Faction: Tension Between the Formal State and Shadow State

Guanxi based factions have become synonymous with corruption and other infringements such as nepotism, bribery and fraud (Fan 2002: 377), and also as in Ling’s case, political conspiracy.3 Thus, factionalism becomes the shadow state around the formal state bureaucracy, in which faction members can do much to influence the political agenda (Smith 2009: 37). According to reports issued by the Party, Zhou, Xu and Bo planned to replace President Xi and they planned to place their faction members in all levels of the Chinese government. Thus, the persistence of factionalism has become a major focus of the Party. Factionalism was seen as a manifestation of self-interest, where personal friendships and animosities (towards the Party) replace political reliability as a standard in one member’s treatment of another. In factions, personal favouritism and loyalty replace loyalty to Party organizations and principle. It also consolidates groups holding mutually irreconcilable positions and creates diverse centres of affiliation and competition with each member’s orientation to the Party organization (Young 1984: 34).

The problem is that factions and faction leaders, in particular, are acting as another “God” competing with the “Party God,” that is, the factional- ists may act as the sovereign in place of the central committee. Such relationships are among the most intractable problems in discipline inspection work, as the factions are inherently self-protective, established networks which tend to exclude external intervention (Young 1984: 45). In the factions, kinship and personal connections determine access to power and “market corruption,” where those who can pay the most gain access to political resources. This is what James Scott calls “parochial corruption” (cited in Smith 2009: 41).

For officials, factions were formed as a haven, a “protective environment,” and they heightened officials’ perceived need for emotional support and friendship (Shirk 1982: 127), while factional bosses tend to recruit from sources they can trust (Hillman 2010: 6). There is, however, always an element of risk in forming factions since establishing intimacy usually involves the mutual disclosure of information that could be damaging (Shirk 1982: 129). Instead of autonomy from the state, many officials and entrepreneurs actively seek ways to forge closer relationship with leaders, as these still afford them a competitive advantage in virtually all areas of Chinese society (Osburg 2013: 9). In a larger context, informal channels of communication and negotiation have become essential to public administration and factionalism helps to bridge the gaps in the flow of information and authority (Hillman 2010: 15).

Thus, the faction plays two roles: vehicles for collective corruption and catalysts for local economic investment (16). This is the positive hybridization of the two competing Gods, the Party and the faction. In other words, while entrepreneurs and underworld leaders cultivate relationships with members of the state to provide them with protection, insider access and government privileges, state officials rely on underground agents to achieve the aims of development, and they depend on unofficial incomes to support the extra-bureaucratic “face” appropriate for a powerful official in the reform period (Osburg 2013: 111). Thus, the loyalty to these networks often surpasses the loyalty to the Party. Furthermore, competition over spoils is organized around a relatively stable system of factionalism (Hillman 2010: 1).

There is also considerable anxiety among faction members, associated with the moment when the faction boss (the God) is brought down by the Party (the other God). As in cases shown above, not only can big bosses such as Zhou, Bo, Xu and Ling fall from grace, the officials affiliated with them have also found themselves being drawn into disciplinary and possibly legal investigation. Factionalism is also closely linked to anarchism. Anarchism within the Party means lack of responsiveness to organizational direction and subordination; in the Party this is evidenced through the flouting or selective implementation of higher-level policies, or practices where officials overtly support but covertly oppose policies (Young 1984: 37). In this discursive field, as Zhang and McGhee (2014) find, it is not only about the individual official’s moral and commitment problems it also concerns the conflict among different discourses within the Party. Thus, the Party sees this anarchism as being even more serious than issues of privilege, economic malpractices and general violations of law and discipline (Young 1984: 37). Thus, the fundamental problem for the Party in terms of the problematization of Party members is to tackle the problems of too many Gods. It is this assertion of exclusive authority that has pushed the Party to adopt many unprecedented measures to maintain power.

Thus, although the Party’s recognition of the need for “local” and “collective” initiatives is important, the recognition that certain forms of these are problematic in terms of corruption, abuse of power and issues of primary and secondary loyalties (to the faction rather the Party) is of greater concern. However, because of the lack of effective institutionalized linkages between the polity and society, the Party has had to allow officials to accommodate themselves to local realities, thus compromising the ideals of a fully integrated political system responsive only to the purity of the ideology (Pye 1968: 22). In order to balance these tensions, the Party is encouraging a form of “neo-collectivism.”

By neo-collectivism, we mean that the Chinese government allows various depoliticized local traditional collectives to function as a supplement of emotional and economic functions of family, units, schools and other institutions that have been disrupted by the modernization process. These new collectives are being encouraged to support economic development and social stability in China by fusing various hybridized discourses (and through combining with various existing social relations and strategies). They do not require the exclusive loyalties of group members, but rather their purpose is to maintain strong emotional and associational ties among members than towards a sacred centre. Thus, we argue that through encouraging neo-collectivism, the Party is not drawing and demanding people’s absolute loyalty to itself. It has forged various sporadic depoliti- cized, closely monitored collectives to disperse people’s loyalties and yet by so doing has extended its reach and control over Chinese society.

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