Developing a New Understanding of the Communist Party at a Party School

A newly-appointed member of the Chinese Communist Party posted his notes from a series of lectures and study sessions he participated in while studying for membership at a party school. [Translated by Don Weinland]

Returning to the party school brings another new understanding of the Communist Party*.

Joining the party isn’t always a bad thing and I’m the kind of person who likes to get my hands dirty. So as far as joining the party goes, it could be a conduit for reporting problems to superiors later. The study session planned by the State-owned Asset Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council for progressives entering the party started at the school at 8:30 in the morning. There were about 120 students. One look at the form told me they were all from state-owned enterprises. Most were young. Surprisingly, there were some already driving the BMW 3 Series. Most of the girls were carrying Louis Vuitton bags. It seemed as if the quality of life for these little generals of the proletariat revolution was flourishing. A booklet titled “The Essentials of Joining the Party” was distributed. I flipped through the pages and accidentally came across chapter five: Within the honorable history of the Chinese Communist Party, there is admittedly no space given to the War of Resistance Against Japan … Leaping directly from the party’s Long March to the party’s seventh People’s Congress.

After a short and simple opening ceremony, we started the first class: development history of the party of the working class. The lecturer was even younger than me. During the class, the lecturer naturally brought up the history of the collapse of the Soviet Communist Party, systematically explaining the reason for the fall of the party. She gave an example of a conclusion made by “Southern Weekend” on the 20th anniversary of the death of the Soviet Communist Party: the party had been rejected by their own working class and by the people of the Soviet Union, not by their enemies. She criticized the Soviet Central Party’s power elite, mentioning security officers and Brezhnev – making special note of the Soviet Party’s hack writer Gorky, a member of the elite who lived in a palace (this brought me to thinking about ridding my country’s teaching materials of Gorky’s work). On the life-long cadre system, the instructor gave the example of Jiang Zemin, who, after the age of 70, lacked the energy to participate in some activities and needed to rest. She asked if we could imagine all the leaders in the party in such a state. Would the country still have hope?

The lecturer continued her criticism of North Korea’s cult personality worship, connecting this with China’s 10 years of chaos. She said an intellectual family member of hers hanged themselves from the rafters from grief after being publicly criticized. After taking the body down, “long live Chairman Mao” was discovered in brushstrokes on the intellectual’s forearm. It seemed he wasn’t satisfied with the extremeness of cult worship during Mao Zedong’s final years.

The criticism continued to Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party and how powerful family politics had forfeited its future control. At least the girl didn’t continue with a chastising of American and Western political parties. Her final comment was: the Chinese Communist Party is the political party of the working class, but over time the working class’ share has diversified. Few workers participated in the last boycott on Japanese goods, while white-collared workers made up the vast majority. Today, white-collared workers are a part of the working class (Oh, so getting white-collared party membership was the Communist Party’s most recent direction for development).

We ate lunch. The school’s cafeteria wasn’t bad.

Many dozed off during the afternoon class … The lecture was on motivation for entering the party. In the small discussion groups later, many people’s motivation was the same. Basically, everyone said the Communist Party was China’s representative of advanced productive force, or they had been influenced by it and other old party members since they were young and so on.

The instructor was a career military person in the navy. I figured he was also a political cadre there. During the lecture, he referred to the Communist Party as the ruling party, and that our political program and main objectives were far from being met. He said that if our generation from the 1980s gets old before understanding what communism is, then we will be successful party members … The objective of the party will change as the era changes, perpetually advancing and modifying itself (when I heard that I thought of the Communist Party as a super cure-all potion). On the topic of motivation for party entry, the instructor criticized those who are now joining in large numbers in order to be promoted or get a raise. Too many college students were joining. (More than 40,000 people per month enter the party in this city. Of them, nearly 10,000 are college students.) In the future, the party membership quota for manufacturing workers must be increased (a quotation from Vice-President Xi).

Upon mentioning party criticism and self-criticism, he made some jokes:

Criticize your superior and your food has no protection; criticize your colleagues and you won’t have any connections; criticize your subordinates and you won’t get elected; criticize your wife and your wife will take off; criticize your children and no one will care for you in old age; criticize yourself and you’ll put yourself into a rage.

When you make a mistake and are immediately subject to review, you are of section-member status. When you make a mistake and do your best to explain, you are of section-chief status. When you make a mistake and don’t make a sound, you are of department-head status. When you make a mistake and steadfastly deny it, you are of director status.

