As Chinese President Xi Jinping presses on with his campaign against corruption and extravagance, his government announced this week that it is amplifying its effort to curb official misconduct and restore faith in the ruling Communist Party by requiring officials to participate in “intense” re-education sessions on Marxist theory and ideology.
The Xinhua state press agency for the People’s Republic of China reported Sunday that the Communist Party’s Organization Department fears that “profound social-economic changes at home and abroad” are shaking the ideological convictions of officials, risking a “loss of faith and moral decline.”
The announcement is another step in the government’s attempt to curtail bad behavior and save face with a frustrated public, which began in earnest early last year with the banning of government lavishness — prohibiting indulgent banquets with premium liquor and the use of public money for personal spending, among other things.
Susan Shirk, an expert on Chinese politics who chairs the 21st Century China Program at the University of California at San Diego, told VICE News that the ideological re-education initiative and the government’s wider anti-corruption crusade is higher-reaching than similar actions in China’s recent history. The investigations are almost solely focused on people within the Communist Party, and the weakness of the country’s legal institutions increases the potential for abuse.
“They don’t have a good mechanism that uses the legal system to fight corruption,” she said. “Many of these corruption cases will probably never get to court. People will probably lose their jobs, be kicked out of the party, and they can be kept under a form of incarceration or house arrest for a very long time without a trial.”
Shirk noted that the Communist Party uses re-education as a means of ensuring the integrity of the party and the conformity of its members. Zha Daojiong, a senior fellow at the Asia Society’s Center on US-China Relations, told VICE News that re-education practices will most likely vary.
“These education or re-education campaigns may have a national strategy or plan, but when it comes to actual implementation, it depends on the specific type of organization and the specific individual,” he said.
Based on techniques used in the past, Zha told VICE News that the programs will most likely begin with identifying people who have committed official misconduct, identifying what these people did wrong, and using them as a reference point for others. Officials might be asked to do things like draft personal criticism reports or reflect on their behavior.
The Chinese government hasn’t confined itself to re-educating officials. Late last year, it announced that the country’s 250,000 journalists would be subjected to new mandatory training sessions in the “Marxist view of journalism” leading up their annual journalism certification examination. The effort was ostensibly meant to bolster ethics in a field where bribery and blackmail are relatively common — in China, at least. While the exams aren’t new — each journalist must renew his or her certificate every five years — the rigorous and mandatory Marxist training sessions are.
Bob Dietz, Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, told VICE News that media outlets in China (which are primarily state-run) are discouraged from investigating government misconduct and abuses. Public perception starts with the media’s dissemination of state-approved information.
“The government is serious about dealing with corruption — or at least, the public’s perception of corruption — and they realize they have to do that, because their credibility and hold on power is under threat,” he said. “The people see [Communist Party members] as corrupt and untrustworthy, and basically thieves. They’re losing a great amount of the moral authority that they think they rule with.”
But aside from teaching journalists to adhere to socialist precepts, the government is also encouraging them to work ethically, he said.
“Another unfortunate reality about Chinese journalism is that a lot of times journalists are corrupt, and they blackmail people in stories they’re covering,” he said, noting how it is not at all uncommon for journalists who uncover corruption to work out backdoor deals with the parties involved.
Last October, a Chinese journalist was forced to confess to taking bribes live on the air. Several high-profile journalists and editors were in the news after being accused of accepting bribes for publishing falsified stories.
But while President Xi Jinping claims that he is vehemently opposed to corruption within the Communist Party, he has not shied away from jailing anti-corruption protestors out of fear that their activities undermine the Party.
“[The Party] wants desperately to control the narrative of this movement,” Dietz said. “It’s such a volatile issue and is so pervasive in China, and if people started running after every corrupt politician, wealthy businessman, well-connected son or daughter of a Party member, and those sorts of things, the system would collapse. Letting citizens participate in the movement would dangerously undercut the government’s authority.”
Though the crackdown has the look of a purge of Xi’s political opponents, it appears that the Chinese government wants to reassert its power and curb corruption as a means of preserving the political standing of the elite.
“They’re sitting on a powder keg,” Dietz noted. “The government knows it has to take this problem on in a way that doesn’t undercut them, and doesn’t reach up their level.”
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