Xi’s Self-Criticism Plea Raises Spectre of Mao

Xi Jinping, China’s President, has been on a mission to improve the integrity and performance of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials across the country by encouraging ‘criticism’ and ‘self-criticism’ sessions amongst high-ranking Party cadres.

Xi wants the self-criticisms to help eradicate formality, bureaucracy, hedonism and extravagance from the CCP
Xi wants the self-criticisms to help eradicate formality, bureaucracy, hedonism and extravagance from the CCP

Plagued by top-level corruption scandals, and with a youth population increasingly intolerant of its politicians’ corruption and excess, the CCP is, in Xi’s eyes, in need of rebuke and reform.

Commentators who heralded Xi’s succession to the Chinese presidency may well find themselves disappointed at this development so early in his rule, for the notion of ‘self-criticism’ is inextricably linked with the reign of Mao Tse-Tung and the horrors of the Cultural Revolution.

Mao had encouraged criticisms as early as 1942, before the CCP had come to power. He initially used them as a means to keep his colleagues humble and cowed, to prevent them become imbued with an arrogance that came with increasing power, a power that could rival his own. Simultaneously, Mao viewed the criticisms of the CCP as a way to draw out Party ‘enemies’ who unwittingly fell into his trap, particularly if they criticised one of the Chairman’s own policies. Punishments invariably involved torture, imprisonment, detention in work camps and execution.

After the CCP won power in 1949, Mao introduced the concept of “self-criticisms” whereby Party officials were ordered to expel their own failings in front of groups of their peers, the latter adding their own criticisms to the proceedings. This not only gave the impression that all except Mao were flawed, thus preserving his superiority, but it gave the peasantry and the lower classes an outlet for their frustration and anger during the years of the Great Leap Forward, when starvation and poverty proliferated. Mao avoided criticism himself by organising collective criticisms of those officials he wanted to be deemed culpable for his own mistakes.

By illuminating the perceived weaknesses of his Party cadres through self-criticisms, Mao retained his superiority
By illuminating the perceived weaknesses of his Party cadres through self-criticisms, Mao retained his superiority

During the Cultural Revolution, self-criticism sessions were a daily event and designated ‘bourgeois’ and ‘capitalist-roader’ officials (basically anyone providing a real or imagined challenge to Mao and his deluded policies) were subjected to a barrage of vitriolic abuse which was often combined with horrific physical torture at the hands of the militant Red Guards who Mao had indoctrinated. Even senior leaders such as Zhou Enlai would be forced into self-criticisms.

Forced self-criticisms broke the will of many loyal Party members
Forced self-criticisms broke the will of many loyal Party members

Why Xi has chosen this particular phraseology – undoubtedly aware as he must be of its connotations – is debatable. One potential reason is that the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is upon us (1st October) and he is keen to show that the CCP has retained its revolutionary commitment.

A second possible reason is the fallout of the Bo Xilai scandal. Bo was a hardline leftist with a Maoist philosophy and is thought to have gained many supporters within the Chinese political establishment. This ‘shift to the left’ by Xi may be an attempt to appease those potential troublemakers angered by Bo’s imprisonment.

It may just be that Xi thinks it necessary to return to the culture of fear created during Mao’s reign to finally put an end to the ongoing corruption crisis within the CCP.

Whatever the reasoning, Xi’s self-criticism sessions have been mocked and denigrated by Chinese internet users canny enough to bypass the state-imposed firewall. Whether this will deter the President from pursuing this reinvented policy remains to be seen. Yet for those believing his ascent to power may have ushered in a period of liberal reform in China, they may have to make a reassessment.



CCP Bans Government Buildings: is it a case of Maoist hypocrisy?

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.

This gaudy gold exterior is from a state-owned drug factory
This gaudy gold interior is from a state-owned drug factory

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.

'Counter-revolutionary' activity was associated with economic waste
‘Counter-revolutionary’ activity was associated with economic waste

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.

The luxurious compound of Zhongnanhai is off limits to the public
The luxurious compound of Zhongnanhai is off limits to the public

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.