On a leafy campus in northwest Beijing, strewn with statues of Marx, Mao, and other communist saints, Chinese leader Xi Jinping train his “loyal successors”, the next generation of officials who will drive the resurgence of the one-party regime.
The Communist Party of China has just celebrated the centenary of its founding and, for much of that time, the Party Central School and other similar academies have been “red cradles”. In these schools, cadres are instilled with party beliefs, dating back to its early decades as a revolutionary movement. Xi has said that a revitalized party government is critical to China’s rise and urges schools to train officials who are proudly and openly loyal to that cause.
“Our party was based on the fight to get where it is today and surely will build on the fight to conquer the future“Xi told hundreds of young officials at the Central Party School in March, who took note of his words as attentive students.” The dangers and trials that await us will be no less than in the past. “
No public seems more receptive to Xi’s message than the students of the thousands of Communist Party schools, that train tens of thousands of officials each year. They teach classes in political doctrine, party history, economics and other political subjects, and Xi’s ideas are now at the core of the curricula.
In Shanghai, the celebration of the PC. Photo EFE
Xi offers the “Political Principles Guiding Contemporary China”said during a recent visit Wang Shiquan, a professor at another party elite school, the Chinese Academy of Executive Leadership Pudong, in Shanghai. The school offers more than 120 courses using Xi’s theories, academy officials said.
As Xi has taken increasingly authoritarian control of China, the party’s schools have followed in his footsteps. The Central Party School tolerated, and even supported, reformist academics who are now dismayed by Xi’s centralization of power, hard-line policies and the abolition of term limits. Young officials today come out of schools marked by that bellicose spirit.
Hua Chunying, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, who attended the school in 2019, scornfully lashes out at criticism from Western governments. “China’s success story is the Chinese Communist Party’s success story”Hua wrote in a paper for his course at the party school, which was published in 2019. That story, he wrote, is a “beacon pointing to the bright future of the socialist effort.”
The Communist Party has taught courses to educate its members almost since its founding. Generations of Chinese leaders have used them to train their cadres in their image and likeness: revolutionaries at first, then supporters of the economic and political reform of the 1980s and 1980s. technocratic-looking people in more recent decades.
Mao Tse Tung was rector of the Central Party School. Xi was rector there for five years before becoming a national leader in late 2012. During the 1980s, reformist leaders like Hu Yaobang encouraged the school to brainstorm ideas for an era of openness and political flexibility.
Currently, it offers courses on the practicalities of management of a town, a county, a city or a province: how to defuse protests or how to elect officials for promotion. One of the party’s school classes, described in a recent study, reminded officials visiting flood-affected areas to wear mud-covered rubber boots, a sure sign that they shared the suffering of the locals.
Chinese President Xi Jinping. AP Photo
“Party schools cultivate the culture of what it is to be a painting “said John Fitzgerald, an Australian researcher who is developing a study on the Chinese functionary. “The party school is part of the process of creating that different elite that has its own language, culture and contacts.”
The China Executive Leadership Academy recently presented its efforts to offer a modernized curriculum: part political boot camp, part business school.
“A leader is very busy and comes here for a week or two,” said Wang, the academy professor. “It’s mostly about solving your problems, for example, how to be mayor or party secretary “.
In one of the courses, the student-officials study how to manage crises such as riots and natural disastersIt’s like floods and landslides. In another, they practice handling interviews with the media and foreign guests. The academy invites magnates and officials to teach classes, school officials said.
“We believe that boxing skills should be taught by boxers,” said Jiang Junjie, a professor at the academy.
Ma Tse Tung in 1969. AP Photo
But the courses here and in other party schools still have a large component of the holy political writings of Marx and Mao. In recent years, teaching has increasingly focused on Xi. The flat screens of the Shanghai academy displayed his grim image among the advertisements.
Study programs for civil servants include pilgrimages to revered places like the Jinggang Mountains, the ancient base of the revolution where there is another academy for cadres.
At the Shanghai academy, a teacher rejected the idea that officials received a falsely romantic view of the revolutionary past. The Communist Party has learned from his mistakeslike the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, said the teacher, Zhang Shengxin.
“We have always treated our mistakes frankly“he told reporters.
But for Cai Xia, a former teacher at the Party School, Xi has been responsible for a dangerous eradication of political openness, even on the famous Beijing campus where she taught.
His career at the Central Party School followed China’s trajectory from a period of relative political openness to Xi’s authoritarianism. Came to school in 1992, when Deng Xiaoping was easing the ideological freeze imposed after the bloody crackdown on protests in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. It was a prestigious transfer for Cai, who had been teaching at a local party school in eastern China.
For the next two decades, some academics at the school advocated gradual political liberalization, starting from within the party to rid it of corruption and abuses of power, Cai said. Reform scholars used to keep their ideas within limits acceptable to leaders. The benefit was that they could carefully advocate for change to rising officials.
Xi Jinping with Joe Biden in 2015. AFP Photo
“The Chinese Communist Party stands above the countrySo if the party doesn’t democratize, the country can’t take the step towards democracy, “Cai said.” We could only try to see if that worked. “
In 2008, a group of school researchers published a “comprehensive” political reform project to build greater public support for the party, reduce corruption, and increase effectiveness. “Freedom of the press is an inevitable trend”, the report said.
The professors of the Central School of the Party gave forceful classes on the disasters that occurred under Mao’s rulelike the famine caused by his failed Great Leap Forward. In one of the courses, Cai said, he accurately compared countries that generally sought gradual political change, such as Britain, with those that had experienced violent revolutions, such as Russia.
“I had not even reached the conclusion when one of the students approached me to say: ‘Professor Cai, I get it.’ “, He said.
Minxin Pei, now a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College in California, said he once helped organize lectures at the party school by Roderick MacFarquhar, 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’“Pei said in a telephone interview, referring to the 1989 crackdown.” You could hear a pin drop. Rod basically launched into a lecture on why democracy is necessary for China. “
However, not even the Central Party School was isolated from the corruption affecting China’s political elite in recent decades.
School officials went to great lengths to discipline the officials who studied there and at night they escaped to have fun with your peers. Some brought their lovers to stay in hotels near the school, Cai said. A vice mayor in northeast China took advantage of his stay at the school to escape to Macau, the southern coast gambling enclave, where he gambled and lost a fortune in corrupt money.
As rector of the Central School of the Party, Xi had rebuked academics who criticized the party. But Cai waited to see what he would do once in power, hoping that he would reform the political hierarchy.
Nine years later, Cai openly criticizes China’s authoritarian turn and lives in the United States. Last year, the Central Party School expelled her from the party and suspended her retirement benefits.
But she said Xi’s efforts toward conformity they wouldn’t change everyone’s thinking, not even at school.
“From the outside the party seems unified, but below there are turbulent undercurrentss, “Cai said.” Within the party school, some reject their old liberal ideas to embrace Xi Jinping; others just say as little as possible. “
Chris Buckley and Keith Bradsher. The New York Times