CCP Internal Resilience – post 3 of 10
A history lesson
One place to seek answers to CCP stability is within Chinese history. This might contain a key to understanding what forces shape relations between the imperial center and the bureaucracy. In current form, what binds millions of cadres to the Central Committee, or the Politburo, or the General Secretary? Perhaps dynastic history can be a model.
The literati, the bureaucracy, has maintained itself for two thousand years, through dynastic successions and rebellions and foreign rulers. Mark Lewis commented on the Han dynasty elite, tightly wound scholar-officials, in Writing and Authority in Early China -
The Han imperium had created a new type of elite that was tied to the state through its economic dependence on salary and an intellectual commitment - more or less sincere - to the literary culture sanctioned by the court.
As it was then, so it is now. Officials are bound to the center for income, benefits, success for the family and child.
For historical binding forces, Francis Fukuyama proposed a number of long standing features of the imperial states that survived into the twenty-first century — high levels of centralization, and a dense, almost autonomous bureaucracy. In theory, the emperor was an absolute power; the bureaucracy existed apart from the imperial family.
This sounds right, but needs some clarification. In a reply, Kerry Brown points out that imperial centralization was by no means a constant over the last two millennia, and the bureaucracy operated sometimes as a restraint on the emperor and sometimes not. The bureaucracy, the literati, was resilient to rebellion, even when the dynasty was not. That should be significant. The literati remained, even when dynasties changed.
Kerry Brown sees the highly networked nature of Chinese society, including its literati, as a source of strength. The elite bonded with Confucian ideals, if not always with each other. Kerry Brown –
The classic statement of this is in the work of the great sociologist Fei Xiaotong, whose wonderful ‘From the Land’ in 1949 talked to Chinese society, with its predominantly agrarian roots, being one where everyone knew everyone else, issues were overwhelming local, and where the individual existed within a dense field of ‘elastic’ links. Guanxi (关系)is the term beloved by some foreign analysts. But a more appropriate one is renqing (人情), one that comes closest to all of placing human links and personal relationships at the heart of everything. Renqing has been one of the mainstays of Chinese society, and helps to explain the kinds of tribal, factionalist, networked behavior one sees evidence for at almost all levels, from the existence of provincial networks in business (the famous Wenzhou model, or the Zhejiang ‘village’ that existed in Beijing in the past), to claims about Shanghai, Shanxi or even Fujian cliques in politics. (note – renqing is positive human interaction or social relations, broader than guanxi, less personal than renai, benevolence). Renqing is a binding force.
The educated elite in dynastic times did exist apart from the mass of society, and took pains to keep its membership small. The imperial exams were exceedingly difficult. Students began studying hard at age 7 or 8, and studied continuously for decades before attempting to pass. Like any other elite, the members supported each other as members of a sect. It was not family, but it was a bond – a bond of renqing, of recognizing that others have endured and succeeded.
That still seems to be true. When I was teaching in Chicago, each year we had dozens of cadres from Hangzhou and dozens from Dalian. Getting to the MPA program in Chicago was a milestone in each one’s career. All were smart, accomplished, and energetic. Even though they were individually from different departments, some city, some provincial, they still choose to get together at anniversaries of their return from Chicago to celebrate their year together. They remain in frequent contact on wechat. They are the modern version of the literati of old. I have attended numerous Party functions – parties, if you will – in which the recurring photos of individuals and events posted on screen emphasized, over and over, that we are family. Not quite, we are the chosen ones, but certainly, we are those to whom much has been given, and from whom much – renqing - is expected.
I will explore more bonding forces in the next sections.