On the Year-Long Campaign of “Thorough Cleanup” launched by the Communist Party of China

IITM CSC Article #62
24 July 2013


 On the Year-Long Campaign of “Thorough Cleanup” launched by the Communist Party of China

In mid-June, the Communist Party of China (CPC) formally unveiled a year-long campaign aimed at a “thorough cleanup’ of desirable work style. Ever since the 18th Party Congress in November last year, the General Secretary of the CPC, Xi Jinping has repeatedly stressed on combating the “four decadent trends”, namely Formalism, Bureaucratism, Hedonism and Extravagance. In a series of measures enacted through circulars issued in the immediate aftermath of the Party Congress, the party has been adopting several measures to cut back on ostentation and extravagance at official functions. In this year-long campaign, party officials are required to reflect on their practices and working styles (by using the lexicon of “watching themselves in the mirror”). 

Through this campaign, the CPC politburo seeks to significantly improve and strengthen the ties between the people and the party. Even while presenting his report in the 18th Party Congress, the outgoing General Secretary, Hu Jintao had underlined the common destiny which the party shared with its people, and the need to give primacy to people’s interests. While this aspect also appears in the constitution of the CPC, the increasing emphasis being given by the new leadership reflects the apprehensions within the party-state to enhance and further consolidate the Party’s legitimacy. While embarking upon this campaign, Xi Jinping has also sought to re-focus on the “Mass Line” dimension, which was a concept adopted by Mao Zedong. In fact, since his accession, Xi Jinping has also frequently invoked Mao Zedong and thought, in his speeches and statements to the party members and cadres. Having the principle of “from the masses, to the masses”, the Mass Line strategy sought to build a dialectical relationship between the party and people, wherein Mao believed that the cadres had to be like “fish in the water” (with the analogy of water being associated with the people). In making his points, Xi Jinping has frequently referred to the need to learn from history, which he described as the “best textbook”, functioning as “rich nutrient” to bring positive energy to party members. Clearly, the mission was to revitalize the linkages with the people and through this, address the concerns regarding any possible alienation within the masses.

With the party being constantly under scrutiny by the people, especially with rising social media within China, a big challenge before the leadership was to be seen addressing the aspirations of the people towards ensuring probity and transparency. One of the serious issues confronting the party has been the rising corruption, with senior government and party officials getting embroiled in sleaze and scandals. Through such a campaign, Xi Jinping has not only looked to address the rank and file, but also take to task the politburo itself, as he called upon them to “play an exemplary role” and abide by party discipline as well as “act in accordance with policies and procedures”. Through this, he seems to be drawing a line in the sand, by asking the top leadership to refrain from abuse of power and curb nepotism, which were seriously denting the image of the party. That Xi Jinping has been extremely serious in his drive is further reflected in his efforts to get clearance from retired political leaders and veteran members of previous politburo standing committees by impressing upon them the need for such an exercise.

Several serious sleaze and corruption scandals in the country involving senior party functionaries at various levels, have raised serious questions in the country. The prominent among these are that of former railways minister Liu Zhijun (who has been awarded a suspended death sentence after trial), Lei Zhengfu (party official in Chongqing) and Fan Yue (a former official of the State Archives Administration). Parallel to this campaign, the State Council also has strived to ensure transparency and continue with its drive against extravagance through the formulation of a timetable for disclosing annual government spending on receptions, vehicles and overseas trips along with information on investigations into major accidents. The State Council directive calls for provincial governments to disclose their spending on receptions, vehicles and overseas trips starting from this year, while the municipal and county governments had to disclose such information by 2015. Similarly, investigation reports of major accidents need to be fully disclosed to the public starting from next year. This shows the priority the government accords to curb the delays in publicizing even the processes than just the results. The State Council has also identified categories like subsidized housing, food and drug safety, environmental protection, production safety, pricing and charging, land appropriation and demolition, public welfare institutions and enterprises and the education sector for information delivery on the processes and results, in order to promote governmental transparency.

While the sceptics continue to place their doubts by terming such measures as being short-term and concerned with an ‘image makeover’ stopping short of substantive reforms, the CPC leadership seems determined to vigorously pursue its campaign as a long-term effort. Liu Yunshan, member of the Politburo Standing Committee, is the head of the campaign’s leading team. Not only have various rounds of meetings and discussions happened in the party from the top, leading further down the hierarchy to the provincial and county leadership at the bottom, personal examples have also been set by the leadership through personal visits to counties and interior regions for closer interaction with the people. Ever since he formally took over, Xi Jinping has himself undertaken such visits, with the latest one being to villages in Hebei province. By establishing an improved performance evaluation system for officials and reforms to contain unhealthy practices, this campaign strives to ensure whole-scale adherence by the rank and file as well as the leadership. While the overall result of this endeavor is awaited at the end of the year, it is explicit that China’s ruling party is attempting to make significant strides to ensure transparency and accountability, so as to retain its prominence among the people.


Research Assistant, Institute of Chinese Studies, New Delhi
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