Xi Jinping, China’s new president, has announced a ban on new government buildings for the next five years. It comes amidst increasing public wariness and weariness of corruption, waste and uneven development.
Corruption has, indeed, become a CCP buzzword in recent years. Under Hu Jintao, high-profile corruption cases were publicised in state media as middle-ranking officials and their business cronies siphoned off government money for unnecessary and grandiose construction projects that infuriated the public.
Of course, whilst the upper echelons of CCP officialdom has sought to distance itself from such scandal, its members hardly live a life of moderate solidarity with the people. Hidden away in the Forbidden City, the rarely-seen top brass of the CCP lives a life of opulent luxury that would not be out of place in one of the early imperial courts. Whilst it may be argued that national leaders deserve a luxurious standard of living, one must be careful to practice what one preaches.
On assuming control of China in 1949, Mao Zedong quickly set about solidifying CCP rule throughout the country. First, he initiated the “suppression of counter-revolutionaries” campaign, which sought to eradicate any Nationalist vestiges from China, in addition to communist non-believers, bandits and anyone else considered a ‘threat’ to his burgeoning rule.
This campaign was shortly followed by ‘The Three Antis’, which attempted to eliminate embezzlement, waste and bureacuratism (i.e. slacking) from the new China. Such a process was a necessity following the chaotic economic management of the Nationalist era when state funds were regularly embezzled.
Mao, however, was ruthless in his pursuit of economic transparency. Any person convicted of embezzling more than 10,000 yuan was executed, those convicted of a lesser amount subjected to ‘re-education’ at the new labour camps being established in the rural hinterlands.
This was all very well, except that the rules were not uniformly applied. Convictions often rested on political affiliation and dubious denounciations rather than firm evidence. Just as today’s Chinese leaders are accused of selectively pursuing corruption campaigns – based on political and family loyalty – Mao saw the ‘Three-Antis’ as another way to reduce his potential enemies.
Mao naturally lived like a God. Rarely venturing into public – relying instead on an effective personality cult to purvey his constant presence – he resided in Zhongnanhai, near the Forbidden City, a place still frequented by the CCP leadership. Simultaneously, villas were built in his honour, and on his demand, across the country.
It is estimated that some 600 villas were built specifically for Mao during his rule, few of which he actually inhabited. Having to conform to unbelievably tight security measures, these magnificent structures were built from party funds in impoverished areas, in the hope that the great Chairman would pay a visit.
As people accused of embezzling a paltry 10,000 yuan were put to death, Mao’s economic waste ran into the millions.
These double standards can be seen in the modern Chinese leadership today. Although not as brazen and uncaring as Mao, they live in an era of reduced, if by no means eradicated, media censorship. The internet has allowed hypocrisy to be revealed in a way few would have thought possible in China.
Whilst Mao had his personality cult – and an uncanny knack for blaming others – to hide his gross injustices, today’s CCP leadership is not so lucky. Now that the order has been given, Xi Jinping and his cadres cannot be seen to live beyond their means nor have their names associated with any unwanted or dubious construction project.