Bath Time: Clamping Down on Corruption

As we have noted elsewhere in this Yearbook, one of the first policy initiatives that Xi Jinping introduced was a comprehensive austerity drive to curtail party cadres’ more conspicuous indulgences. In December 2012, the Party’s Central Committee explicitly prohibited the use of ostentatious welcome banners, red carpets, floral arrangements and grand receptions on official occasions. The document contained a wide range of instructions and interdictions aimed at reducing inefficiency, formalism and extravagance. Party leaders were instructed to avoid long speeches and ‘empty talk’, not to attend ribbon-cutting or cornerstone-laying ceremonies and to shun unnecessary expenses.

In January 2013, Xinhua reported that ‘more than twenty provinces have issued detailed regulations to build cleaner governments’. On 31 January, the Nanyang Evening Post of Henan province reported that the Discipline Inspection Committee of Nanyang had launched a special new operation to ‘strictly investigate the use of public funds for eating and drinking’. The Committee had dispatched teams to hotels in the city to identify officials gorging themselves at the public trough. It called on city residents to denounce any government officials violating the rules on feasting, termed ‘big eating and drinking’ (da chi da he 大吃大喝). The head of the operation explained that his team would not rest until frugality was achieved and waste and extravagance obliterated. The newspaper quoted waiters who remarked on how much emptier and quieter the city’s restaurants had become in the wake of the new campaign.

Despite such campaigns, Xinhua reported in January 2013 in an English-language dispatch that there are still ‘a cohort of pussyfooters who rack their brains to keep their corrupt working practices and lifestyles while maintaining good repute’. Quoting anonymous hotel employees, the Xinhua article related that officials are still enjoying lavish banquets. They have simply moved them to secret locations and split into smaller groups. Xinhua’s secret sources also revealed that the saying ‘to eat quietly, to take gently and to play secretly’ (qiaoqiaode chi, qingqingde na, toutoude wan 悄悄地吃、轻轻地拿、偷偷地玩) had entered into common usage among officials as a code for discreet corruption.

In May, the Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, headed by Wang Qishan, ordered all officials and employees working in disciplinary and supervisory departments to discard all VIP membership cards by 20 June. Such cards give members access to a range of a private venues for the discussion of illicit deals as well as services from dining to prostitution.

In June, Xi continued his austerity drive by announcing a ‘thorough cleanup’ of undesirable practices among party members. Stressing that public support is a matter of life and death for the Party, Xi’s new campaign targeted ‘formalism’ (xingshizhuyi 形式主义), ‘bureaucracy’ (guanliaozhuyi 官僚主义), ‘hedonism’ (xianglezhuyi 享乐主义) and ‘extravagance’ (shemi zhi feng 奢靡之风). In his own words, Xi wanted the campaign to focus on ‘self-purification, self-perfection, self-renewal and self-progression’, and urged party members to ‘look at themselves in the mirror, groom themselves, take a bath and cure what ails them’ (zhao jingzi, zheng yiguan, xixi zao, zhizhi bing 照镜子、正衣冠、洗洗澡、治治病). The new campaign uses the Maoist rhetoric of the Mass Line (drawing on the notion that wisdom resides in the people at large); the People’s Daily even launched a related website called Mass Line Net (Qunzhong luxian wang 群众路线网).