On a leafy campus in northwest Beijing, dotted with statues of Marx, Mao and other Communist saints, Chinese leader Xi Jinping is training his “loyal successors,” the next generation of officials who will lead to the regime’s resurgence in unique part.
The Chinese Communist Party just celebrated its 100th anniversary since its founding, and for much of that time, the Central Party School and similar academies have been “red cradles”. In these schools, the cadres are immersed in the party’s beliefs, which date back to its early decades as a revolutionary movement. Xi preached that a revitalized party regime is essential for China’s rise, and he urged schools to produce officials who are proudly and vocally faithful to this cause.
“Our party has relied on the struggle to get to where it is today, and will surely rely on the struggle to win the future,” Xi said in March. told hundreds of young civil servants at the Central Party School, who wrote his words like attentive pupils. “The dangers and the tests to come will not be less than in the past. “
No audience would seem more receptive to Xi’s message than the students of the thousands of schools run by the Chinese Communist Party, which train tens of thousands of officials every year. They teach political doctrine, party history, economics and other political topics, and Xi’s ideas are now central to their programs.
Xi proposes the “political principles guiding contemporary China,” said Wang Shiquan, a professor at another elite party school, China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong in Shanghai, during a recent visit. The school offers more than 120 courses using Mr. Xi’s theories, academy officials said.
As Mr. Xi took an increasingly authoritarian hold on China, party schools followed suit. The Central Party School once tolerated, if not supported, reformist academics who were appalled by Mr. Xi’s centralization of power, his harsh policies and removal of term limits. Young officials are now coming out of schools imbued with this pugnacious spirit.
A participant in 2019, Hua Chunying, the spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, brushes aside the criticisms of Western governments with disdain. “China’s success is the Chinese Communist Party’s success,” Ms. Hua written in a diary for her party school class, which was published in 2019. This story, she wrote, was a “beacon indicating the bright future of socialist enterprise.”
The Communist Party has organized courses to train its members almost since its founding. Generations of Chinese leaders have used them to train cadres in their own image: revolutionary in the beginning, then embracing economic and political reform in the 1980s, and with technocratic brilliance in recent decades.
Mao Zedong was chairman of the Central Party School. Xi served there for five years before becoming the national leader in late 2012. During the 1980s, reformist leaders like Hu Yaobang encouraged the school to generate ideas for an era of political openness and detente. .
These days, they offer classes on the practical aspects of running a city, county, town or province: how to defuse protests or how to select officials for promotion. A party school class, described in a recent study, reminded officials traveling to flood-affected areas to wear mud-covered rubber boots, a clear sign that they shared the suffering of residents.
“Party schools cultivate this culture of what it is like to be an executive,” said John fitzgerald, an Australian researcher writing a study on Chinese administration. “The party school is part of this process of creating this separate elite with its own language, culture and networks.”
The China Executive Leadership Academy recently showcased its efforts to deliver a modernized curriculum: part political boot camp, part business school.
“A leader is very busy and comes here for a week or two,” said academy professor Professor Wang. “It’s mainly about solving their problems, like how to be mayor or party secretary.”
In a course, student-civil servants study how to deal with crises such as riots and natural disasters, such as floods and mud slides. In another, they practice handling interviews with the media and foreign guests. The academy invites tycoons and officials to teach classes, school officials said.
“We believe in the boxing techniques taught by boxers,” said Jiang Junjie, a professor at the academy.
But classes here and at other party schools are still loaded with political writing, including Marx and Mao. In recent years, teaching has increasingly focused on Mr. Xi. The flat screens of the Shanghai Academy displayed his dark image between the announcements.
Study programs for officials include pilgrimages to revered sites like the Jinggang Mountains, a former revolution base where another executive academy is located.
At the Shanghai Academy, a professor rejected the idea that officials were given a falsely romantic view of the revolutionary past. The Communist Party has learned from its mistakes, including the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, said Professor Zhang Shengxin.
