Cynicism in Governing Practice: “Unable, Unwilling and Irresponsible”

Just as the “dare not,” “cannot” and “do not want” mantras emerged in the context of the anti-corruption and anti-four undesirable working styles campaigns—a new mantra has emerged to focus attention on the unintended consequences of these campaigns which has in turn exposed for analysis a typology of contemporary Chinese officialdom. Thus, as an official observes, in the process of the current ethical revolution within the Party, four different types of officials have emerged in reaction to President Xi’s initiatives:

The first type of officials is those who have so-called positive energy. He used to insist on the Party principles are not keeping pace with the times, but he has learned to be cautious, so even when the anti-corruption and anti-four undesirable working styles policies were introduced, he may watch vigilantly instead of reacting immediately, as they have suffered loss before, because of adhering too closely to the principle. He will take a closer look to see whether it will be the same as before. The second type of official are a smaller proportion, who may give up on doing things if there is nothing of benefit for him or if he thinks he might bear any risks. I think this kind of official will be out of the game finally, because if you are not involved or sharing the same ideas, you don’t have a sense of belonging, you’ll gradually become marginalized. The third type of official makes up the majority, they follow the principle, but they are still watching over the years, they try to find out how to do their Party work appropriately. For these officials, it is not about giving up, but about watching how it goes. As most officials within the Party are talented people with high IQs, they may not be very impulsive, they will not be a good example immediately, instead they will wait and see. When there is uncertainty about particular policies, they won’t take further steps, I think this is why most people won’t take action. The last type of official is neutral, everything for him is ok, whether policy changes or not, it is none of his business, he can adapt to any policy. These are the four types of officials. (High-level official from a policy research department)

These four types of officials are all exhibiting, to vary degrees, caution or cynicism towards governing practices for different reasons. Sometimes, officials just do not believe that the Party can achieve its goals through these initiatives and thus avoids being exposed to the risks of following the Party too closely. For others, the context of fear created by the current campaigns results in some officials not knowing how to proceed; thus, they are waiting to learn from others. For still other officials, it is just another political movement that does not matter to them. They feel that it will not hurt them to just imitate what others are doing. President Xi is aware of many of these problems among Party members:

Influenced by factors, such as personal experiences, social environment and political ecology, the main problem of our current officialdom has been that officials are perplexed, inactive and thus they have become official without positively governing (weiguan buwei). There are three causes of becoming an official without positively governing: the first one is lack of capability and thus unable to govern; the second is lack of impetus and thus unwilling to govern; the third one is lack of responsibility and thus dare not govern. (18 January 2016)

As a result, it is said that in this fast moving arena, the bureaucrats lose their spirit, the technocrats their soul (Turner 1993: 10). In this sense, the ethical agent must be combined with the “ability, willingness and responsibility” for governing. It is here that virtue and ethics are embedded into the duty of the self (which is a combination of the duty to do and the duty to be). Thus, participating in Party meetings (willingness to govern) and fulfilling practical governing tasks (capability of governing) are unified as the duty to do; on the other hand, meaningful governing in practice (ethical agent who serves the masses) and living austerely (ethical subjects) become the duty to be. Thus the combination of the duty to be and the duty to do becomes the ideal standard expected of all officials in the pursuit of the China Dream.

Similar to the three stages of “dare not,” “cannot” and “do not want to” associated with the anti-corruption campaign is President Xi’s diagnosis of the three types of problematic officials, that is, those who are “unable to govern,” “unwilling to govern” and those lacking the responsibility to govern. Those who are unable to govern and those who have a responsibility deficit who dare not govern become the Party’s new focus. In this context, for example, those officials who lack responsibility and therefore are unable to govern, expose to analysis that the mystical forces of “learning from the masses” (might) not replace the scientific learning and technical know-how expected of officials (Goldman 1970: 271). With regard to the problems associated with both “unwillingness” and those who “dare not govern” there is a consistent tension between the faith in the Party and the truth constructed by the Party. That is to say, the faith in the Party is compromised by the way truth is presented within the Party, especially with regard to the discourse of working for the masses.

As we have discussed in Chap. 9, the Party is attempting to establish a system of truth among officials as a code of conduct, through service to the masses. This is to be achieved through a range of practices (as were presented in an interview in Chap. 9), “to go deep among the masses, to mobilize the masses, to lead the masses, organize the masses, for the interests of the masses, and be closely linked with the masses.” However, this view is contrasted with some of our other participants’ perspectives, for example:

In fact, I have different opinions on this issue, I think the correction is a bit too much, I’m more worried about the levels of motivation amongst officials. During such campaigns, the passion of the officials should also be well maintained, such as their treatment, and material guarantees etc. These campaigns should not raise conflict with work. In the process of anti-corruption, anti-four undesirable working styles, leaders have to consider how to mobilize the enthusiasm of the cadres. Fighting against unsatisfied working styles is about the work, but people’s livelihood also need guarantees. (Low-level official from a county government)

As Foucault finds, once the God (the Party) gives the truth to the believers (officials), there can be no uncertainty (whether one has fulfilled the duty to govern), there must be consistent anxiety in the subject’s relationship to the self, because on the one hand one must never be certain that one is absolutely pure (in our case, being responsible and ethical) and, on the other, one must never be sure that one will be saved (2014: 127). That is to say, if one wants to have faith, one must never be certain about what one is oneself (Foucault et al. 2014: 127). However, even if this anxiety about the self is formed (through self-criticism and criticism), there is no guarantee that the faith in the Party and the act of faith in the self can be successfully aligned. Thus, as the cynicism among some members of the Party associated with the campaigns reveals, this paradigm of knowledge of the Party that is treated as a constituent part of the actualization of conversion to the self (Horujy 2015: 38) has been in many cases unsuccessful. That is to say, there is a problem with the lack of faith in the Party in the context of anxiety in the subject’s relationship to him/herself. This is the tension between the faith in the Party and the act of faith in the self.

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