The CCP’s Renewed Focus on Ideological Conditioning, Part 2: The New Five-Year Plan for Training Party Cadres

Image: Members of the Xinyang City (Henan Province) branch of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (controlled by the CCP United Front Work Department) listen to a speech contest on the theme of "Studying and Implementing Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in the New Era and the Spirit of the 19th Party Congress" (May 2018). (Source: Zhong Gong Wang)

Author’s Note: This is the second part of a two-part series that addresses new directives issued by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in the field of ideological “education.” The first part (The CCP’s Renewed Focus on Ideological Indoctrination, Part 1: The 2019 Guidelines for “Patriotic Education”), which appeared in our December 10 issue, examined new directives for intensified “patriotic education” among Chinese youth and the general public. This second part examines a new five-year plan unveiled by the CCP in November 2019 for more rigorous ideological indoctrination among its own cadres.

Introduction: The Drive for Increased Ideological Conformity in the CCP

The leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has long pointed to the collapse of the Soviet Union as a cautionary example, and party organs have produced books and films that warn of the dire consequences that would follow from any steps to loosen the CCP’s grip on the economy, public discourse, or political power. These materials have been made the focus of mandatory study under CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping (SCMP, November 18, 2013). Alongside alleged villains such as the reformist Mikhail Gorbachev, ideological laxity among Soviet Communist Party members has been identified as a key factor in the downfall of the Soviet state. [1]

To address this, the CCP leadership has undertaken concerted efforts throughout 2019 to bolster ideological indoctrination among its own membership. Party members have been made subject to mandatory use of the smartphone app Xuexi Qiangguo (学习强国), which was introduced in January of this year. [2] Users are required to meet quotas of “study points” for spending time on the app, reading and commenting on articles, and taking tests about party policies (SCMP, February 14, 2019). In addition to serving as a channel for ideological indoctrination, the app also serves as a surveillance tool: it both “collects and sends detailed app log reports on a daily basis, containing a wealth of user data and app activity,” and contains code that amounts to a backdoor to rooted devices… granting complete administrator-level access to a user’s phone” (Open Technology Fund, September 12).

The CCP’s current official ideology is “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 Jinping Xin Shidai Zhongguo Tese Shehui Zhuyi Sixiang). This ideological program is grounded in Xi’s ever-growing cult of personality, and relies heavily on the dogmatic repetition of slogans rather than clearly articulated ideas. In broad terms, it strikes three general themes: (1) achieving the “China Dream” (中国梦, Zhongguo Meng) of restored national greatness; (2) unyielding CCP control over politics and Chinese society; and (3) continuing reforms in party-state institutions and governance. The latter element is often expressed in terms of greater centralization of power at the top echelons of the CCP, and demands for stricter personal loyalty to Xi Jinping (China Brief, November 19). [3] 

Image: Staff at the Guiyang City (Guizhou Province) Children’s Hospital gather to watch the film Twenty-Year Reflections on the Death of the Soviet Party and Nation (苏联亡党亡国二十年祭, Sulian Wangdang Wangguo Ershi Nianji), August 30, 2019. (Source: Sohu)

The New 2019 Plan for Training Party Cadres

On November 11, the CCP Central Committee Office 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 / 2019—2023 Nian Quanguo Dangyuan Jiaoyu Peixun Gongzuo Guihua) (hereafter “Program”) (People’s Daily, November 12). This document was released concurrently with another major CCP policy document pertaining to “patriotic education” among both Chinese youth and the general public (China Brief, December 10). Like the latter document, the Program demands strict fidelity to Marxism-Leninism, and all of the CCP’s official ideological theories from Mao up to the present day (Program, art. 1).

“Xi Jinping Thought” as the Foundation for CCP Ideological Training

The Program is effusive in its promotion of Xi’s cult of personality, invoking the official theory of “Xi Jinping Thought” (hereafter “XJT”) nineteen times. Party members are “to be made aware of [XJT] weapons in [their] minds” (Program, sec. 2, art. 3), and are advised that “under the guidance of Xi Jinping Thought… [we must] unify willpower, unify action, and march forward in step” with one another (Program, sec. 1). The Program also reiterates component aspects of XJT that demand intensified loyalty to the central CCP leadership, and to Xi himself as the undisputed “core” (核心, hexin) of that leadership. [4] Even outside the formal rubric of XJT, Xi’s speeches and favored slogans are repeatedly invoked as a guide for party cadres working in different economic sectors and different parts of the country (Program, sec. 2, art. 2-3).

