inside the opaque inner workings of elite-echelon CCP politics, multiple outward signs — including the purges of high-level officials, unexplained diplomatic absences, and the escalation of saber-rattling towards Taiwan — indicate political troubles for the Party’s top leadership. As Xi Jinping and his inner circle batten down the hatches for the “high winds and perilous waves” (風高浪急) that Xi has often predicted for the party (Qiushi, November 1, 2022), the CCP’s organizational and propaganda apparatus may be gearing up for an even more intensified political loyalty indoctrination campaign for Party members, as a further means of ensuring their fealty to the “Party center” and its “core” leader. Intensified political indoctrination is a dubious corrective for China’s myriad problems, but it is a valuable tool for Xi Jinping to preserve his position atop the party hierarchy—and CCP cadres are likely to see even more of it in the months ahead. In addition to consuming the time and attention of Party officials with mandatory ideological study, the renewed indoctrination drive could also mean that perceived political loyalty will further trump technocratic competence in terms of evaluations and promotions for CCP cadres. Such developments would augur poorly for the effective management and innovative solutions needed to address the broad range of China’s pressing domestic problems.
 Two such prominent examples include: Be Vigilant for Danger in Times of Peace: Twenty Years of Historical Lessons from the Death of the Soviet Communist Party (居安思危：苏共亡党二十年的历史教训) (Social Sciences Academic Press, 2011); and Twenty-Year Reflections on the Death of the Soviet Party and Nation (苏联亡党亡国二十年祭 ), https://www.bilibili.com/video/av76350865/?share_medium=android&share_source=weibo&bbid=XY12CA11AB8969CBB25166F8FC5C5777E2625&ts=1582999546257.
 Innumerable examples of this could be cited, but for one such example see: “Study and Implement Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era Topics Education Central Guidance Organization and Cultivation Meeting Is Convened” (学习贯彻习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想主题教育中央指导组培训会议召开), Renminwang (人民网) (April 6, 2023), https://baijiahao.baidu.com/s?id=1762378921020170951&wfr=spider&for=pc