CHINA 2020 First Draft

China 2020 final book cover

INTRODUCTION

At noon on Tuesday, June 1, 2021, China will stop work, down tools, switch on a billion TVs and watch President Xi Jinping announce that the country has created a xiaokang society–in which ‘no one is poor and everyone receives an education, has paid employment, more than enough food and clothing, access to medical services, old-age support, a home and a comfortable life’.

Confucius set that goal 2,500 years ago and now, after countless setbacks, it is becoming a reality. But Confucius also warned that xiaokang was only the first goal, the foundation of civilized life, so the President will describe the second goal and a schedule for the country to reach it.

His announcement will mark an inflection in China’s astonishing trajectory, alter how the Chinese perceive themselves and change forever how we perceive them.

This is the tale of how those goals goals came to be, how the Chinese are achieving them, what they’ll do next, and why everything you know about China is wrong.

 

Chapter 1

THE SEA GYPSY

After its reunification in the sixth century AD why should the Chinese Empire have remained immune to the disruptive forces that destroyed every other empire before or since?  –Mark Elvin, The Patterns of the Chinese Past.

Everything I knew about China was wrong, too, until the Spring of 2014.

As a rainstorm drifted away, sunlight broke between the mountains and turned the Northern Thailand village below incandescent. Up the slope a sturdy truck, followed by a stream of dancing children, bounced to a stop and the youngsters crowded in as he uncovered the load, a well-used motorcycle and an ancient, hand cranked coffee grinder. Unleashed, the grinder disappeared under the women’s supervision and the bike was wheeled away by three excited young men.

Refugees from China’s civil war still survive in these highlands and have been joined by tribespeople fleeing the Vietnam wars and ethnic persecutions, eking out a living on these almost-uncultivable hillsides. I’ve been their guest many times and the beneficiary of their birdwatching expertise in the deep forest that runs, without interruption, 1,000 miles northwest through Myanmar.

As I came abreast of the little group I saw the driver was oriental but, his clothes and features suggested, not Thai. As I approached, he turned, put out his hand and, in perfect, Scottish-accented English, introduced himself, “I’m Richard”. This, at last, was ‘Lichad’, the name villagers repeated whenever I inquired about a new fish pond, water line or septic tank, or the sudden appearance of mosquito nets around the children’s beds. This was the little village’s only champion, its protector against corrupt local officials and its sole benefactor.

Richard’s professional knowledge of local birds made me a regular guest at his Sunday morning coffee tastings where he hosted local growers and discussed local varietals.

Richard was born on a sampam in 1945, to Hakka Sea Gypsies who followed the seasons, winds and tides, eking a living from the South China Sea. He began work at age five, diving for shells whose flesh his mother turned into soup and whose cases his sister cleaned and sold dockside when the boat tied up at their tribal home in Hong Kong. During the family’s visit in the winter of 1952, a khaki-uniformed Englishman asked their nationality. When, puzzled, they replied, “Hakka,” the man suggested that they might benefit from a nationality and offered them Hong Kong British passports. He reappeared the following year and suggested that the children enroll in the newly built village school. Being able to read and write would help them later, he explained. Richard and his sister moved in with an aunt and Richard’s remarkable aptitude eventually won him a scholarship to a famous British university where he studied marine biology (“I knew the fish by their first names,” he laughed), earned a PhD in statistics and became a financier with a Scottish bank where, to better serve his clientele, he mastered English, Mandarin, Spanish and Arabic.

Britain’s generosity left him deeply Anglophilic but he devoted his spare time to studying China’s culture and her people. As a member of a poor vagrant tribe, part of a tiny ethnic minority in the world’s biggest, oldest civilization he had a unique perspective on the Middle Kingdom. I learned a great deal about local coffee but it was what I learned about his native country that fascinated me. What he knew about China , and proved, was noting like what I had read or heard anywhere and his three-hour lunch hour seminars on Chinese society kept me coming back for the next two years. I realized that I was in the company of a sophisticated, highly intelligent and widely travelled man with a unique insight into the world’s oldest civilization at an extraordinary moment in her re-emergence onto the world stage. As my interest grew, Richard gave me study assignments for future discussions–ranging from America’s Founding Fathers to Chinese Emperors to Mao Tse Tung’s poetry–that plunged me into a world of immense ambition, high politics and higher drama.