Party Cadre “Education and Cultivation” Program Management

The CCP Central Organization Department (中央组织部, Zhongyang Zuzhi Bu) is designated as the lead agency responsible for national-level cadre education program management and curriculum development (Program, sec. 5, art. 2-3). Regional organization departments are similarly given primary responsibility at the local level; in this, they are to coordinate with other “relevant functional departments” in managing the “party member education and cultivation joint conference system” (党员教育培训联席会议制度, dangyuan jiaoyu peixun lianxi huiyi zhidu) (Program, sec. 5, art. 1).

The cadre training Program combines national-level direction with local implementation. Party committees at the county level and above (县级以上党委, xianji yishang dangwei) are directed to lay out requirements for subordinate echelons, and to produce an annual study plan that will include a list of books and articles for required reading (Program, sec. 2, art. 1). Party committees at the county level and above are also to designate cadre education instructors, selecting candidates who possess “exceptional political quality” and “high standards in theory” (Program, sec. 5, art. 2). For their part, “grassroots party organizations” (基层党组织, jiceng dang zuzhi) should “integrate daily education management and earnestly implement” the requirements issued from above (Program, sec. 2, art. 1).

The directives of the Program are to be binding on all civilian party branch organizations. However, the military is to follow its own plans for ideological training: the document states that, “on the basis of the spirit of this plan,” the CCP Central Military Commission will be responsible for “formulating implementation opinions” of its own for cadre education in the People’s Liberation Army and the People’s Armed Police (Program, sec. 5, art. 3)

The Party Ideological Education Curriculum

The Program lays out seven basic functional areas for required ideological training, as indicated below:

Image: The seven functional areas of required ideological training, as laid out in the CCP’s new five-year plan for the ideological conditioning of party members. (Source: Compiled by the author.)

These seven areas in turn are to be suffused throughout with “party nature education” (党性教育, dangxing jiaoyu) and “ideals conviction education” (理想信念教育, lixiang xinnian jiaoyu) (Program, sec. 3, art. 1). This provision finds a parallel in the indoctrination plan for youth, which decreed that school curricula across all subject areas must be filled with “patriotic” content (China Brief, December 10). Like the latter document, the Program is concerned with people of all ages, but youth are a particular priority: local party chairmen are directed to expose younger party members to particularly stringent political education and discipline, so that these young people will “inherit red genes” (传承红色基因, chuancheng hongse jiyin) and “cultivate a spirit of struggle” (培养奋斗精神, peiyang douzheng jingshen) (Program, sec. 3, art. 3).

Instructional Methods and Requirements for Party Members

The Program emphasizes a range of methods to achieve these goals. Party organizations at multiple levels are directed to establish XJT teaching sites, and to organize public lectures and discussion forums in which leading cadres (领导干部, lingdao ganbu) play a prominent role (Program, sec. 2, art. 2). Some ideological training requirements are to be addressed through private study, with an emphasis on Xuexi Qiangguo and other official online platforms. [5] The document also clearly states that such platforms are to be used to support “big data” analysis of trends in party member study (Program, sec. 4, art. 3). Party members are expected to study in their off-work hours, with an emphasis on repetitive, day-to-day exposure to prescribed propaganda materials (Program, sec. 4, art. 1; sec. 2, art. 2).

Despite the emphasis on internet programs, the new vision of ideological conditioning is far from solitary. Party members are directed to visit communist historical sites together, and to renew oaths on their “political birthday” of party membership (Program, sec. 4, art. 2). Borrowing a page from the CCP’s Maoist legacy, members are also directed to maintain “democratic life meetings” (民主生活会, minzhu shenghuo hui) in which they will “seriously criticize and conduct self-criticism” in order to improve party discipline and governance. Such methods will promote a “political sense of honor” and “organizational sense of belonging” to bind party members together (Program, sec. 4, art. 1).

The Program places a particular emphasis on “party cadre collective training” (党员集中培训, dangyuan jizhong peixun)—a term that is not clearly defined, but appears to indicate periodic meetings for all members of the local party organization in a particular locality for the purpose of ideological instruction (see accompanying image). Per the plan, “party committees at various levels” (各级党委, geji dangwei) must organize such training annually, and county-level party schools (党校, dangxiao) are to take a prominent role in supporting these events (Program, sec. 4, art. 4; sec. 5, art. 2).

Image: CCP members in Jili Township (Yunnan Province) hold a collective training session on the theme of “Ten Thousand Party Members Entering Party Schools,” May 24, 2018. (Source: People’s Daily)

In regards to this collective training, specific requirements are levied for party members (Program, sec. 4, art. 4). These requirements are:

  • Grassroots-level party secretaries must participate in collective training at the county level or above at least once a year;
  • Newly appointed grassroots-level party secretaries must participate in relevant training within 6 months of taking their position;
  • New party members must participate in collective training within their probationary period—and within 1 year of full membership, must also attend higher-level (上级, shangji) collective training;
  • Party members must participate in collective training and study for at least 32 hours each year;
  • Grassroots-level party secretaries and party organization “team members” (班子成员, banzi chengyuan) must participate in training and collective study for at least 56 hours each year, to include at least one instance of collective training.

