Faction: Tension Between the Individual Leader and the Party System

Informal networks in competition with one another have existed for a very long time within China’s Party-state (Hillman 2010: 5). Factions have established a firm power base within the Party-state apparatus (6). In this political system, power is often over-concentrated in the hands of the First-in-Command (FIC or yibashou in Chinese), which is also seen as contributing to the prevalence of corruption among leading Party and state officials (Jianming and Zhizhou 2008: 46). It has also been said that the factions within this political system are even more detrimental to the ruling status of the CCP and the stability of the state than other types of corruption (47). As a high-ranking official from the Disciplinary Department told us:

The most widespread corruption, is the use of public power for themselves or the profit for the small groups or their own small departments, which we call using public power for private purposes. The abuse of public power is due to insufficient regulation, supervision and restriction of the powerful officials, which will eventually lead to the private use of the public power. Abuse of power is the most essential part. This needs not involve the exchange of money, in my experience, the exchange of power for money, or for sex are the most common phenomenon of corruption.

In this sense, the “regulation, supervision and restriction of the powerful officials” have become central for the Party’s anti-corruption movement. Thus, the systematic failure of the Party’s governance and the moral degeneration of officials are seen as sources of corruption. According to President Xi:

Some Party members neglect the organization and discipline of the Party; they bargain with the organization and do not obey the arrangements; some Party organizations and leading cadres neither ask for instructions from, nor report to, the central government; some tried to divided an important issue into small parts to avoid reporting to supervisors; some leaders are not democratic enough, only one person has the final say; some members don’t respect each other; some are only accountable to the supervising leaders instead of to the Party, as a consequence they become attached to the leaders; some works do not rely on the organization but on the relationship between acquaintances, keen on building various social network, employing various unspoken rules and so on. (14 January 2014)

Thus, under conditions of fragmented authority and bureaucratic indiscipline, factionalism provides a pragmatic means of organizing political completion among officials (Hillman 2010: 15). Sun argues that although reforms have aimed at achieving some balance between the Party’s leadership and greater regulation of officials, these practices have not yet succeeded in fundamentally reshaping cadre incentives in the direction of accountability towards the people whom they serve (2008: 61). The incentive mechanisms have remained unchanged for those holding the chief executive positions, especially within the Party (65). Thus, without proper regulation and surveillance of local leaders, “the selling” of official positions becomes the primary means of FIC corruption (Jianming and Zhizhou 2008: 48). Furthermore, the leader’s role in overseeing promotion processes can often lead to low-level officials restricting their activities to do the “safe” bare minimum. As a low-level official from the general office of a provincial government informed us:

I try not to speak ill of others, especially leaders. But I know what he is doing, I won’t take any action though. I didn’t want to tell others to become my leader’s enemy. Taking responsibility is different, we should see in what circumstances and what situation this is possible. I must be able to remain in my position and then to do something. Do I have to remind my leader when I noticed that he has done something wrong? But if I remind him, it seems as if he knows nothing. So I won’t say much, I only do what he tells me to do. I won’t take the initiative to do anything more. If you ask me to contact the hotel, I just do it and do nothing further even if there is a need afterward to book the restaurant.

The idea of anti-corruption focuses on the necessity of cracking down more severely on corrupt officials. As many have argued, the spread of corruption among officials could destabilize the CCP, as corruption can also create a sense of unfairness among officials, who are aspirational in terms of developing theirs and other’s legitimate political careers based on merit. The following narrative is exemplary of what many younger and lower-level officials told us:

Such an atmosphere will ruin young people who have political aspirations. Because those who have not mastered the substantive power have actually seen the benefits of being like corrupt officials who are just eating, drinking and get some enjoyment and not doing any meaningful work. From a micro point of view, it is all because of the improperly assigned tasks by the leaders.

It is ideal that everyone in the office should be put in a proper position to do the right work. But it is not the reality. Now a lot of things are done by one person, while some people muddle along. But now some people don’t work hard in the office, and some people are as busy as a dog. (Lower-level official from an education department)

As this sense of unfairness and associated inefficiency builds up among officials, the consequences are that young officials can either become inactive in their work, or they think they have to search for factions for the purpose of enjoying the privileges associated with that faction and for getting protected (and promoted) by the faction. In this sense, the normal system of the Party is replaced by factional groups, which to date has been the route for young officials to become promoted.

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