By GEOFFREY YORK
Toronto Globe and Mail
July 13, 2005
Over the next year, more than 55 million Chinese people will be inculcated with Communist Party ideology in a series of Maoist-style "study sessions" and "self-criticisms." It's believed to be the most ambitious and far-reaching such campaign in China since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976.
While China has surged ahead with capitalist reforms in recent years, its political rulers have remained stuck in the mindset and methods of the 1970s, still seeking to bolster their power with heavy-handed thought-control tactics.
The latest campaign, however, is struggling to overcome the mounting cynicism and apathy of many Chinese Communist members.
The internal campaign began in January and has already covered 14 million Communist members. Now the campaign is entering its full flowering, with the vast majority of the party's 69 million members facing orders to attend sessions over the next 12 months. The campaign also extends to universities, where compulsory classes on ideology and morals will be required for all first-year students.
China's rulers want to ensure that rank-and-file members of the Communist Party remain an elite shock force to impose the party's orders on the country's 1.3 billion people.
"Many party members are pacemakers in tough reforms, assault forces for hard missions and trailblazers for common prosperity," said the deputy head of the party's organization committee, Li Jingtian, in a rare appearance at a news conference this month.
With the rising temptations of corruption and business deal-making, the regime worries that many party members are drifting into apathy. The ideology sessions are the latest attempt to restore discipline.
"Some party members are shaky in their convictions, unaware of their identity as party members or the party's governing position, incompetent in taking other people forward and unable to play a vanguard role," Li complained.
"Some leading party officials are inadequate in theoretical competence, incapable of administering the rule of law and unable to solve complex issues. Some of them even get corrupted by trading their power for personal gains."
The education campaign will force the party members to spend dozens of hours studying Marxism and the ideologies of Communist leaders such as Mao, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin. When a group session is called, often with little advance warning, members are obliged to cancel all other plans and attend the sessions. They are required to write a 20,000-word record of their studies, plus a "mutual reflection" (criticism of others), along with a self-criticism that must be written in longhand to discourage plagiarism.
Samples of the self-criticisms, almost resembling religious confessions, have been published on a government website. "Because of my irritable personality and long work on the front lines, I became impatient and sometimes spoke in a loud voice," one of the self-criticisms says.
"Despite our anti-corruption work, I couldn't break past the common social customs and sometimes accepted dinner invitations," says another of the self-criticisms.
"Some party members are actively engaged in superstitious beliefs and worshipping Buddha," says a third confession. "I still go for a bit of Buddha-worshipping myself when touring near temples on summer vacation, regardless of what the masses would think."
Despite the enormous efforts devoted to the education campaign, many Chinese have reacted with cynicism and sarcasm. Anonymous messages have circulated on cell phones, making fun of the campaign. Some wags have jokingly referred to it as "Saran Wrap" - a pun based on the Chinese words for "stay advanced," the original name for the campaign. (The Chinese phrase for "stay advanced" is "bao xian" while "Saran Wrap" is "bao xian zhi.") In response, the party changed the campaign's name to "advanced education," a phrase without such an obvious pun.
Some party members said the education campaign can be a tiresome chore. "I'd prefer staying somewhere on holiday, rather than participating in such gatherings," a school teacher said.
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