The Times: “Xi Jinping has marked his first half-year as President of China by resurrecting some of the finest leadership traditions of the late Chairman Mao: public humiliation, political backstabbing and crackling paranoia between officials.
The campaign, which was given a test-run in Hebei province yesterday under the glare of Mr Xi himself, involves a revival of the widely despised “criticism and self-criticism” drives established in the post-revolutionary 1950s.
The unbearably tense sessions, which force officials to decry their own shortcomings before highlighting the faults of their closest colleagues, have been given a makeover for the early 21st century and rebranded as “Democratic Life Meetings”.
But they have lost none of their old edge. Though nominally cast as a way to bring operational problems to light, the sessions were always intended to enforce discipline. The return of the practice comes as Mr Xi appears to be channelling key tracts of rhetoric and ideology from Mao Zedong.
In his first six months at China’s helm, the new President has intensified a Mao-style control of information, he has unabashedly allowed critics of the regime to be rounded up, he has called for Mao-style indoctrination for school children and told regional officials that “revolutionary history is the best nutrition for Communists”.
Even his much vaunted anti-corruption campaign has drawn on the vocabulary employed by Mao: Mr Xi has asserted the need to bring down both the “tigers” and “flies” of corrupt officialdom in a direct echo of comments by Chairman Mao six decades ago.
Hu Xingdou, a political economist at the Beijing Institute of Technology, said that while Mr Xi’s economic policies were in the mould of the great reformer Deng Xiaoping, the new leader was a Maoist when it came politics.
The criticism sessions, which could be rolled out to affect tens of thousands of senior officials across the country, are part of Mr Xi’s reference to the overtly Maoist leadership model known as the “mass line” that seeks to focus policy on the needs of ordinary Chinese.
“At the moment, the ruling party feels it needs Maoism, and it is hard to say whether it is Xi’s own idea or not. There are too many social contradictions in China and the Party does need some type of authority in order to rule, otherwise the boat will overturn,” he said.
The latest round of criticism and self criticism sessions were conducted among the top echelon of Communist Party officials in Hebei: the 12-member provincial standing committee.
With a shirt-sleeved and unsmiling, Mr Xi quietly taking notes, and with state-run television cameras rolling, the party secretary of Hebei, Zhou Benshun, condemned a senior colleague’s personal ambition and her consuming need to look good in the eyes of supervisors. This misguided focus, he said, would lead to the local government “doing something irrelevant to the public interest”.
Obliged then to come up with a genuine set of personal failings of his own. Mr Zhou had to list his foibles as the most powerful man in Asia glowered inches away from him.
“I have not done enough to orient my achievements around ordinary people’s interests,” he said. “Sometimes my policy making is too subjective and carried out without a deep knowledge of the people. I haven’t been practical enough in my ideology. My fighting sprit is slack and my drive to work hard is falling away.”
His blunt appraisals were merely the opening gambit in a session in which nobody escaped criticism – much of it openly tailored to Mr Xi’s previous tirades against formalism, waste and corruption.
As the accusations flew, one member was accused of being too impatient, another said that the committee generally issued too many documents. With possibly negative implications for his career, the local head of the disciplinary inspection commission was accused by colleagues of underplaying the importance of punishment.
Several offered up broad condemnations of waste in the province, pointing out that Hebei had spent Rmb3.3 million (£335,000) hiring celebrities to sing and dance at the New Year Evening Gala in February.
Sun Ruibin’s self criticism, meanwhile, appeared carefully attuned to the public disgust at corrupt officials. “As a municipal party secretary I was given a big cross-country 4×4 car,” he said. “I felt perfectly at ease about it, although it was in clear violation of rules and regulations.”
In its write-up of the Hebei sessions, Chinese state media quoted a senior Hebei official who, perhaps unsurprisingly, felt that the revival of the criticism and self-criticism seminars was a good thing.
“After we were promoted and were officials for a long time … we started feeling good and arrogant,” he said, “We began just glancing at ‘shop fronts’ and rarely checking out ‘the backyards’ and ‘corners’ during inspection trips.””
via Xi Jinping tightens his grip with echoes of Chairman Mao at his worst | The Times.