President Xi Jinping has given the clearest indication to date of his political orientation and policy preferences by launching a Maoist-style rectification campaign to “thoroughly clean up the work style” of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 85 million members. In the coming year, officials in civilian and military departments who fail to rid themselves of the undesirable traits of “formalism, bureaucracy, hedonism and extravagance” will be penalized or even removed from the party. The year-long rectification (zhengfeng) exercise, formally called a “Campaign on Mass Line Education and Practice” is the largest-scale purge launched by the CCP leadership since the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) (People’s Daily (June 19); Ming Pao [Hong Kong], June 19; China Times [Taipei], June 19). Additionally, a companion “thought education” movement “to boost grassroots-level cultural construction in the military forces” is being launched within the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the People’s Armed Police. Regulations promulgated by the four PLA general departments last month urged officers to “nurture the core values of the contemporary revolutionary soldier” by “doing a better job in educating, nurturing and molding [the character of military personnel]” (Xinhua, June 2; PLA Daily, June 2).
In language that is reminiscent of the Great Helmsman’s masterly blend of the vernacular and the metaphysical, Xi urged cadres and party members to “purify themselves, and [work on] self-perfection, self-reformation and self-elevation.” “We must closely rely on the people and fully mobilize the enthusiasm, initiative and creativity of the broad masses,” he said in the nationally-televised speech on June 18 that formally opened the zhengfeng crusade. “We must look in the mirror, tidy our attire, take a bath and cure our sickness,” added Xi, who is also CCP General Secretary and Chairman of the policy-setting Central Military Commission (CMC). In a commentary on the zhengfeng crusade, Xinhua pointed out that the Mao-style purge would serve the purpose of “bolstering the cohesiveness of the hearts of the party and people and consolidating the blood-and-flesh ties between the party and the people” (Xinhua, June 20; People’s Daily, June 20).
Given that the campaign will run for at least 12 months, it is premature to assess whether it will live up to the billing of winnowing out bad sheep who are responsible for the alarming deterioration of cadres’ morality and competence. It is significant, however, that, in the footsteps of the Great Helmsman, Xi is resorting to Cultural Revolution-era ideological and propaganda campaigns to change of mindset of cadres rather than establishing institutions such as universal-style checks and balances. As legal expert Guo Wenjing pointed out in a commentary in the official Legal Daily, “critical to the success [of zhengfeng] is establishing solid institutions.” Guo cited late patriarch Deng Xiaoping’s famous dictum about “the decisive role of institutions,” namely, that “bad people cannot do evil within a good system, whereas it is possible for good people to do bad things within an evil system.” Similarly, U.S.-based dissident scholar He Qinglian, who specializes in party history and institutions, faulted Xi for “going after pleasing appearances rather than doing solid work.” “The rectification exercise is itself a manifestation of formalism and bureaucracy,” she said, “what the CCP needs is reform of political systems” (Legal Daily, June 20; Voice of America, June 19).
In his speeches relating to the zhengfeng movement, Xi surprisingly has shied away from concrete measures to eradicate corruption, which former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao deemed “a matter of life and death for the party” (CNTV.com, December 22, 2011; Xinhua, July 1, 2011). Shortly upon becoming general secretary last November, Xi waxed eloquent about cracking down on “tigers as well as flies” among venal cadres. He, however, made only one reference to tackling graft in his June 18 address: “We must deeply implant in the thoughts and actions of all comrades of the party the value of serving the people, sticking to reality and being non-corrupt.” Neither Xi nor other members of the Politburo have said anything about the status of a number of solid anti-graft measures proposed by liberal cadres as well as public intellectuals. One is a so-called “sunshine regulation” that will oblige mid- to senior-ranked officials to disclose their assets as well as those of their spouses and children. While the assets disclosure regulation was a hot topic during the National People’s Congress (NPC) last March, it has disappeared from public discourse, apparently due to entrenched opposition from power blocs in the party (People.com, June 28; Huanqiu.com, June 10).
Xi’s failure to address the corruption scourge properly has drawn at least indirect flak even from academics within the party establishment. For example, Yao Huan, a politics professor at the Beijing Municipal Party School pointed out in an interview with People’s Daily that “without clean governance, adopting the mass line becomes an empty phrase” (People’s Daily, June 29; Sina.com, June 29). More than six months after he became party chief, Xi has little to show on the clean government front. The two most senior officials nabbed for alleged economic crimes are the Vice Minister at the National Development and Reform Commission Liu Tienan and the former Vice Governor of Sichuan Province Guo Yongxiang (China News Service, June 24; Xinhua, May 13). Moreover, Xi seems to have difficulty wrapping up the case of former Politburo member and Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai. First detained by authorities in March last year, Bo is alleged to have pocketed at least a few tens of millions of yuan in addition to laundering money overseas (People’s Daily, January 19; China.com, January 9).