My first seminar began spontaneously when I asked him how China’s economy had overtaken America’s so quickly and he smiled, “Warren Buffet”.

 

Chapter 2.

GETTING PROPER MEN

The administration of government lies in getting proper men. Such men are to be got by means of the ruler’s own character. That character is to be cultivated by his treading in the ways of duty. And the treading those ways of duty is to be cultivated by cherishing compassion.–Confucius, Analects.

Me:. “How did China grow so quickly?”

Richard:. For thousands of years China has tried to create Confucius’ xiaokang society–in which everyone has adequate food, clothing, housing, education and employment–but, whenever we got close, a flood, earthquake, famine, invasion or rebellion would set us back. We’re persistent people and, after we restored our basic infrastructure, in 1979, Premier Deng Xiaoping challenged the Chinese people to create a xiaokang society by 2020. Planners drew up xiaokang checklists and every leader since then has kept to Deng’s schedule. In 2011 the Prime Minister described xiaokang as ‘a society in which no one is poor and everyone receives an education, has paid employment, more than enough food and clothing, access to medical services, old-age support, a home and a comfortable life’. In 2013, the President said that, to reach our deadline, we’d have to eliminate urban poverty by 2016 and rural poverty by December, 2020. We achieved the first goal in 2016 we’re on schedule to achieve the second.

But xiaokang is just the foundation for Confucius’ dream, a datong society, ‘ruled by the public, wherein they choose men of virtue and ability and value trust and harmony. In which people not only love their own parents and children but also secure the living of all the elderly until they die, encourage adults to serve society and help the young grow. The widowed, orphaned, childless, handicapped and diseased are all taken care of. Therefore, selfish thoughts are dismissed, people refrain from stealing and robbery and leave their outer doors unlocked’.

We’ve dreamed of this datong society for so long that the idea of the common good has permeated our political thinking. Chinese families and villages have worked cooperatively for 5,000 years, of course, and even the Communist Party’s name, kung-ch’an-tang, means ‘the share production Party’. During the chaos of postwar reconstruction, Mao constantly reminded everyone of datong and even Taiwan’s anthem sings, ‘Glorify our nation and work to promote a datong society’. It’s nothing new. You could say it’s China’s oldest dream.

I don’t know how we will create the datong society but, if everyone wants to live with their outer doors unlocked, then the government will have to reduce inequality, discrimination, injustice, exploitation and oppression. If the country is going to be ‘ruled by the public’ then the government will have to allow more freedoms, autonomy, rights and democratic participation. If we Chinese really value trust and harmony we’ll have to rely less on the market and more on compassion.

We’re obviously talking about a hugely ambitious social program, another cultural revolution, really. But China is always taking on ambitious projects (we’re strivers!) and that’s is why we need leaders like Warren Buffet.

 

Chapter 3

CHAIN OF RESPECT

Emperors who led their people to a xiaokang lifestyle were pillars of courtesy, sincerity, justice and virtue. But all rulers who did not follow their course lost power and position, and everyone regarded them as pests.–Confucius. The Book of Rites

My Question. “Warren Buffet would never accept the U.S. Presidency. Not in a million years. Why would someone like him want to run China?

Richard’s Answer. First, you have to understand that governing China isn’t like governing the USA. Even our word for China, minzu guojia shi, means ‘national family’. To us, the State is part of the family and the President simply is the head of the extended family. We relate to President Xi, for example, as Warren Buffet’s grandchildren relate to him (which by the way, hasn’t made them infantile, it’s made them rich). We’ve related to our government that way for 2,000 years and we’ve been the richest country on earth for 1,800 of those years.

Our way of relating to government started in 1,000 BC when the Duke of Zhou, a scholar, military genius and financial wizard with a deep understanding of politics and human nature, served as regent for a child prince. The Duke earned the country’s affection by ruling justly, doubling the size of the kingdom and taxing the rich then, when the prince came of age, he surprised everyone and retired to revise the country’s legal code, compose music and write poetry. Every Chinese knows his name and you probably know his most famous invention, The Mandate of Heaven: the principle that rulers’ legitimacy derives from their moral example and that the people can withdraw the Mandate from immoral rulers.