Finally he suggested that criticism should be tactful, not too direct …

After hearing the first day of class, I realized that the political cadres of the Communist Party weren’t so pedantic or conservative. They hadn’t lost touch with society or, that is to say, the upper levels of the party hadn’t lost touch. I had a thorough understanding of society and the political party. It’s just that I was suffering without a solution to these problems. The closer to the basic level you get, the lower the quality of leaders and cadres, especially in those distant and underdeveloped regions. Government decree doesn’t make it far beyond Zhongnanhai (That’s what our instructor said).

The Communist Party has already begun to change its role from revolutionary party to administration party. The instructor broke the Communist Party’s history into three phases: 1. The ideological building of the party (Mao’s later years, symbolic of the need for revolution; but after liberation, its corrupt practices were exposed, surpassing the importance of ideological struggle); 2. The institutional building of the party (Deng Xiaoping’s era, the establishment of the retirement system for high ranking officials, guaranteeing the party’s vitality and progress); 3. The functional building of the party (the era of Chairman Jiang, the Three Represents, the absorbing of a high volume of new elements into the party, for example, white-collared workers).

Upon finishing class, I realized there were many foreigners studying at the party school. The school’s facilities really weren’t bad at all … first class!

I passed the test and received a training certificate on the morning of May 10. In the afternoon, we held a meeting to discuss our impressions. Again an instructor laughingly talked about the party’s transformation process: In the period of rapid change in Eastern Europe, someone once suggested the establishment of two centers, one being an economic development center, the other center to resist the West’s Peaceful Evolution. It was vetoed by Deng Xiaoping – proof of his brilliance – and prevented China’s decline. We were also told that during reform in the 1980s, many professional political cadres who had been orchestrating class struggle were held back to manage production and the economy. For them it was simply too terrible to talk about because they led a non-professional existence. If a center to resist Peaceful Evolution was established in the 1990s, that group of people would have certainly given up on economic development and dived back into their old trade of class struggle … How many more people would have been put under duress. And many more youth wouldn’t have been wanting to attend university or study economics, because political work doesn’t require a degree. The college of society is adequate experience.

There’s an example of a case concerning a corporation in Shanghai in the 1980s. A talented marketing director helped the corporation sell off many stagnant products … the result was a rapidly changing and unstable environment at the end of the 80s. At the time it seemed like they were looking to set a typical example. A few comrades in the company who had originally engaged in political work sprang at once into action, their spirits enlivened. At that time, the lecturer was in the propaganda department. She said she usually saw her older colleagues shrouded in silence, conservative and set in their ways. She tried to figure how stupid these political cadres could be to think they could handle the marketing director. But the political workers looked completely different as soon as they attended the trial (In her words, in those days many state-owned corporations had a room that never saw the light of day that was used for political investigations). Every question raised was fatal. The marketing director caved within ten minutes, handing over all the information concerning the bribes he had taken. The total: three watches, a sofa, chicken, duck, fish, and dried shrimp. 4,000 yuan and a four year sentence.

We were ashamed at hearing this.

At last a party school director spoke. Our youth understood far too little and slept in class, he said in a dour tone. Some people had cheated and put the test answers into their phones before taking the test (man, how come people cheated on such simple questions?). Is this not embarrassing? He also told us not to think that receiving the training certificate meant we could join the party. For those whose heart is actually somewhere else, you shouldn’t join (A few youth whispered to each other: and I don’t want to join … my work requires it). Finally, he wished us success at work.

It was over. While studying, I hit it off with a few friends. This wasn’t bad, I felt. Tomorrow I would take my certificate to the party committee so I can reimburse my training fee – 400 yuan.

On the morning of the second day, I had a class on the Party Constitution. The instructor was an old revolutionary who specialized in political work. He was witty (my image of Communist Party political cadres has changed drastically) but sang a familiar tune: He also first discussed the follies of the Cultural Revolution, saying some problems arose in the party’s theory. Furthermore, this had an influence on party members and party organization, thereby highlighting the importance of the Party Constitution.

The Communist Party’s constitution has been amended during every People’s Congress – except for the fifth because of the Long March – because it must develop with the times. Later, the instructor’s lecture was quite off the subject. He said many scholars are senseless and can’t understand China. These experts often extolled the party too highly. Deng Xiaoping said that China was never to stand out but this statement were forgotten by those scholars. One should be low-key. “Staying quiet and making big money.” [Chairman Jiang’s quote.] The quiet voice strikes it rich.