Conclusion

In recent decades, there has been a trend among many Western commentators to downplay the role of ideology in Chinese statecraft. By such analyses, the modern-day incarnation of the CCP is best understood as an institution that practices authoritarian, developmental state capitalism, but long ago abandoned its foundational ideology—in effect, to say that the Chinese Communist Party long ago ceased to be truly communist. These views have been grounded in uncritical assumptions, and in credulous acceptance of the CCP’s propaganda directed to foreign audiences, rather than study of the copious documentary record regarding the CCP’s own internal discourses.

While cynicism about communist dogma may well be widespread throughout Chinese society and officialdom, the senior echelon of CCP leadership—in a direct trajectory from Tiananmen up to the present day—has been carefully self-selected to ensure that only faithful advocates of the CCP’s ruling position and ideological formulae may enter the sanctums of power (China Brief, June 4). Even the seemingly mild-mannered Hu Jintao was a true believer in the communist system, who espoused traditional communist principles in every major public address and oversaw an intensification of state control over public discourse (Xinhua, April 29, 2004; China Daily, July 10, 2007).

Hu’s far more brash successor has thrown all of this into overdrive since ascending to power in 2012. Xi has demonstrated both that he regards fidelity to old school Marxist-Leninist-Maoist ideology as key to the CCP’s own survival, and that he views himself as a great communist leader and theoretician. The time is long overdue to take seriously the foundational worldview of CCP leaders and their pronouncements on ideology—as well as the CCP’s manifest ambitions to propagate its ideology throughout Chinese society as a whole.

John Dotson is the editor of China Brief. For any comments, queries, or submissions, reach out to him at: [email protected].

Notes

[1] Many examples of official CCP media materials on the fall of the Soviet Union could be cited, but two of the most prominent are: 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, Juan Siwei: Sugong Wangdang Ershi Nian de Lishi Jiaoxun] (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, Sulian Wangdang Wangguo Ershi Nianji], https://tv.sohu.com/v/dXMvNTc5NTQzMC82MTE3ODk1NS5zaHRtbA==.html.

[2] The title of this app (学习强国, Xuexi Qiangguo) is a play on words, which could be interpreted (and translated) in two different ways. The name could be translated as “Study (学习) for a Strong Country (强国).” However, the second character of the verb “study” (学习, xuexi) is also Xi Jinping’s surname; therefore, the title could also be interpreted as “Study Xi for a Strong Country.”

[3] Many references could be cited, but for one official source on the CCP’s current ideology, see: Study Guidelines for 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学习纲要, Xi Jinping Xin Shidai Zhongguo Tese Shehui Zhuyi Sixiang Xuexi Gangyao), CCP Central Propaganda Dept. (June 2019). http://theory.people.com.cn/GB/68294/428935/.

[4] The Program reiterates XJT’s component elements of the “four consciousnesses,” the “four confidences,” and the “two upholds” (Program, art. 1), which center upon loyalty to the CCP as an institution, and to Xi as its absolute leader. The “four consciousnesses” (四个意识, sige yishi) 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]. [See: “Li Junru: Strengthening ‘The Four Consciousnesses’ Especially Consciousness of the Core and Consciousness of Alignment” [李君如:增强“四个意识”特别是核心意识和看齐意识], People’s Daily Theory Channel, March 20, 2017. http://theory.people.com.cn/n1/2017/0320/c168824-29156444.html.] The “four confidences” (四个自信, sige zixin) 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]. [See: “Keeping Steadfast to the Fundamental Basis of the ‘Four Confidences'” [坚定“四个自信”的基本依据], People’s Daily, November 11, 2017. http://theory.people.com.cn/n1/2016/0707/c49150-28532466.html.] The “two upholds” (两个维护, liangge weihu) 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” [坚决维护习近平总书记党中央的核心、全党的核心地位,坚决维护党中央权威和集中统一领导]. [See: Xue Wanbo [薛万博], “How to Correctly Understand ‘The Two Upholds’?” [如何正确理解“两个维护”?], CCP News, Feb. 22, 2019. http://cpc.people.com.cn/n1/2019/0222/c123889-30897358.html.]

[5] The CCP Central Organization Department operates Communist Party Member Net [共产党员网] at: http://www.12371.cn/. The Xuexi Qiangguo app also has a parallel official information webpage administered by the CCP Central Propaganda Department at: www.xuexi.cn.