Tragedy, then farce
Marx said, "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce." What a fitting quotation to describe the current ideological campaign by the Chinese Communist Party:
Like a giant company concerned with organizational disarray and a sinking public image, the Chinese Communist Party is trying to remake itself into an efficient, modern machine. But to do so, it has chosen one of its oldest political tools — a Maoist-style ideological campaign, complete with required study groups.Lest we fear a return to the bad old days, here's the farce part of the story:
For 14 months and counting, the party's 70 million rank-and-file members have been ordered to read speeches by Mao and Deng Xiaoping, as well as the numbing treatise of 17,000-plus words that is the party constitution. Mandatory meetings include sessions where cadres must offer self-criticisms and also criticize everyone else. ...
Campaigns of this sort are a legacy of the Chinese Communist Party. When he was president, Jiang Zemin initiated study campaigns, including one for his signature "political thought," the Three Represents. More famously, Mao introduced as many as 200 campaigns, from the angry purges that predated the Cultural Revolution era to mass mobilization efforts to exterminate rodents.
Bao xian has received the praise one might expect from the state media and was listed as one of the most searched phrases on the Chinese Internet last year. But much of that traffic appears to be driven by cadres downloading essays from the Internet to meet homework obligations.
In a posting last year, a prominent Chinese blogger, Keso, said Web sites and bloggers were using the ideological campaign as a money-making opportunity by offering essays customized to a person's party rank. The head of a street committee, for example, can find a fake self-criticism essay tailored to that job and then tinker with it to make it seem original.
In a posting last year, Keso wrote: "The Web sites cheat party members, the party members cheat their leaders and the leaders cheat their leaders. So in the end we all cheat the party. This is the comedy of our time." Such cynicism underscores why many experts say efforts like bao xian will have little meaningful impact. In fact, some political analysts speculate that Mr. Hu is using the movement partly as a gesture to ingratiate himself to the older generation of former leaders who remain influential behind the scenes.