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The Party, the Party, is always right!

A key aspect of membership in the Chinese Communist Party is that once you join, you can’t leave.

The option to leave the party is enshrined in the party’s statutes, but in practice, it does not exist. The only way to leave the party is expulsion. And once that happens, you have a big problem. That is one of the reasons why the number of the party’s members keeps going up. Another one is obviously China’s growing population.

As the world’s biggest political organization, the CCP boasts 97 million members, almost the population of Germany, Austria and Switzerland combined. It’s impossible to know the exact number of the members who still have true faith in communism. But that number could be very close to zero.

In China, as in other parts of the world, communism, as an ideology, is bankrupt. Although the party still bears the moniker of communism, it generally shuns away from not only the classic communist vision about the global future, but also from most of the fundamental doctrines of Marxism such as the analysis of relations between capitalists and workers.

Instead, leaders and senior apparatchiks keep grinding out new concepts and theories, the latest being “China Dream” and “Xi Jinping Thoughts on New Era Socialism with Chinese Characteristics”.  At the heart of the evolving jargon patchwork are these points: The party is there to

  • lead the country to make people richer and to
  • defend the country and raise the country’s status in the world.  

All party members can chant out slogans on these points or their variations. Some are even able to give lengthy talks on them. But the number of those who sincerely join the party for these reasons is extremely small.

As a result of rampant corruption and chronic social and economic injustice, cynicism shrouds almost the entire nation. People live by the rule of serving self-interests.

Although the CCP lacks convincing, inspiring political ideas, it nevertheless held on to power unchallenged. And it is an unwritten rule that the top leadership of every state organization at all levels must be members of the party. This also applies to the army, state-owned enterprises and other public institutions, such as hospitals and universities.

The Party, State companies and the public sector in general always play the dominant role in communist China. Under Xi Jinping, their position has become even stronger. So anyone with professional or personal ambitions knows where to turn. Membership may not be a guarantee of power and money, but it certainly can’t hurt.

Anyone who wants to become a member must be professionally competent. But most importantly, they have to follow the party line, which means talking the party talk and always remaining loyal to party policy. Thinking freely or expressing dissenting thoughts is an absolute taboo. The true self must always remain hidden, no matter what it may look like.

Members are systematically brainwashed

Once in, that’s not the end of it. The party committees in all organizations at different levels will keep educating members about the latest concepts and guidelines in the form of meetings and studying sessions, using materials such as speech scripts of Party leaders and books on their thoughts and theories.

From time to time, model party members who reportedly study voluntarily would be trotted out, the most intriguing ones being a young couple transcribing the party’s charter on their wedding night in 2016.

The party also runs party schools at the central, provincial and county levels. Party officials of the senior and middle rankings must take turns to receive full-time education on party policy every couple of years. The courses could be up to 4-month long. (It’s a great networking opportunity, by the way.)

In the age of New Media, the party has kept pace with technological progress. It has developed its own website and a sophisticated app to educate its members. They are called “Xuexi Qiangguo” in Chinese, which literally means “Study makes the country stronger”. They allow members to test themselves with quiz questions. Typical questions include, “What are the most important points of Xi Jinping’s thoughts on diplomacy?” Or, “What punishment does a member receive if he or she makes unfounded criticisms of the party’s central leadership?”

In one of the education campaigns, many party committees stipulated the time length that their members need to spend on the website or the app. The website and the app have functions for committee chiefs or those with the mandate to check on that. 

All education serves the purpose of brainwashing, to some extent. But they are more of rituals to foster allegiance. The grandest ritual is the CP Congress, held once every five years.  

The teachings of Marx seem more and more dangerous

At the last party congress in 2017, Xi called on members “Not to forget the initial heart; keep firmly in mind the mission”. Soon afterward, an education campaign was launched with that quote as the theme. As learning material, a German film released in the same year, The Young Karl Marx (Der junge Karl Marx) was chosen, which depicts Marx’s life between 1843 and 1848. Party members and government employees were urged to go to cinemas to watch the film during office hours.

It doesn’t sound like a bad idea for a communist party to pick up Marx for its “initial heart”. 

Unfortunately, what was neglected was that a key phenomenon that the German philosopher addressed is the miseries of workers caused by capitalist exploitation, which happened to resonate loudly in contemporary China.  

Sure enough, students at the prestigious Peking University had launched their independent Society of Marxism. Some joined workers in Beijing and Shenzhen to protest for workers’ rights, which resulted in a harsh government crackdown.  

It showed the party and government officials that a fundamental component of Marxism was very dangerous. Indeed, the song The Internationale, the anthem for the communist movement, which calls the oppressed to rise up to fight, is now all but banned in China. Singing the song loudly, in public, either individually or in groups, could attract police intervention and risk of being arrested.

The Marxist tenets the party can still comfortably resort to are public ownership of key economic elements and the proletariat dictatorship, which help justify its monopoly of power and the economy.  

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