Scholars were enthusiastic about the Duke’s ideas at the time but, after he died, rulers went back to ruling as usual: eunuchs, regents, dowager empresses, usurpers, concubines, wicked uncles and rebellious generals continued their massacres, disappearances, severed heads, strangled babies, drowned siblings, poisoned rivals, tortured adversaries, dismembered critics, taxes, wars, oppression and corruption.

Five hundred years later, a minor government official named Confucius (a criminologist by profession) designed a complete, harmonious society using the Duke as his model leader and the family as his model citizen because, he explained, “Filial piety and brotherly respect are the root of humanity. Filial sons and respectful brothers rarely show disrespect to superiors and there has never been a man who is respectful to superiors and yet creates disorder”. By extending this hierarchy of affection and respect to the head of the national family (assuming he’s as wise and compassionate as the Duke) everyone will prosper.

Confucius recommended replacing the chain of command with a chain of respect and pointed out that immoral rulers, who fail to demonstrate the virtue of paternal care for their people, displease and disturb them and so invite coups from within and attacks from without by rivals seeking to exploit the unrest.

But rulers preferred the traditional chain of command, the elites criticized Confucius’ design for being idealistic, and he died, disappointed. His disciples, however, continued advocating his approach for 300 years until an ambitious emperor called for proposals to renew the Empire. A wily Confucian, Dong Zhongshu, submitted a ‘new broom’ scheme that placed the emperor at the center of the universe and obliged him with elaborate sacred rituals that only he could perform. The cosmic catch was this: because he was at the center of the universe, any earthly mishap–a comet, earthquake, flood or famine–could indicate an Imperial error that only wise, virtuous Confucian officials could correct.

Entranced, the emperor asked how he could implement the scheme and Dong responded, “To wish for worthy men, junzi, without having a team of virtuous officials is like looking for beautiful patterns in unpolished jade. Nothing is more important than establishing an academy to prepare potential junzi with the correct Teaching. Today, not one man in the entire empire is qualified to respond to your call for candidates so I beg your Majesty to build an academy and appoint enlightened teachers to nurture young junzi, test them, and push them to the limit of their ability. Do this and you will recruit the flower of the empire’s youth”.

The emperor saw that the Confucian design would solve several pressing problems: the country had economic freedom but a weak, decentralized government; ruling class nepotism had stagnated social mobility; and despotic feudal lords oppressed their people and quarreled with neighbors. He deposed them one by one because they’d lost the Mandate of Heaven, centralized rule and eliminated the nobles’ administrative monopoly by setting up Confucian academies to recruit ‘the flower of the empire’s youth’: potential Warren Buffets. Declaring China a Confucian state, he banned competing ideologies and ordered that even children study the Master’s teachings–an order which schools follow to this day. The economy soared, the empire became peaceful, he ruled for 54 years and his descendants for another 600.

Inspired by examples of able sons rising from poverty to high office, families began sending their brightest offspring to Confucian academies, the Ivy League of their day. As a form of feeling-contemplation, students memorized Confucius’ Four Books and Five Classics and absorbed their message of compassion until it permeated their thoughts, emotions and dreams. In the examination hall they answered questions on the economy, analyzed government policies and composed original essays to demonstrate their literacy, creativity and knowledge of the world. Examiners–from whom their identities were concealed–looked for intellectual depth and moral maturity and the Emperor himself interviewed finalists.

Because so much depended on them (‘if examination selection is not strict the powerful will struggle to be foremost and orphans and poor will have difficulty advancing’) cheats were often executed and China’s rulers became increasingly dependent on ‘getting proper men’ who would enrich their subjects and, thus, maintain the Mandate of Heaven. The majority of emperors were personally mediocre, so finding admirable officials was their first priority then, once the chain of respect was established, everyone benefited. The lowliest peasant could dream of a child’s advancement; even failures in the higher examinations were consoled with knighthoods; geniuses guided the empire to prosperity; and the masses obeyed admirable officials because, as Confucius predicted, “The virtue of leaders is like the wind, while that of followers is like the grass: when the wind blows over it the grass will bend in its direction”. Confucius’ design turned out to have other advantages:
• Its cosmology is fundamentally moral.
• It’s wholistic and embraces everyone.
• It relies on human intelligence rather than higher authorities.
• It’s based on observable reality.
• It’s class-blind and meritocratic.
• It’s inclusive.
• It promotes internal security.
• It’s optimistic about the human condition.
• It prioritizes moral guidance and education over punishment.
• It doesn’t demand that everyone hold the same beliefs.
• Its universe is responsive to human effort rather than supplication.
• It encourages each generation to reinterpret its doctrines.
• It absorbs foreign ideologies like Buddhism and Christianity.
• It accepts scientific learning.
• Illiterate people can understand it.
• A single Warren Buffet, a junzi, can sustain a dynasty for a century.
• It employs equality and hierarchy, competition and collectivism, elitism and egalitarianism, responsibility and freedom, individualism and reciprocity.
• It places heaviest responsibility on leadership: “Rule your people with laws and they’ll avoid punishment but will not accept responsibility. Lead them by good example and they’ll order themselves harmoniously”.

