The Mass Line Education Programme
As we have examined in previous chapters, through the anti-formalism and anti-bureaucratism initiatives, officials’ access to privilege, power and wealth can be disrupted. Just as the motivation for political power and material prosperity can generate a sense of pleasure within the self in the form of the will to power, in contrast, the care of the self through service to others is to be achieved through creating a culture of sacrifice among officials. As we have shown in the previous chapter, the rationale for the various practices adopted by the Party is to ensure that the accumulation of power is not officials’ primary aim, but rather, the good use of power for the greater purpose of rejuvenating the country, and thus achieving the China Dream. The purpose of this chapter is to examine the processes whereby the tension between selfish, material motivation and dutiful service to others (the people) is to be addressed. We will suggest that these tensions are resolved through the unification of the practices of the self and the art of living itself (Foucault 2005: 205).
This unification process, as De finds, is through a violent practice of (re) subjectification inside the subject, especially in the case of anomic subjects (De 2013: 19). In this anomic context of internal paradox, the environment of fear created by the anti-corruption campaign and various corrective measures imposed by the eight-point code together produce a logical excess, which on the one hand constantly threatens to expose the subject
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to crisis, but on the other hand, also becomes the very ground on which such a system constitutes itself (19). In this context, as noted in Chap. 6, the tension can be expressed in terms of the distance that “malpractice” has opened up between the officials and the people and between officials’ “uncommunist” and “communist” selves. For example, a mid-ranking official from the disciplinary department told us:
The eight-point code made explicit requirements on how Political Bureau members should improve their work style in eight aspects, focusing on rejecting extravagance and reducing bureaucratic visits, meetings and empty talk. The requirements were then issued to strengthen ties between the people and officials, whose malpractice including corruption and power abuse have distanced them from ordinary citizens. We deviated too much from what we communists should do.
Apart from the anti-corruption and anti-four undesirable working styles as techniques of exclusion and correction imposed by the Party through the eight-point code regime, in June 2013, President Xi launched a programme that he called the “Mass Line Education” (MLE) programme. President Xi described the intention behind this campaign as the “purification” of Communist members, involving the elimination of “hedonism and extravagance.” As part of this campaign, “[a]ll Party organs and members should be frugal and make determined efforts to oppose ostentation and reject hedonism.” President Xi further urged officials to make “spicy” efforts to “sweat” corruption out of their thoughts. A high-ranking official from a provincial government explained the relationship between the MLE programme and the anti-corruption and anti-four undesirable working styles campaigns through a medical analogy:
It is similar to when you become sick, for example, with canner, but your symptoms are just fever. Therefore, the first step is to bring down the fever, which endangers your life. But normal temperature does not mean the disease is gone. You need an operation to get rid of the tumor, and it is the surgery that leads to your recovery. I think the anti-undesirable work style program and anti-corruption, are for the purpose of bringing down the fever down by injection or ice pack, whereas the Mass Line Education Programme is surgery that will cure the disease.
We will develop this medical metaphor further as we examine the Party’s attempts to encourage officials to formulate a discourse of truth about themselves, in order to re-establish the Party’s ethical practices, through a “therapeutic intervention,” that is intended to open up the possibility of healing (Foucault 2014: 14). Consequently, the Party will provide mechanisms that enable officials’ criticism and self-criticism and thus their diagnosis and others’ diagnosis of what ills the Party. In many instances, this is achieved through reminding officials of their obligations to the people. For example, a low-level official from a propaganda department told us:
I think for the Mass Line Education Programme, it is to create more contacts between ordinary people and cadres. When we see so many people still
live a hard life with poor living conditions, it will remind us that we have the
responsibility to work harder.
The MLE programme has many similarities with the campaign introduced on 1 June 1943 by Chairman Mao. Under this campaign, Chairman Mao emphasized the importance of closely linking the activity of Party leadership with that of the needs of the masses. This was to be achieved through inculcating in leading Party members that they must be strong and united, and that their service must be informed by “contact with the masses” and their “capacity for independent work,” but also through the “observance of discipline” (Schram 1970: 179). Like Chairman Mao’s campaigns to “reform bad tendencies” during the Cultural Revolution, President Xi’s MLE programme advocates more political education, more mutual criticism and struggle, more mass mobilization and more promotion of activists in the Party to develop remedies to solve China’s problems (Hualing 2013: 18). The MLE programme requires that all officials attend compulsory study sessions, in which cadres are introduced to the principles of MLE; they are then required to participate in discussions on the content of the sessions for the purpose of applying the central messages to their own lives. During these study sessions, officials are also required to make self-criticisms in the light of the study session material, and they are also encouraged to criticize others whose behaviour is deemed not to measure up. Through this process, study session facilitators both detect and correct any misinterpretations of the purpose of the sessions. Study, criticism and self-criticism also ensure that the information is thoroughly processed and that people link it with other aspects of their thought and everyday lives (Ji 2004: 228).
As discussed in previous chapters, the Party is acting on the borderlines between various tensions through its inclusive and exclusive structure, which also constitutes various Party others, such as the people, the privileged and the corrupt. In this process, the Party has relied significantly on a mass movement of political education, dedicated to administrative disciplinary measures for governing its members (Zhou 2006: 9). So far, we have examined the anti-corruption campaign as a technique of exclusion, and the anti-four undesirable working styles as a technique of correction. In this chapter, we will mainly address problems and expectations with regard to governing the self included in the MLE programme in order to explore how officials are expected to govern themselves and, in turn, are supposed to govern others. We will demonstrate that in many ways the MLE programme is an attempt to form a series of technologies for governing the self, which refer to “procedures proposed or prescribed to individuals in order to fix their identity, to maintain it or transform it according to a certain number of purposes and by means of relations of mastering of the self by the self or knowledge of self by the self” (Foucault 2014: 299). These technologies of the self can be interdependently divided into reflexivity in the form of memory (gives access to the truth), meditation (carries out the test) and method (fixes the certainty that will serve as criterion for all possible truth) (Foucault 2005: 460). In this chapter, we will briefly review themes related to the governing of the self with regard to what we have developed in terms of anti-corruption and anti-undesirable working styles in order to link the technology of governing others and the technology of governing the self under the MLE programme. By so doing, we will prepare readers for engaging with what we develop in the chapters that follow.