The strategic opponents relationship between the Communist Party and American imperialism was explained. That so-called cooperative partner was a disguise. Since Obama took office, we no longer use the term “peaceful rise” to the outside. To people in China, this has been changed to “peaceful development”. The term “rise” has been used domestically because it’s a little lofty, even sanguinary. Earlier, experts said they wanted to establish a “greater China economic circle.” No one mentions this either now. It sounded like a greater East Asia prosperity circle. Southeast Asia has been fervent in protesting this, especially those countries with economies dominated by Chinese …

75 million party members are too many. This isn’t good news. The Communist Party wants to control the number of party members. Point No. 1: As soon as there are too many members, fringe thinking will become active within the party. For example, during the 15th People’s Congress there were four lengthy appeals requesting an end to the Opening and Reform. Most letters during the 17th People’s Congress (I didn’t hear clearly but I think he said they requested the central government to abandon Deng Xiaoping Thought) … (This struck me as odd. The instructor only mentioned extreme leftists within the party. There were absolutely no rightist cases given).

Just talking about not leaving the party isn’t a good thing either. Members have the freedom to come and go. One example case is from a discussion on Shanghai’s Caohejing Development District. Two party members at the meeting (I figure they were the brave kind) said frankly that they haven’t paid their dues or attended party activities for two years. Surprisingly, they were again invited to take part in this discussion session. They were completely helpless. It was impossible to get out of the party (The Central Organization Department found in a survey of the country’s 3,170,000 party organizations that a portion had fallen into a state of partial paralysis. For example, a phenomenon called 3860, meaning that large number of party organizations composed entirely of women (March 8 is the Women’s Day in China) and people over 60. Where were the men? They had gone elsewhere for work. Clan and family discipline have replaced party rules because in remote regions management is easier when clan leaders join the party. But corruption is widespread … Party membership has aged: Inspection of one party organization revealed only five teeth among a six-member group).

“Harmonious society” propaganda has been reduced because it’s been discovered to have a negative impact. Commoners in the western region held high expectations for the harmonious society, hoping it would narrow the gap between living standards with the east. Yet the greater the expectations, the greater the disappointment. The busting of the balloon that was harmonious society would create instability. The nation wants to develop the west but basic-level cadres in the region haven’t generated confidence. Of the funds invested in the west, more than $45 billion have been misappropriated on building houses, halls, hotels and golf courses…

The discussion continued on democracy and supervision within the party … Judging by the instructor’s tone, it seemed the Communist Party’s Standing Committee hoped for more democracy. But the cultural sophistication of Chinese citizens is a problem (for example, the variety of bad habits during the World Expo). The sophistication of party members is different at each level. It’s impossible to establish a perfectly effective democratic system. Conservatively speaking, we will have to wait until after Princeling Xi (Xi Jinping) to realize the establishment of a democratic system within the party.

A traditional poem hanging in our doorways can describe party supervision. The stanza to the right of the door reads: Corruption becomes the system. The left reads: The fight against graft goes unseen. The streamer above the door reads: High official, low official, no official is just.

Supervision by the masses won’t work. The first principle of supervision by the minority Democratic Party is that it is under the guidance of the Communist Party. How can it possibly supervise? With party supervision, the officials above will always crush to death those below them.

The Communist Party has always explored advanced systems of study and transformation. But the road has been windy. The Three Represents was suggested in 2000 yet there was no intense response from China as a whole until 2003. Many party members felt the content was meaningless and had taken nothing from experience. Quite a few jokes could be heard regarding the study of the Three Represents. A traditional poem on a door in Tai’an, Shandong read: “Thoroughly carry out the Three Represents. Everything in the store is 30 percent off.” A village in the western region invited people from the county seat to inspect their administering of the Three Represents. A banner at the head of the village read: We enthusiastically welcome the County Three Represents Inspection Group. As it happened, a cadre saw the inspectors from the county and said: “I thought it was the three represents. How could there be four of you?” The crowd roared with laughter.

Finally the instructor recommended we read Liu Shaoqi’s theory on Communist Party cultivation.

* The word Communist Party is represented in the original document by the letters TG, please click here to see the explaination in the Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon.