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UPDATED: August 26, 2013 NO. 35 AUGUST 29, 2013
New 'Mass Line' Campaign
By Josef Gregory Mahoney

The Communist Party of China (CPC) recently began a new training campaign for Party members and cadres as part of a multi-pronged approach designed to confront a number of challenges facing China today. The purpose of the campaign is to reassert and deepen the Party's values and connection with the Chinese masses, and to establish in the clearest of terms the professional and ethical requirements of service.

As CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping has noted repeatedly, some elements within the Party today suffer from institutional and personal formalism, bureaucracy, and at times, extravagance and hedonism—all of which run counter to the Party's stated values and compromise its ability to govern effectively. Indeed, as has been well documented in both the popular press and official organs, there have been many cases of "degeneration, corruption and abuses of power" that, as Xi concludes, "have seriously damaged the Party's image and relationship with the masses." Thus, in addition to other efforts underway addressing corruption and other systemic problems, the new campaign is designed to re-articulate the Party's core values and messages to members and cadres and communicate these to the masses.

The campaign centers on the "mass line," which is commonly summarized as "from the masses to the masses" and often coupled with the slogan, "serve the people." Former leader Mao Zedong innovated the mass line concept during the revolutionary period as a means for establishing a vital link between the Party's vanguard position and the masses it was committed to serving. As one of the oldest, largest and most populous and diverse countries in the world, China has nevertheless been ruled for the most part by a single state controlled by a single dynasty or a political party. As one would expect, however, neither politics nor administration have ever been simple, even during periods of general peace, unity and progress like the one enjoyed today. There have always been competing ideas at work at every level of government and society, as well as divergent goals.

Over its long history, China has periodically resorted to rectification campaigns with the aim of curtailing some of the ills associated with bureaucracy, corruption, and public disillusionment. And, as noted, this line campaign belongs in part to this tradition, though there are also other factors that deserve attention here.

To begin with, the campaign is likely part of a broader effort to discipline the Party ahead of more challenging reforms. Without such discipline, other necessary economic and political reforms, which are more difficult to craft and implement in part because of corruption, would never stand a chance of success. Xi has provided the campaign with its central phrase: "looking in the mirror, grooming oneself, cleaning oneself and seeking remedies." "Looking in the mirror" means referring to the Party Constitution with respect to values, discipline and expectations; "grooming oneself" means correcting misconduct and projecting a good image; "cleaning oneself" means keeping a clean mind and proper nature; and "seeking remedies" means educating or punishing those who transgress. The campaign was preceded by new rules implemented last year to reduce pomp, ceremony and bureaucratic visits and meetings, so much so that some economists have worried about the possible negative impact on the economy, and at a time when encouraging domestic consumption is a priority. More recently, a five-year national moratorium against constructing new Party buildings was declared, among other measures. At the same time, the Party has stated that it wants to recruit more people with experience living and working at the grassroots level into positions of power. Taken together, the overall goal of these programs is to help maintain the "flesh and blood ties" between the Party and the people.

Politically, it is important to remember that Xi was elected with the expectation that he would help lead the Party past some of the gridlock it has encountered in recent years with respect to developing and implementing new political and economic reforms. Without question, this presents Xi with a very challenging mandate. While China has enjoyed tremendous economic growth and a rising international position, these advances as well as long-standing development needs have created constant pressure for reform. While a number of important political reforms have been successfully implemented throughout China since 1978, most agree that many more are needed.

The dilemma here should be obvious: What precisely should be reformed and how, given the relative success enjoyed by the political and economic systems thus far? And yet, four facts make the need for reform crystal clear. As noted, the system has yet to gain firm control over corruption; increasing individual and regional inequalities have stoked both political and economic tensions; the masses are increasingly well informed of their rights as well as the responsibilities of their leaders; and the likelihood of declining economic growth rates means increasing pressure to do more with less.

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