If the zhengfeng movement has little to do with urgent tasks such as combating corruption, is it a foil for an old-style intra-party power struggle that is aimed at boosting the authority of Xi, the putative “core” of the Fifth-Generation leadership? Zhang Lifan, a well-known party historian, pointed out that “political campaigns waged in the name of the mass line are often symptomatic of factional strife within the party.” “It is possible that an internal power struggle is shaping up,” he said (Ta Kung Pao [Hong Kong], June 22; Ming Pao, June 19). Deng Yuwen, a respected media commentator who used to be a senior editor at the Central Party School, also thinks Xi might be using the rectification exercise to rid himself of political foes at both the central and local levels. Deng suggests “The zhengfeng crusade may become a loyalty drive which will enable Xi to establish his authority and flush out ideological opponents” .
A remarkable article in the PLA Daily last month seemed to lend credence to Zhang and Deng’s views. In a piece entitled “Self-consciously Uphold the Authority of Chairman Xi Jinping,” the commander and political commissar of the Second Artillery Corps, respectively, Wei Fenghe and Zhang Haiyang, called upon officers and the rank and file to “heed at any time and under any circumstances the instructions of the party central authorities, the CMC and Chairman Xi.” The two generals saluted the contributions made by Chairman Mao in “formulating and constructing the objectives for modernizing [China’s] revolutionary army.” They went on to note that in order to “ensure the army’s superior nature, goals and essence,” military personnel must “meet the challenges of reality and the needs of inheriting ‘red genes’” (PLA Daily, June 17; China News Service, June 17).
It was the first time that senior cadres in either civilian or military sectors had underscored the imperative of nurturing and developing the party’s “red DNA.” Given the commonly held beliefs among conservative sectors in the party and army that “red genes” are found in most abundance among cadres with “revolutionary bloodline”—a reference to princelings or the kin of party elders—the likes of Generals Wei and Zhang are in effect waging a loyalist campaign to enhance the status of Xi, who is the son of the late Vice Premier Xi Zhongxun, as unquestioned supremo of the party, state and military apparatus (Apple Daily [Hong Kong], June 27; Voice of America, March 12). Moreover, a number of close Xi associates at the uppermost echelons of the party and army, including Politburo Standing Committee members Yu Zhengsheng and Wang Qishan as well as the General Zhang himself are the sons of illustrious party elders.
The apparent veneration of “red genes” also has manifested itself in the decision by a number of princelings in their twenties and forties to forego relatively lucrative business careers for the world of politics. This is despite an internal instruction given by late patriarch Deng in the 1980s that the offspring of party elders should seek to distinguish themselves in the commercial rather than the political arena (Hong Kong Economic Journal, June 16; Apple Daily, June 10). Foremost among these cadres with revolutionary bloodline is Deng Xiaoping’s grandson Deng Zhuodi, aged 28, who became Deputy Head of Pingguo County, Guangxi Province, earlier this year. Other examples have included the 41-year-old son of ex-President Hu Jintao, Hu Haifeng, who was named Deputy Party Secretary of the city of Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province last May; and the 36-year-old son of former NPC chairman Wu Bangguo, Wu Lei, who was recently appointed Deputy Director of Shanghai’s Economic and Information Technology Commission (South China Morning Post, May 25; Liberation Daily [Shanghai], May 13).
Irrespective of the extent to which President Xi is committed to blowing the trumpet for cadres with “red genes,” his adoption of Maoist values has been criticized by the CCP’s remnant liberal wing, which includes party elders as well as their offspring (“China’s Reform summed up: Politics, No; Economics, Yes (Sort of…),” China Brief, May 23). Beijing’s political circles have the past few weeks been abuzz with the publication of the candid views of a number of liberal retired cadres during a Chinese New Year intellectual salon organized by the respected monthly Yanhuang Chunqiu. The second son of late party general secretary Hu Yaobang, Hu Dehua, laid into Xi’s embrace of ultra-conservative ideas, especially his apparent refusal to push forward universal-style political reform. Hu Dehua noted, instead of harboring nostalgia for the Cultural Revolution, Xi should emulate the Taiwan’s late President Chiang Ching-kuo, who instituted political reforms in 1986. Zhong Peizhang, a former senior cadre at the party’s Propaganda Department, urged Xi to take immediate steps to “reform the lawless party and state systems laid down by Mao Zedong” (Frontline [Hong Kong], July 1; Ming Pao, June 23). While Xi has impressed observers in and out of China with the speed with which he has consolidated his power base, the 60-year-old princeling has to convince his countrymen that he is committed to overhauling old-dated institutions which underpin party members’ fast-worsening “work style.”
- Author’s interview with Deng Yuwen, June 28.