“We have always treated our mistakes with sincerity,” she told reporters.
But for Cai Xia, a former party school teacher, Xi presided over a dangerous eradication of political openness, including on the famous Beijing campus where she once taught.
His career at the Central Party School followed China’s arc of a period of political openness relating to Mr. Xi’s authoritarianism. She arrived at the school in 1992, as Deng Xiaoping relaxed the ideological freeze imposed after the bloody June 4, 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests. It was a prestigious transfer for Ms. Cai, who taught at a local party school in eastern China.
Over the next two decades, some academics at the school advocated for gradual political liberalization, starting within the party to rid it of corruption and abuse of power, Ms. Cai said. Reform scholars generally kept their ideas within limits acceptable to the rulers. The reward was that they could carefully advocate for change to senior officials.
China’s tightening grip
- Xi warning: A century after the founding of the Communist Party, the Chinese leader declared that foreign powers “to break your head and spill blood”If they tried to stop its rise.
- Behind the Hong Kong takeover: A year ago, the city’s freedoms were reduced at breakneck speed. But the repression lasted for years, and many signals were missed.
- A year later in Hong Kong: Neighbors are invited to point out each other. Children learn to look for traitors. The Communist Party is remake the city.
- Charting China’s post-Covid path: Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, is seeking to reconcile trust and prudence as his country progresses while other places continue to grapple with the pandemic.
- A challenge for the global leadership of the United States: As President Biden predicts a struggle between democracies and their opponents, Beijing is eager to defend the other side.
- “Red tourism” flourishes: New and improved attractions dedicated to the history of the Communist Party, or a sanitized version of it, are attract crowds before the centenary of the party.
“The Chinese Communist Party is actually putting itself above the country, so if the party does not democratize, the country cannot take the step towards democracy,” Cai said. “We could only try to see if it worked.”
In 2008, a group of researchers from the school published a plan for “comprehensive” political reform to gain greater public support for the party, reduce corruption and increase efficiency. “Freedom of the press is an inevitable trend,” the report said.
Professors from the Central Party School gave powerful lectures on disasters under Mao, such as the famine caused by the failure of his Great Leap Forward. In one lecture, Ms Cai said, she pointedly compared countries that generally pursued gradual political change, like Britain, with those that experienced violent revolutions, like Russia.
“I didn’t even come to the conclusion and one of the students came over and said, ‘Master Cai, I got it,’” she said.
Minxin Pei, now a professor of political science at Claremont McKenna College in California, said he had previously helped organize lectures at the party school in Roderick Mac Farquhar, a Harvard professor known for his research on the Cultural Revolution.
“The first words Rod said were, ‘Today I want to talk about June 4,” Prof. Pei said in a telephone interview, referring to the 1989 crackdown. fly fly. Rod basically threw himself into a conference on why democracy is necessary for China.
Even the Central Party School, however, has not been isolated from the corruption that has plagued the Chinese political elite over the past decades.
School officials struggled to discipline the officials studying there who slipped away for late-night festivities with buddies. Some have made mistresses stay in hotels near the school, Ms. Cai said. A vice mayor in northeast China took advantage of his time at school to flee to Macau, the gambling enclave on the south coast, where he gambled and lost a fortune in corrupt money.
As chairman of the Central Party School, Mr. Xi rebuked academics who criticized the party. But Ms Cai waited to see what he would do to power, hoping he would upset the political hierarchy.
Nine years later, Ms. Cai is a vocal critic of China’s authoritarian turn, living in the United States. Last year, the Central Party School kicked her out of the party and suspended his pension benefits.
But she said that Mr. Xi’s drive for compliance would not change everyone’s thinking, even at school.
“Outwardly, the party seems unified, but underneath there are turbulent undercurrents,” Ms. Cai said. “Inside the party school, some have turned against their old liberal ideas to embrace Xi Jinping; some say as little as possible.
Liu Yi contributed research.