Martin Jacques summarizes Confucian society beautifully in his book, When China Rules the World, “The Chinese regard the family as the template for the State. What’s more, they perceive the State not as external to themselves but as an extension or representation of themselves. The fact that the Chinese State enjoys such an exalted position in society lends it enormous authority, remarkable ubiquity and great competence”.

People admire China’s rich literature, her exquisite art and her engineering marvels but I think her greatest contribution to humanity is her form of government.

My Question. But wouldn’t opposition parties improve your government even further? Wouldn’t an opposition party keep politicians more honest?

Richard’s Answer. Would Berkshire Hathaway [Warren Buffet’s holding company] be improved by factions opposed to his policies? We let our Warren Buffets run the country as they see fit. What’s the point of constantly second-guessing them?

Besides, parties are dangerous and destructive. In his farewell address, George Washington warned, “Parties become potent engines by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion”. Sixty-five years later, Washington was proven right when Congressional party rivalry precipitated the vicious American Civil War although, as the Compromise of 1877 proved, their disagreements could have been easily settled by negotiation.

America may need more experience with political parties before she abandons them, but China certainly doesn’t. We lost two great dynasties to party politics. In 1,000 AD Song China was ten times richer than her neighbors and the most technologically advanced nation on earth but the Conservative and Reform parties spread rumors, brought treason charges and even sabotaged military campaigns if generals belonged to rival parties. Their infighting weakened the empire and the Mongols almost destroyed China. Five hundred years later the Ming dynasty fell when feuding parties made deals with foreign powers and the Manchu, with two percent of China’s population, invaded and massacred a third of it. These catastrophes didn’t just happen: scholars wrote hundreds of books, articles and memoranda predicting the outcomes in detail, yet officials were paralyzed, locked in mortal combat with opposing parties. That’s why emperors often executed officials who formed factions and why President Xi still warns about them. Parties are inherently divisive. The idea that they’ll act for the common good is ridiculous.

Chapter 4

GETTING PROPER  MEN

If truly effective people were put in charge of governing for a hundred years, they would be able to overcome violence and dispense with killing altogether. Confucius.

My Question. Could the Warren Buffet model work outside China?

Richard’s Answer. “The idea of professional, moral leadership isn’t unique to China. Plato dreamed of virtuous philosopher kings and Thomas Jefferson told John Adams, “I agree there is a natural aristocracy among men of virtue and talents..and the best form of government provides for a selection of these natural aristoi into the offices of government”. Singapore has always been governed by men like Warren Buffet and Singaporeans’ wages have always grown five percent a year, the country has money in the bank, clean, safe streets, an excellent military and the best education on earth.

I watched a TV interviewer, Charlie Rose, interrogate their current Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong. Lee’s father was Prime Minister before him and, knowing that nepotism is a problem in Asia Rose asked, “Are you sensitive to the issue of nepotism?” Lee replied, “Our system is founded on the concept of meritocracy. If anybody doubts that I, as Prime Minister, am here not because I am the best man for the job but because my father fixed it, then my credibility and moral authority are destroyed. First you must have the moral right, then you can make the right decisions. It’s a basic Confucian precept”.

