CCP Internal Resilience – post 4 of 10

Career path, messaging, and training


The exams to be accepted for a civil service position take place each spring.  These exams are difficult, and determine one’s career path.  In some years, only about 2% of the college students taking the exam are passed.  Those who pass enter an elite system with lifelong benefits and obligations.

The bureaucratic career path for cadres promotes internal stability. A job in government or party is a job for life, with benefits.  The low level party official or administrator in a township or county has lifetime job stability and the prospect of excellent health care, education advantages for the child, and some ability to find situations for relatives.  Particularly at the lower levels, these advantages are significant with respect to fellow citizens. Lower level and midlevel cadres are not in a position to foster rebellion, in any case. 

Internal Party dissension of significance emerges from members of the Central Committee – the 375 or so (including alternates) people who ostensibly represent all CCP cadres in the selection of the Standing Committee and its Politburo.  Rules require that no one serve more than three terms (fifteen years) on the Central Committee, so new faces are always present and older members are pushed out.  The Central Committee now is a far more educated, wealthy, and sophisticated group than was the case in the 1980s.  If there is an oligarchy, this would be it.  CCP works very hard on messaging within this elite and to observe diffident behavior.  For any one cadre, the balance between adhering to the message and offering one’s own expertise and thoughtfulness is a fine art. 

In the oligarchy, and on down the levels of cadres, the Party communicates its desires through training and direct messaging.  Often the messaging comes from the General Office in Beijing, but can also come from the Propaganda Bureau or a speech from a Politburo or Central Committee member.  Communication also comes through magazines ( Global Times, Qiushi), social media, and especially training. 

The model for this extensive communication system comes from more than a thousand years of message control.  Knowledge and truth always came from the emperor, rather than discovered by the people or even the literati.

Matthew Mosca in Introduction: Empire and Information in Late Imperial Chinese History - Qing emperors throughout the eighteenth-century feared that unsupervised literati political discussion would generate sedition, and adopted a range of policies to police and restrict the range of works permitted to circulate.

In the worst of the Mao days, to not know the message or to interpret it incorrectly was a clear sign of disloyalty.  Hence the CCP constitutional requirement to study the thought of Mao, Deng, Jiang, and now Xi. 

Ideological communication and training are constant.  In my limited comparative analysis, I have not seen anywhere else such extensive training for government employees, at every stage of one’s career.  Midlevel employees and higher are frequently away from work for a few days here, a few days there at a training session, perhaps in a distant province.  The training is often for technical and practical work, but even that reinforces the sense of one ideology, one practice, one family.  When we think alike and act alike, we cannot deviate from correctness. 

One sees training and its uniformity in the design of new development zones.  The zones look alike physically, regardless of location in China or purpose of the zone.  The main street layouts, width, bike paths, sidewalks, and landscaping are cookie cutter.  Why would you design something that looked different?  The training is meant to provide resolution to problems – to resolve contradictions, one might say. 

Contradictions are at the heart of Maoism, according to Franz Schurmann in his classic  Ideology and Organization in Communist China. He described resolution of contradictions between theory and practice, leaders, managers, and workers, and intellectuals and others as the principle work in training for cadres.  A modern economy with an antiquated system of governance provides plenty of contradictions to resolve.  And when ideology is constantly subject to reinterpretation, and incorrect thought potentially destructive of career, it behooves cadre to study, pay attention, and listen carefully to changes in wording or emphasis in pronouncements.  This commitment by itself has a strong binding quality.  You need to be part of the group to know the correct thought of the moment.  There is one answer, and it behooves you to know it.

I am reminded of the third annual Hangzhou Reading Festival, conducted in 2010.  This event was promoted by the Hangzhou Culture Bureau, a unit of the Propaganda Department.  The events in the week-long festival were open to all, but one event was clearly for cadres and children of cadres, bussed in for the event.  In the handout program for this one event, one would expect some listing of sponsors and background on speakers.  Those was there, in the program. But what got me was the discourse on the theory of the event – why were we at a reading festival?  Why is there a reading festival?  Apparently, someone felt a need to politically justify reading and its promotion – sure enough, the link was back to Zhang Zemin and the Three Represents.  We were on safe political ground.  But its important to tell people what to think and why.  Information is scarce; cadres want to know.  What's the buzz?  Tell me what's a happening.

For cadres expected to move up in responsibility, there is extensive training at Party schools in theory and practice related to their new jobs.  This might be useful in America – anyone ever seen weeks-long full time training sessions for mayors or aldermen or governors or, dare I say it, presidents? 

The intense focus on ideology and commitment to each other and the goal reminds one of Confucian literati over the centuries.  Dynasties come and go; but the commitment to study, to learning, to Confucian ideals, was survival for the elite.  The commitment in imperial days was not to each other, but to the ideals. Now, the notion of the literati as a class apart, a superior class, permeates CCP as well.  It is, after all, the vanguard of the proletariat.  All CCP training is about creating a superior ruling class. 

For the literati, too, a huge investment in study over a period of twenty or thirty years, could result in assignment to a county or city in which salary was low, but the ability to prosper with … let us say, alternative sources of income … would mean that a successful scholar would be set for life, along with his family.  Now, midlevel CCP members have access to good health care, good education for their child, an excellent pension with retirement at 55 or 60, opportunities for travel and ways to assist family members if needed. 

At levels of vice governor or vice minister – admittedly, a bit rarefied – there is access to far better health care, more subsidized opportunities, and special food – rice, vegetables, meats - grown only for cadres at the high level – food in which care is taken to avoid heavy metal pollution of land or water.  How do you think Politburo members stand to breathe the air at Zhongnanhai in the middle of polluted Beijing?  No worries.  There are filters, even in the cars.  CCP looks after its own.  There is bonding in that.