21 August 2019
Under President Xi Jinping, the Communist Party is once again assuming "absolute leadership role in all aspects of society and every corner of the nation”. Photo: Reuters
Under President Xi Jinping, the Communist Party is once again assuming "absolute leadership role in all aspects of society and every corner of the nation”. Photo: Reuters

CPC returns to Mao era of absolute leadership

In 1962, Mao Zedong announced in no uncertain terms that the Communist Party of China (CPC) should assume an absolute leadership role in seven fronts across the nation: industry, agriculture, business, education, military, politics and party affairs.

But Deng Xiaoping, after taking power in the late 1970s, was dismayed at the party’s excessive interference in business and government affairs. Thus, he introduced measures to restrain the CPC’s power.

Under his new guidelines, the party was only to assume a leading role in “politics, ideology and party organizations”.

Jump to the present. At the CPC’s 19th National Congress in October last year, President Xi Jinping, who has been working aggressively to tighten his political control and reinforce his personal dictatorship, overturned Deng’s relatively moderate guidelines and introduced several new amendments to the party constitution.

Among them was the amendment that “the party is to assume absolute leadership role in all aspects of society and every corner of the nation”. Simply put, what Xi did was to resurrect Mao’s ultra-left approach to governing the party and the nation.

Under Xi’s new order, the CPC is once again going to get its claws into virtually every aspect of society and have a firm grip on the lives of the people like it did back in Mao’s era.

Several examples have surfaced recently that point to this worrisome trend.

For instance, according to a secret internal document of the Tsinghua University that has come to light recently, the university management has been ordered to introduce more rigorous “political and ideological screening” into its process of graduation approval, which includes enhancing the screening of theses and graduation projects submitted by final-year students.

In other words, in order to successfully graduate and obtain their degrees, Tsinghua students have to get not only good grades but also the thumbs-up of their political officers. And perhaps it is just a matter of time before the same measure is enforced in all other major universities across the mainland.

Not only do mainland university graduates have to undergo ideological vetting before they can get their degree certificates; they also have to be screened politically when applying for jobs.

“Today’s Headlines”, a highly popular online news app in the mainland, has recently succumbed to official pressure and begun to hire “censorship editors” after party authorities slammed the news outlet for publishing “obscene and filthy content”.

What is even more outlandish is that the company said job applicants with good political sensitivity and, above all, with CPC membership would be given priority.

What happened to “Today’s Headlines” is hardly an isolated case. Across China, some 30 prominent state-owned enterprises have already amended their company constitutions, under which their boards of directors are required to consult their company’s party organs first before making any important decision.

As far as the 1.86 million privately owned companies across the mainland are concerned, 70 percent of them have already set up their internal CPC organs, including foreign companies as well.

According to Reuters, some foreign enterprises in China have already capitulated under enormous official pressure and allowed their internal CPC organs to have the final word on key operational and investment decisions.

That the CPC is extending its tentacles into senior business management could have far-reaching implications not only for companies but also for individual employees as well.

It is because apart from academic qualifications and job experience, political orientation will, from now on, become another important or even overriding criterion for employment as well as promotion.

As my mainland friend said, there are currently 90 million CPC members in China, and most of them are members of the elite who are competing with themselves.

That said, if you really want to fast-track your career, you’d better join the party as soon as possible.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 12

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal contributor

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