Lee’s father graduated with double first class honors from Cambridge and his own grades are unmatched in that university’s history. They’re both geniuses and their 60 years of competent, honest service have lifted millions of people from destitution to prosperity and set a standard of governance the world envies. They’ve been Singapore’s Warren Buffets for 60 years and enriched every Singaporean. A White Paper lays out the country’s political philosophy, “Many Confucian ideals are more relevant to Singapore than political ideologies borrowed from the West. The concept of government by honorable men, junzi, who have a duty to do right for the people and who have their trust and respect, fits us better than the Western idea that government power should be as limited as possible”. Singapore sends its brightest 12-year-olds to the finest schools in the world, monitors their moral development and, eventually, invites a handful into government. When a journalist questioned the cost of the program, Lee Kwan Yew replied, “I’m sorry if I’m constantly preoccupied with what the near-geniuses and above-average are going to do but I’m convinced that it is they who ultimately decide the shape of things to come”.

My Question. How does the system work in China?

Richard’s Answer. It works by selecting men like Warren Buffet to run the country and letting them run it the way Mr. Buffet runs Berkshire Hathaway. It has worked for thousands of years and children still study the lives of heroic government officials. My hero was Fan Zhongyan, the 11th century prime minister who said he would ‘always worry before the people worry and enjoy after the people enjoy’. We expect our officials to demonstrate the Confucian virtues of sincerity, humility, simplicity, loyalty, self cultivation, filial piety, knowledge of poetry and dignity. The example of our greatest officials, who demonstrated all those virtues, has shaped our civilization as much as gravity shaped our planet. Today, 1.4 billion people are watching our top officials, asking, “How does this guy stack up against real leaders like Fan Zhongyan?” The Chinese are a tough audience!

We agree with Confucius that ‘the most important thing is government’ and our obsession with it has shaped our expectations. We particularly expect officials to demonstrate ren, compassion for others, the way Confucius explained it, ‘wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others’. Our officials must enlarge the lives of millions of people if they want to reach the top. All our presidents, for example, have doubled everyone’s wages during their 10-year terms. To us, that’s real compassion, that’s ren. And because we expect our leaders to be morally outstanding and to give the nation moral guidance, they combine the functions of Pope and President.

As Warren Buffet said, “In looking for people to hire you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first, the other two will kill you”. We’ve always had crooked officials, of course, as you can see by watching any historical Chinese drama: all our villains are corrupt government officials. The most popular TV series in 2017 starred real, jailed, corrupt government officials introducing episodes in which their own cases were dramatized!

We regard politics and the civil service as the highest calling, an idealistic profession–like the priesthood and teaching–not a way to wealth. Thankless service has always been the most direct way to attain moral perfection, the Dao. I was at a family banquet in Hangzhou last year for a young relative who distinguished himself in the guokao examination and I noticed my cousin looking depressed. When I asked what was wrong he blurted out that his grandson had been a top scorer at university but, instead of taking the government exam he launched a startup in Shanghai: “How could he forget his country? It was a great loss of face for all of us and the thought of young people’s selfishness makes me sad”.

Modern Chinese billboards advertise products used by the government because that’s the most prestigious endorsement: ‘If [Warren Buffet] uses our air conditioners, shouldn’t you?’ and Audi became the most prestigious brand in the country because government officials preferred their cars. The civil service examination has always been our most important means of social mobility. Our whole social system rewards bright people for governing and the brightest have been taking standardized tests since the 6th century, when passing provincial examinations earned them knighthoods and success in the Palace examination lifted them into China’s highest social class. For thousands of years everyone–from peasants’ sons to wealthy heirs–studied the same texts as the officials and, even if they didn’t even qualify to take the exams, their literacy gave them an edge in society. To them, civil service examinations were both democratic and meritocratic: by the 12th century, of 279 examinees with known backgrounds, 157 were from average families. Over an enormous span of time–since Julius Caesar’s day right down to the present–that program has created Chinese civilization.

While you’re embarrassed by your politicians and proud of your businessmen, we’re proud of politicians and, often, embarrassed by our businessmen. China’s roars ahead because our equivalent of Warren Buffet runs our economy. Our high speed rail network, built by the government in 15 years, is the fastest, safest and biggest in the world. Twenty percent of the world’s most valuable, profitable corporations were created by our government. Wages have outgrown the economy for forty years because the government prioritizes our wages over corporate profits. That’s why, according to one survey, 83 percent of Chinese say the country is run for everyone’s benefit rather than for big interest groups, another found that ninety percent of Chinese are happy with the country’s direction, 87 percent feel good about the economy and are optimistic about the future and 80-90 percent trust the government. Not many governments can match that, yet it’s what you’d expect from national leaders like Warren Buffet.

