Politics of Uncertainties: Destabilizing Guanxi in Factions
In many ways, the anti-corruption campaign that has built up a strong culture of fear among officials is dedicated to destabilizing the various “abnormal” relations within the Party, especially guanxi in factions (as examined in Chap. 4). It is through this practice of destabilization that the Party is attempting to resocialize or reorganize itself in the name of serving the people. Thus, coercive isomorphism is to be achieved through destabilizing, while mimetic isomorphism is to be achieved in the situation of uncertainty that is enabled by the destabilizing practice. It is through these various practices that officials, as noted in Chap. 4, will first not dare to commit corruption (dare not), second they will be prevented from committing corruption (cannot), and last they will not want to commit corruption (do not want), so that President Xi’s China Dreams can be fulfilled. We will deal with the problem of “do not want” (or normative isomorphism in greater detail in the following chapters).
As we have discussed in previous chapters, since the Party has gradually lost moral authority, various agencies of socialization within the Party have become less effective. This is also why DIC has to be so forceful in dealing with moral problems in China’s officialdom. Thus, in the situation of uncertainty that is caused by the anti-corruption practice, the Party is tactically using other societal agencies to resocialize its members, such as temples, universities and families. Under the climate of fear and selfcensorship, the officials’ ability to communicate about “bad things” with outsiders is eliminated, which can also be seen as a personal form of mental exile (Loh 2013: 386). As a result, officials have been going to temples, universities and back to their hometowns and their families in search of certainties. These institutions which contributed to their socialization as younger people are also becoming resocialization agencies associated with the Party’s remoralization initiatives. During our fieldwork in temples, we were told that government officials frequently go to temples to ask suggestions from monks on how to face contemporary uncertainties, how to deal with many troubling issues and how they can get better sleep. As a monk told us:
There are many officials coming to me and asking about ways of being officials. In the past, they ask me how to get promoted. But in recent days, they asked me how to be safe. They sometimes even brought their mistress to me. You get to know lots about their daily lives. They just cannot be certain how to behave now. I told them you should be peacefully accepting of what would have been brought as there is cause and effects for these anxieties. If you have done something wrong to the Party, then you need to indomitably face the investigation. Everything has its rules, political economy, market economy, micro economy, macro economy etc.
When asked how the Party told the temple to behave, the monk told us: “they just come to us and read aloud the Party regulations and new initiatives, we just listened. We know what we can and cannot do. What we can do for the officials is to make them self-aware about their debts associated with their past behaviours and to face the consequences these behaviours might bring.” In this regard, the monk uses the discourse of economy and that of dialectics to embrace and educate problematic and anxious officials. They encouraged a sense of debt or guilt among officials who had engaged in wrongdoing as part of their public roles, while using dialects to educate officials to deal with the debts and uncertainties associated with their wrongdoing. Thus, the monk would teach officials “to practice
Tai Chi in daily life, shout and cry loudly in secret places.” The monk’s approach is very much in the Buddhist self-help tradition: “the Buddha is not to give you what is true, but to give you a kind of ‘wisdom’ in order for you to find the truth by your own.” This wisdom can be traced back to traditional ways of cultivating of the self. Through mental and physical discipline of the vital energy (qi) inherent in the body, it predisposes one to lend a sympathetic ear to a way of life that cherishes values of peace, harmony, balance, sympathy, rightness and communion (Wei-Ming 1999: 100).
When the monk diagnoses the problems suffered by officials, he often uses the medical metaphor to describe causes and effects. The “wisdom” that the monk would give to officials is not to fight the “specific diseases” of thought and behaviours, but to build up a stronger “immune system” of thoughts (as we noted in Chap. 4) equipped with dialectics in order to achieve a kind of mental balance. Although the Party is attempting to break down officials’ loyalties towards faction bosses, their loyalties are not always being directly rechannelled back towards the Party itself. Another monk we interviewed describes how officials are interacting with the Party:
Education through religion can be very effective. When high-rank officials come to temple for their so called “field investigations,” they always ask us our views on how to carry out education for building a clean government, especially to those people with religious beliefs. We can play a big part in this. Some officials really trust us. For example, some publicity of the Party’s theory, guidelines and policies are integrated and populated in our religious rituals. That is to say when we carry out a religious activity, we also use our platform as an exhibition of Party policies. The leaders from the Party committee can also make speeches in our platform. It is through the temple’s interaction with believers that they can go back to teach their family members.
This is to say, the Party is gradually infiltrating these socialization agencies through their wider public regularization education strategies and direct surveillance. By so doing, the Party is indirectly governing officials through institutions such as families and themselves. In this context, the socialization agencies in China have changed from the revolutionary working units (^U) to the traditional governing structures of family. Family members are also being co-opted in the campaign to resocialize officials. Officials are also instructed to educate their children not to develop a privileged mentality (Young 1984: 34). This is a politicization of officials’ family, by which family members are incorporated or co-opted into the political agenda for the purpose of maintaining the face of the Party for the Chinese people. In this type of game, the officials become the target of education, while family members are expected to act as the mediators between the Party and its members. As a low-level official from the financial department explained to us:
I think anti-corruption is to fight against those officials who want to take advantage of their power to gain something, the real objection is to prevent them from thinking that I am an official so I can gain or seek something for my family. I think there should be someone to restrain him, then he wouldn’t think that he gets such extra benefits from his work.
Also as many corrupted officials have confessed in public, they often become overly concerned with their families’ prosperity when they were promoted into powerful positions. An official wrote in his confessional letter: “I want to give my family a decent life, when those businessmen came to me for help, I asked them to help my son in his business, so that he can have more opportunities to be successful” (the confession letter of official Liu). The responsibility for one’s family and the degeneration of moral values among family members have resulted in certain officials becoming more and more embroiled in corrupt relationships. As a result, all of these institutions, including families, are being incorporated into particular Party initiatives including controlling the anxieties of officials to prevent them from fleeing the country, revolting against the Party, or resisting investigation, and suggesting strategies for dealing better with their anxieties and facing the consequence of their wrongdoings. Families are also the beneficiaries, and therefore directly benefitting from the ill- gotten gains of corrupt officials. A mid-level official from the education department told us:
But generally speaking, Chinese culture is quite tolerant to some behaviour like giving souvenirs, playing mah-jong as long as they are not too greedy. Like Bo Xilai, received about twenty million yuan, among which only about five million was received by him directly; the other fifteen million are received by his family which he acquiesced. It has been said that this was not a big amount of money embezzled for an official as high ranking as him. From the public viewpoints, he can be even considered as an honest official.
In this case, gift giving, playing traditional mah-jong and high-level leaders taking bribes is even seen as acceptable by some officials and their families. As a result, anti-corruption is often seen as a struggle between different factions, in which conflicts at the upper leadership levels further deepened people’s cynicism about virtue (Hualing 2013: 20).