The Virtuous Circle: The Party and the People
In China, there is an aspiration to achieve a moral bond between the state and society and the societal expectation that the state would be responsible for the well-being of the population (Tong 2011: 141). One of the central rationales of “contact with the masses” has been that the Chinese Communist Party sought to involve the masses in the affairs of state, to destroy the barriers between officials and the masses and thereby to tap into the reservoir of human energy and talents for industrialization purposes (Oksenberg 1970: 324). Similarly, in President Xi’s initiatives, he attempts to involve ordinary Party members in the affairs of politics, to reduce the barriers between the privileged and the ordinary within the
Party and thereby to tap into a reservoir of moral strengths among officials for legitimization purposes. This is what we call an “ethical revolution within the Party.”
Thus, the fundamental aim of the MLE programme is to forge a sense of responsibility among officials for the people through encouraging officials to connect with and work for the masses. The sense of responsibility of working for and serving the people is not only about a practical method of improving the governing capabilities of officials, but more importantly, it is a technique for forming ethical subjects. In turn, having done this, the legitimization of the Party is also achieved through serving the people. Thus to justify their right to lead, the Party needs to demonstrate that they are carrying out the laws of history (i.e., the mandate of the people as we developed in Chap. 4) (Dorrill 1970: 72). That is to say, the Party’s survival is predicated on its charisma which in turn needs ideologically prescribed goals. The key to the Party’s ability to renew itself and its charisma is its skill in redefining its mission to change China, creating a moving target that is always many years away. The Party may have shed its revolutionary pretensions, but still genuinely believes that it is the sole transformative agent that will bring to China deliverance from poverty and foreign humiliation (Hillman 2010: 50). As we discussed in Chap. 2, this is the so called China Dream. As a mid-level official from the disciplinary department explained to us:
The eight-point code is supported by the whole Party and people all over the country have helped our Party to win hearts of the people. This is a political problem. The trend of popular sentiment explains why the Communist Party can be the ruling Party. The real reason of Kuomintang (KMT or Nationalist Party)’s failure in governing China was it lost popular support.
In this discourse, there is a relationship between legitimacy of ruling and the sentiments of the people. Yet, as we have explored in previous chapters, the Party is not seeking institutional reform, such as democratization, to win popular support from ordinary people. Rather, legitimization is to be achieved through asking governing officials to be more connected with and being seen to be more concerned about the masses (rather than being concerned about their own power, pleasure and wealth). It is assumed that this will boost the popularity of the Party among the masses. Thus, first purifying the Party of its corruption, hedonism and the undesirable working styles that encourage them and second the greater connect between the Party and the masses are the main sources of legitimization for the Party. It is anticipated that this will in turn create a virtuous circle between the Party and the people. As a mid-level official from a provincial government explains to us:
Through the Mass Line Education programme, we can achieve a sense of cohesion between the people and among officials. Officials will know more about the people, and will win their popular support. This is a truth, so this is a question of how to consolidate and expand foundational support for the Party’s ruling status. If we are completely right and true in our activities, people all over the country will learn from us. People outside the Party, as long as they are kind in mind, will learn from us and correct their mistakes, which will affect the whole nation.
As we have discussed in previous chapters, the notion of the people and the masses can refer to different groups in different contexts. A mid-level official from a policy research department explains:
I think this term (the notion of people) is not stable, because officials are also the normal servant of the central government while normal officials can also be people. Thus, only we are in this regime in service of people and the Party. It is us who forge the connection between the people and the central government.
Thus, in many ways, ordinary low-level cadres are both “of the people” and “of the Party” and as such are subjects of the Party and subjected to the Party. Thus, in this context, officials create and make manifest the sacred institutional framework of society, that is the Party, but they (especially high-ranking officials) are also the active rulers of society who stand high above the institutions which they have formed. The institutions are simply the channels through which they spread their spiritual-ethical influence (Schwartz 1970: 168). The officials are acting as “father- bureaucrats” who expect respect and obedience, but rightfully also expect protection and benevolence in return. As well as being all powerful, there is a sense of vulnerability here, that is, the Party could lose its mandate in the same way the government could lose its right to rule—by evading their responsibilities. An impotent and neglectful Party could be broken into bits, burnt or set floating down the river by angry crowds (Weller 1994: 61). Thus, this sense of vulnerability appears to be the primary motivation behind the interdependent initiatives (anti-corruption, anti-four undesirable working styles and the MLE Programme) that are not only intended to purify the Party but are also meant to set in motion ethical amplifier effects throughout Chinese society. What this reveals is the aspirations for wider societal transformation intended through the processes of purifying the Party. This is predicated upon the power of example, in the process of the transformation from sinner to saint. That is, the ethicized Party members are perceived as being able to transcend their environment and by the power of their example are associated to be able to transform the people below (Schwartz 1970: 166-167).