On Party’s Birthday, Promises of a Continued Purge

A cartoon published by Xinhua promotes efforts to restrain official greed.

On the 93rd anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), General Secretary Xi Jinping highlighted his campaign to fight corruption and improve cadres’ “work style,” making it the focus of a speech delivered at a Politboro meeting the day before the anniversary (Xinhua, June 30). Official commentary surrounding top-level arrests approved at the same meeting makes it clear that this purge is intended to continue indefinitely.

The Politboro formally expelled four high-level “tigers” from the Party: former Central Military Commission Vice-Chairman Xu Caihou, former State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission Director Jiang Jiemin, former Public Security Vice Minister Li Dongsheng and former Petrochina Vice President Wang Yongchun (People’s Daily Online, June 30). These high-level arrests clearly follow factional lines in many cases (see “With Zhou’s Circle Down, Xi’s Purge May Turn to Hu,” in this issue). But they are also part of a broader effort to impose an austere lifestyle on the Party’s rank and file.

While the highest-profile cases are focused on classic cases of corruption—the fallen “tigers” are all accused of taking bribes in return for promotions or business favors—the speech and campaign focus on work styles According to a Xinhua report focusing on regulations that limit perquisites of office such as banquets, receptions and the use of official cars, tens of thousands of cadres have been investigated for violating Xi’s work style instructions: Across the country, there had been 41,880 investigations involving 54,862 suspects through the end of May, with 14,050 disciplined (Xinhua, July 2). Cartoons accompanying the report show greedy officials gorging themselves on cash and staggering towards feasts and vacations.

Xi claimed progress in the anti-corruption campaign and reminded his listeners of the Party’s achievements, but he focused on the challenges ahead: “We Communists… must deeply understand that we face the long-term and complex tests of being a governing party, of Reform and Opening, of a market economy and of our external environment; we must deeply feel the acute and severe dangers of lax spirits, of incompetence, of becoming separated from the masses and of corruption”—a list of challenges that he said can be met only with purification and self-improvement. Taking up the theme of tests (gankao) facing the Party, General Liu Yuan, the political commissar of the General Logistics Department, wrote in Qiushi that “the Party’s exams are far from over” (Qiushi, July 1).

Other commentaries sought to ensure that Party members feel that no one is safe from prosecution: A typical example, “No Leniency in Rooting out Corruption,” published on the front page of People’s Daily, warned that the struggle against corruption is becoming more severe, and quoted Xi’s description of it as a “matter of life and death for the nation and the Party” (People’s Daily, June 30). Another published the following day reminded readers that “There Are No Exceptions Before the Law,” promising that the campaign would continue to ensnare high officials (People’s Daily, July 1). The Xinhua column Guoping cautioned readers that “Zero Tolerance Toward Corruption is Absolutely Not ‘Empty Talk’” (Xinhua, June 30).

This campaign has gone after a broad array of privileges associated with holding office in China. While it is difficult to measure directly, they appear to have made some progress. The Xinhua report on the discipline campaign quotes officials saying that parties and official receptions have been largely abandoned and that many of them have taken to walking to work. Rumors frequently speak of officials complaining that their lifestyles have worsened since Xi took office, and reports that fewer people are joining the Party may confirm this (China Daily, July 1).

If these reports are true, an extended discipline campaign could substantially alter life in the CCP, making it less secure, less lucrative and more frightening—and, perhaps, render Party careers less attractive than they have been. It is by no means clear how cadres—many of whom, this week’s arrests remind us, have paid the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars to secure their posts—will react to such a change. But Xi’s hope seems to be to create a leaner and healthier Party.

Indeed, an apparent parable in the Xinhua report appears to be an elliptical threat: Giving an example of the kinds of work good officials do for their constituents, it describes a Shaanxi farmer with an aging and unproductive orchard. The official diagnoses the “chronic disease” (a phrase often used to describe indiscipline and corruption) and finds that the trees are too thick—“and once the trees were thinned, the orchard produced more and the fruit was excellent.”