My Question. What exactly is the Communist Party?

Richard’s Answer.  Like Britain’s Royal Family, the Party preserves and embodies China’s most cherished values and ensures their continuity. That’s why we’ll cooperate with their plans for a datong society. It’s also the biggest, most meritocratic, upwardly mobile political organization in the world but, instead of preserving an ancient hierarchy based on birth, it renews our hierarchy every ten years. By attracting the brightest youngsters it stimulates upward mobility and ensures that leaders will always come from ordinary backgrounds and won’t get disconnected from society.

Back in 1949, after 150 years of occupation, devastation and civil war, the Party didn’t have many Warren Buffets (when someone criticized him Mao retorted, “I’m not the Duke of Zhou!”). When they restored the examination system in 1979 they left Confucius’ moral requirements intact and simply updated the curriculum (though they still give bonus points for brushwork and poetry) and the quality of officials has been rising ever since. The Party hasn’t produced a certified junzi yet but the system has produced enough competent, honest men to get us to a xiaokang society by 2020.  The previous president, Hu Jintao, for example, a poor boy famous for his humility, won a scholarship to the country’s finest engineering school where he managed 200 staff while getting straight A’s. Current Prime Minister Li, another poor boy, translated Lord Denning’s The Due Process of Law as a freshman and holds a PhD in economics. These days, most officials in the top 100,000 are awesomely bright, have similar credentials and take regular sabbaticals overseas for advanced studies.

Every year, the top ten percent of China’s brightest young people, about a million–half of whom are women, compete for 30,000 government positions. Even  qualifying to take the examination is an honor and the top scorers are national celebrities as they’ve been for 1,600 years. For the lucky 30,000, the difficulty is just beginning. To test their sincerity, the Party sends them to a poverty-stricken, flyblown wilderness for a few years. Here’s a report from one, [Heng Xiao is the pen name of a junior researcher in a Chinese state-funded institute. He takes up his story after getting a PhD and a job in a government research academy]

 

Why the Communist Party Sent Me to the Desert

by Heng Xiao

My adventure began with a phone call late one summer night. It was my boss, the deputy director of the state-funded institute of international studies. He had some unexpected news. The personnel department of our academy had selected me as a candidate for its Grassroots Service Program (GSP) in one of China’s most underdeveloped provinces, located some 1,500 miles from where I was living in Beijing. Before hanging up, he gravely informed me that all of my peers had refused to join the program — leaving me with little choice but to accept the offer.

What followed was an incredibly difficult decision for me. As a sophomore researcher, I had spent the past year doing staff work instead of academic research, and I feared I might have fallen behind my colleagues. After consulting my wife, we agreed that the call from my boss was to inform me of my participation in the program, not to ask my opinion on the matter. I reluctantly called back and accepted his offer. In hindsight, most of us–the 17 researchers who accepted GSP posts–wished we had never received that call.

The GSP’s Chinese name is guazhiGuazhi literally means “to hang your position,” in the way one hangs a coat, and it is a common phrase among China’s state-sponsored entities, including research institutes like the one I was part of. It involves temporarily moving to a new position for at least a year, while your old job is guaranteed upon your return. At the time it was common practice for young China Communist Party (CCP) members to take on this responsibility at some point. This temporary job sometimes has no relation at all to the cadre’s previous field of work. For example, it would not be unusual for a researcher on U.S. foreign policy to be asked to manage rural development in the Gobi Desert.

The guazhi program is based on the traditional Chinese belief that different experiences lead to true knowledge and make a man competent. In its most radical form during the Cultural Revolution, this traditional belief was manifested as the “Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside” movement. During the Cultural Revolution, universities and colleges in China were closed and urban youth were sent to poor, remote rural areas to, in the words of Mao Zedong, “learn from ordinary people.” Although this is far removed from the modern-day GSP, the intention behind the two is similar: namely, a notion that the most thorough education comes from diversified experiences.

