China: An Extreme Communist Makeover?
By Malcolm Moore
China’s new leaders have promised a dramatic overhaul of how the Communist Party behaves, responding to growing public criticism of imperious and lavishly rich officials.
Party leaders will no longer be greeted wherever they go with cheering crowds, banners, red carpets, and elaborate flower displays, said a statement on Chinese state media after a meeting of the new 25-man Politburo.
The updated rules also ban dull, long speeches and fawning write-ups in the state newspapers, as the party tries to reshape its image.
In recent years, even the lowliest Communist Party officials have enjoyed a fin de siècle lifestyle, being chauffeured around in luxury cars and greeted by crowds of well-marshaled schoolchildren.
Officials have seemed to compete with each other for who could build the biggest local government offices, offer the grandest banquets—often with specially imported delicacies or food from exclusive farms—and accumulate the most wealth.
Now, after growing criticism aimed at the decadence and arrogance of the party, its new leaders appear determined to make a change.
In the two weeks since he was anointed as China’s next president, 52-year-old Xi Jinping has delivered two speeches on national television without notes.
Li Keqiang, who will become prime minister in March, and Wang Qishan, the new anti-corruption chief, have also held meetings in which they banned participants from making grandstanding speeches.
In a seminar last Friday, Mr. Wang interrupted professors to stop them addressing him as “respected secretary Wang.”
The new rules also stipulate that leaders should no longer show up for ribbon-cutting ceremonies, groundbreakings, or any other self-aggrandising events, exhibitions or forums.
Government reports will also “thoroughly change," eliminating jargon, and indeed jettisoning any “empty and unnecessary documents.”
Foreign travel will be “strictly controlled” and one staple of Chinese propaganda, the drummed-up crowds of Chinese students and expats that greet leaders when they touch down on foreign soil, will also be dropped. Official motorcades will no longer play havoc with traffic as road closures are minimized.
Yao Bo, a former leader writer with the China Daily and now an entrepreneur with more than 650,000 followers on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, said he felt the new leaders “are paying significantly more attention to outside voices.”
He said: “The last generation [of leaders] lived in a small bubble and did not listen to public opinion. I do not know if there will be a substantive political change, but at least the new leaders are striking a different tone.”
He added that local government officials now had a benchmark to govern their behavior and be judged by.
Xie Zhiqiang, a professor at the Party School in Beijing, which trains leading cadres, told state media that the unscripted speeches and face-to-face meetings of the past few days were a positive start.
"It is also notable that the Politburo requested all regions and all departments to put these rules into practice and demanded rapid results.
There will be annual audits, punishments for abusers, and the budgets for events will be inspected.”
Ren Zhiqiang, a billionaire property baron, said that he had “long heard” that changes were being planned.
Meanwhile, Mr Xi also pledged on Tuesday to implement the rule of law, in a speech that seemed aimed at criticism over government corruption, a lack of accountability, and official brutality.
"We need to treat peoples’ needs fairly and endeavour to make them feel justice has been done in every single case,” he said.
Additional reporting by Valentina Luo.