Party offers glimpse of its internal apparatus

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 May, 2010, 12:00am

The party might have ruled China for more than 60 years, but the operation of its internal apparatus has always been shrouded in mystery.

At last, the Communist Party appears to feel the need to reach out to the people. More than 10 party organs, including the Central Party Literature Research Centre, the United Front Work Department and the International Liaison Department, have in recent months set up websites in a move to improve transparency, the People's Daily's overseas edition reported yesterday.

'The gradual move towards transparency is an important step in making our work known to the public,' Dai Yanjun, a professor at the Central Party School was quoted as saying.

Although the public has little insight into the party's internal workings, the party has been trying to make its work more transparent in the past few years, the article said, with a special task force launched last July to direct the initiative.

The Central Party School's Professor Zhang Zhiming was quoted as saying the party was very aware of the fact that it must 'keep in touch with the needs of our era'.

But analysts believe the move is just a public relations exercise.

They say many websites only provide superficial information, and the most powerful departments - the Communist Party Publicity Department, which censors the media, and the party's Organisation Department, which controls personnel, have yet to set up their own websites.

The inner operations of the publicity department are highly secretive. It has a powerful role in instructing the state media on what can or cannot be said, and can censure media if they step out of line.

Political commentator Chen Ziming said: 'What people really care about is the work of the propaganda department, but we don't even know the phone numbers or address, let alone a website. The party organs have always operated a bit like an underground party.'

Zhang Lifan, a former Chinese Academy of Social Sciences academic, said recent social conflicts had finally made the authorities realise they could not carry on with the old, secretive way of governance. 'We're at a historical crossroads,' Zhang said. 'The leadership is aware how precarious the situation is.'

The escalation of social conflicts is a result not just of inequality, but also of desperation.

Experts say the recent spate of school knife attacks has highlighted the lack of pressure-release valves under an authoritarian government, where ordinary people have little say about what happens to them.

Zhang said: 'What is important is not how much information they're releasing, it's whether they are empowering the public to criticise and supervise [the party's] work.'