This is a belief that is still widely upheld in modern-day China. My roommate in university once told me: “Never try to be a specialist. If you become an expert on any subject, you can never be a leader. Leaders know nothing deeply. Instead, it suits them to know a little about everything.” The government prefers officials who have had experiences in different fields of work, believing them to be more competent and reliable. Thus, there are two main purposes for guazhi: to provide fresh men and women with hands-on training experience, and to indicate that a promotion is coming. I was hesitant, but I knew deep down that the GSP was a worthwhile undertaking. However, although I accepted the offer in late July and was scheduled to depart in September, there was no further news until a detailed schedule was sent to me in the last week of November. Suddenly, the academy’s personnel department summoned all of the candidates to a sleek, white meeting room and notified us that we would be leaving in five days. We must have seemed dispirited, because the personnel officials first offered us carrots of encouragement, but then brandished sticks as a warning when we didn’t perk up.

The personnel officials promised us that when we returned from our isolated locations we would enjoy priority rights in executive promotion, in academic title evaluation, even in the distribution of academy-owned apartments in Beijing. However, they also warned us that if we refused to go at the last moment or performed poorly in our new job, the academy might not renew our contracts at the end of our three-year terms. We were told that the living conditions in the rural towns where we’d be living would be much better than we might be anticipating and we were assured that we would all have a personal office and a fully-furnished bedroom. After much encouragement, we began feeling that we might not actually have anything to worry about after all.

Local officials were waiting for us at the airport when we landed at our destination on Dec. 1. After a short rest and a dinner full of animated speeches, we — the 17 exhausted researchers — were dispatched to our new homes by town officials. Upon getting in the car, I was told that I would be working almost 13 miles from the urban area. During our drive along the rugged country road, I had a good talk with one of my future colleagues, the vice-secretary of the town’s CCP committee. At one point, he asked me a strange question: “Secretary, where will you live in the city? Will the municipal government rent you an apartment?” It seemed that my future colleagues did not even know I was required to live where I worked. I began to realize that there would be no bedroom, no bathroom, and no nice furniture waiting for me. It was immediately apparent upon arriving at the town hall that I had been right in my premonitions, which did not make me happy at all. There was no breakfast or dinner provided, and I wasn’t allowed to cook in the office. There was no hot water and no heating at night, despite temperatures of minus 20 degrees Celsius. I later reflected that, compared with the other problems, the outdoor toilet I had noticed upon entering was the least of my worries. But on the plus side, my office was bright…continues..

The Party’s 87 million members include presidents, governors and cabinet members, who are just civil servants, too. The Organization Department is responsible for finding and promoting potential Warren Buffets like Heng Xiao. Here’s one mid-level provincial official, Zhao Bing Bing, telling Daniel Bell about her promotion:

“I was promoted in 2004 through my department’s internal competition (30 percent on written exam results, 30 percent on interviews and public speaking, 30 percent on public opinion of my work and 10 percent on education, seniority, and my current position) and became the youngest deputy division chief. In 2009, Liaoning Province announced in the national critics an open selection of officials. Sixty candidates met the qualifications, the top five of whom were invited for further interviews. Based on their test scores (40 percent) and interview results (60 percent), the top three were then appraised. The Liaoning Province organizational department sent four appraisers who spent a whole day checking my previous records. Eighty of my colleagues were asked to vote, more than thirty of whom were asked to talk with the appraisers about my merits and shortcomings and they submitted the appraisal result to the provincial Standing Committee of the CCP for review. In principle, the person who scored the highest and whose appraisals were not problematic would be promoted. However, because my university major, work experience, and previous performance were the best fit with the position, I was finally appointed department chief of the Liaoning Provincial Foreign Affairs Office even though my overall score was second best.

“Before the official appointment there was a seven-day public notice period during which anybody could report to the organization department concerns about my promotion. I didn’t spend any money during my three promotions; all I did was to study and work hard and do my best to be a good person. In 2013, thanks to an exchange program, I worked temporarily in the CCP International Department. The system of temporary exchanges offers opportunities to learn about different issues in different regions and areas, such as government sectors and SOEs. In a famous quote Chairman Mao said, “Once the political lines have been clearly defined the decisive factor will be the cadres (people specially trained for a particular purpose or profession).” So the CCP highly values organizational construction and the selection and appointment of the cadres. There is a special department, The Organization Department, managing this work that was established in 1924 and Mao was its first leader. Nowadays, there is an organization department from the county CCP committee to the central CCP committee. Its core responsibilities include: first, to conduct organizational management in the areas of grassroots organizational construction, cadres, Party fees, and the working and lifestyle system of the Party; second, the management of the cadres. The department is mainly responsible for the macro management of the leaders and the staff (team building), including the management system, regulations and laws, human resource system reforms—planning, research, and direction, as well as proposing suggestions on the leadership change and the (re)appointment of cadres. In addition, it has the responsibilities of training and supervising cadres.

