Self-criticism sessions a public reminder of who the boss is
Even officials are the very top are not immune as President Xi Jinping seeks to consolidate power ahead of party congress
Self-criticism sessions among China’s top officials recall the era of former leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東 ), who used them from the 1930s to consolidate power and build loyalty within the Communist Party. They effectively serve much the same purposes under President Xi Jinping (習近平), who included them in “democratic life sessions” at all levels of the party in 2013 to help fight official corruption. Some sessions, however, are more notable than others in terms of the political cycle.
The latest, at recent meetings of the 25-strong decision-making Politburo, came one month into official preparations for a major power transition at this year’s 19th party congress.
What also set these meetings apart was that the details were splashed across national media in a rare departure from the standard closed-door protocol. This included TV footage of the country’s most powerful officials pledging allegiance to Xi as the core of the party centre, a title bestowed on him recently by the party’s Central Committee that reflects his sweeping control and elevates him to the ranks of Mao and Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平).
A power transition is traditionally the subject of intense bickering and horse trading over position and career advancement, including the line-up of the Politburo Standing Committee. Criticism and self-criticism have been quite effective tools for maintaining discipline within the party at such times. Speaking of the need for it, Xi said it should be applied to the top leadership and, in a reminder that the fight against official corruption remains paramount, he said all Politburo members should keep their eyes on their family members’ wealth and behaviour.
In this respect he emphasised that the party leadership had to give the needs of the people top priority. This is reflected in a slogan adopted in recent months – “never forget your original intention”. When the party was founded it was to serve the people. Given that the anti-graft campaign has targeted party members who have colluded with various interest groups, upholding the relevance of “the original intention” is a good way to carry forward his anti-corruption campaign and achieve his ultimate purpose of consolidating power for a smooth transition at the next party congress.
Xi needs to instil the party tradition of criticism and self-criticism at the very top of the leadership. Despite the unprecedented sweep of the anti-graft campaign to date, it is far from over and can still take down tigers as well as flies.