“The cadre selection criteria for the CCP are the following: a person must have ‘both ability and moral integrity and the latter should be prioritized’. The evaluation of moral integrity focuses mostly on loyalty to the Party, service to the people, self-discipline and integrity. Based on different levels and positions, the emphases of evaluation are also different. For intermediate and senior officials, emphasis is on their persistence in faiths and ideals, political stance, and coordination with the central Party. High-level cadres are measured against great politicians and, among them, experience in multiple positions is very important. For example, many leaders at the central level of the CCP used to work in a central department or a local province; they may have worked both in an agricultural province and an industrial province, a developed region and a less well-off district”.–Daniel Bell and Zhao Bing Bing, The China Model.

When Xi Jinping became president he tightened the criteria further, and Heng Xiao’s application was accompanied by statutory declarations from two non-relatives who took responsibility for his moral conduct until he dies. He himself will be responsible for his decisions–including things like building inspections until he, too, dies.

For village and township leaders, the Organization Department focuses on ties with the people, how fairly they apply policies and their talent for solving local problems. For more senior candidates they investigate their character flaws and ask them to analyze complex situations from different points of view, draw reasonable inferences, anticipate and solve potential problems, provide evaluations, trade-offs and implementation plans. There’s no room for personalities or personal ideologies and nobody gives a damn about charisma because the government wants the best outcomes for everyone. It really doesn’t matter whether the cat is white or black as long as it catches mice.

Civil servants’ rank determines their benefits like transportation, housing, healthcare and children’s education. Heng Xiao’s PhD puts him in the 22nd rank, five steps from the bottom and, if he wants to make President he must reach level three by his 50th birthday. For really senior promotions, the Organization Department uses an updated version of the Sui dynasty’s Three Departments and Six Ministries:

  • Economy: GDP growth, tax revenue.
  • Education: national exam scores, college admission, graduation rates.
  • Harmony: public disturbances, crime rate, recidivism.
  • Infrastructure: roads, ports, Internet speed, electricity, water quality.
  • Efficiency: cost of projects vs. budget, time to completion.
  • Responsiveness: Speedy implementation of new initiatives.
  • Environment: air, water, soil, noise, natural environment.
  • Morality: corruption, convictions.
  • Equitability: gender balance, GINI coefficient, low income housing.
  • Effectiveness: solving unpredictable problems that can’t be handled routinely.

Senior officials, with PhDs and 30 years’ experience, run the country without political parties, independent judiciaries, lobbyists or spin doctors. Yukon Huang, formerly the World Bank’s China manager, explains the sophistication behind their success:

“China’s system can be described as regionally decentralized and authoritarian. It gives regions flexibility to experiment with economic reforms in response to goals established by Beijing. The strategy is supported by growth and financial targets for each province backed by resource flows from Beijing, enforced by linking promotion of provincial officials to the targets. Regional leaders–from Party Secretaries and governors down to city and village mayors–are appointed and rotated under the auspices of the Organization Department.

“Unlike a federal system, where senior regional officials are elected by their local constituents–and thus responsive to their needs–Chinese regional leaders must adhere to signals emanating from Beijing. This helps counter the growth‐inhibiting aspects of corruption by setting investment and production targets that give local officials incentives to promote expansion. It fosters a unity of purpose so that–even when corruption flourished–the collaborators still worked to make growth the guiding principle for their actions. This was reinforced by competition among the localities to meet targets and to support productivity‐enhancing economic reforms. This competitive element helped to curb waste and ensure a modicum of efficiency despite the high degree of state intervention in commercial activities”.

You expect honest, authoritarian admirals to command your navies, authoritarian engineers to construct your dams and authoritarian judges to interpret your laws yet, though governing is vastly more difficult than any of those, you permit corruptible amateurs to form factions and govern you.

The Chinese have looked for wise, honest, competent, unselfish men like Warren Buffet. It’s that simple.

About Godfree

Visiting China and studying it since 1967. Interested in its culture, politics, education and economy.
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