China Facing Identity Crisis? Party Stresses ‘Legitimacy’ Aspect For First Time – Analysis


By D.S. Rajan*

Party discipline or lack of it, seems to have emerged of late as the most urgent and important issue before the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in China. Firm indications in this regard are regularly appearing, particularly since the middle of September 2015. Firstly, Wang Qishan, a powerful leader in charge of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign, has touched upon the need for the CCP to acquire legitimacy through winning trust of the people “in the present complex situation”.

This is definitely interesting as for years, there had been no discussion on the legitimacy aspect within the CCP, possibly due to fears that doing so can lead to calls for democratic elections in the country which can challenge the party’s monopoly over power. Secondly, two new regulations setting standards for the cadres and stipulating punishment to those who violate party rules have been issued. Thirdly, fresh publicity is being given to Xi Jinping’s call to writers and artists to imbibe socialist values, made one year ago. Fourthly, party officials are making allegations that the CCP committees in the State Owned Undertakings have become weak. Lastly, there has been attack on the West for ‘falsifying’ the party history. To enable a proper evaluation of the developing situation, factual data on the available indicators are given below in the Annexure.

Assessing broadly, it would be pertinent to examine what the CCP’s new attention to legitimacy means. A key question will be how the party is going to ensure people’s participation in the decision making system, which is a precondition to legitimacy. In other words, what kind of political reform the Xi regime wants. There are no clear answers to these questions yet. But it can be entirely ruled out that China will adopt any Western democratic model or introduce a multi-party system. The least the CCP can do for gaining legitimacy is to start reforming the process to choose delegates to the country’s parliament – the National People’s Congress, providing some room for direct elections. This can override the absolute powers which the CCP enjoys now. However, nothing can be expected in China in this regard as the party claims to have its own ‘socialist democracy’, based on the maintenance of ‘Multiparty Cooperation and Consultation under the leadership of the CCP’.

Admittedly, Xi administration’s direction towards reforming the nation’s judiciary seems to be forward looking; but it has left the position of the party as supreme political force in the country unaltered; proving this is the document adopted in the third plenum held in October 2014, which says that “governance according to law requires that the CCP governs the country on the basis of the constitution and laws and that the party leadership and socialist rule of law are identical. Party leadership is the most fundamental guarantee for comprehensively advancing the rule of law and building country under socialist rule of law”. In such circumstances, it will be unrealistic to expect a quantum jump in China regarding judicial independence.

One should recognize the fact that the drive to strengthen discipline in the party and China’s anti-corruption campaign are interrelated, as the People’s Daily article of Wang Jishan itself suggests, though their purposes are different- the first is directed against ideologically incorrect cadres and the second against those officials indulging in corrupt practices. In any case, what should not be missed is the common effect of the two initiatives – the CCP’s weeding out of undesirable elements from the party. What can happen for sure is that the two will progress hand in hand in China from now on; they may overlap whenever necessary.

Also, it would be apt to compare Xi’s speech published on October 14, 2015 asking the writers and artists to adhere to party ideology, with Mao Zedong’s talk at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art in 1942. Mao through his rectification campaign in this period removed rightist intellectuals from the party and thus consolidated his leadership position; in methodology, Xi seems to reenact what Mao did, so as to consolidate his political position through removing his rivals with the help of his drives against corruption and party discipline violations. In this regard, one should not forget the cases of purged once powerful leaders like Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang; it is not difficult to diagnose both ideology and corruption aspects in charges leveled against them.

Xi Jinping’s two drives will surely continue netting more and more targets within the party. He had identified[1] such targets as those “forming factions, cabals and mountain strongholds within the party”; “ having vacillations regarding matters of principle and issues of right and wrong;” “openly expressing views that are opposed to major political questions regarding the party’s theory, guidelines and policies;” and “feigning compliance with but actually going against the party’s goals and policies.” Also, the latest regulations have included in this category cadres having bourgeois liberalization ideas and vacillations on the party’s “four basic principles.” Xu Yaotong, a political science professor at the Chinese Academy of Governance divides Xi’s targets into three powerful groups: retired leaders who wanted to exert influence, cadres whose power had been weakened and civil servants unhappy with austerity rules[2]. The widely reported reshuffle in the party central committee just prior to holding of the Fifth Plenum (October 26 to 29, 2015) may have to be viewed in the context of the ongoing twin initiatives against party indiscipline and corruption.

Attention may also be needed to the trend being seen under the Xi regime towards linking party discipline with China’s past cultural traditions. Under it, party members are strongly being reminded that as per traditional Chinese culture, rules are observed like rituals and everyone follows them. In other words, the message to erring party personnel is “obey the rules”. The trend is being noticed at a time when China’s populace could be losing its interest in ideology as reforms have already provided enough economic benefits to them. The Xi regime, facing a requirement to fill the gap, seems to be turning to use of nationalism and in that connection trying to sensitize the people about China’s historical past. The current importance in China to Confucian thoughts is an example.

In sum, an objective analysis may lead to the conclusion that the CCP continues to face a serious dilemma on how to match its reforms and opening up policy with a suitable stance on political liberalization; it has indeed reached a cross road now on the issue of party legitimacy.

*The writer, D.S.Rajan, is Distinguished Fellow, Chennai Centre for China Studies, Chennai, India. Contributing date – October 31, 2015.Email: [email protected]


Recent important developments with regard to party discipline; a chronological account

Wang Qishan, a member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Politburo Standing Committee and Secretary of the CCP’s Central Discipline Inspection of Commission, an organ responsible for the conduct of the party’s anti-corruption campaign, in his speech on the theme of Party discipline, at the “ 2015 Dialogue between the Party and the World” (Beijing, September 16, 2015) attended by more than 60 overseas politicians and scholars, including former South African president Thabo Mbeki and former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, said that “in order to be accountable to its people, the party must govern with strictness. The party’s legitimacy arises from history and is determined by popular support. It is the people’s choice. For things to work in China, we have to see whether the people are happy or not, satisfied or not, whether they would approve of our work.” He added that “in the course of building a comfortable life and rejuvenating the nation, the CCP has to enhance its leadership and win the trust and confidence of the people so as to address complex situations and overcome various challenges”. It was for the first time that a top Chinese leader expounded on the legitimacy of the ruling party, marking an important breakthrough in party discourse. [3]

On October 12, 2015, the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee adopted two new regulations for adherence by party cadres, updating the rules existed since 2010 – one on “Standards on Integrity and Self-Restraint”[4] and the other on “Disciplinary Punishment[5].” The first which contained 8 clauses in contrast to 53 articles of the old, asked the party personnel to “lay an exemplary role in observing the law”, and imposed conditions for moral ethics among the party members. Not finding a place in it is more than 70 provisions which overlapped with State law, such as those related to corruption, bribery and dereliction of duty; the second has 11 chapters defining acts of indiscipline and punishments for indulging in them. The two regulations not only cover leading cadres, but also all party members, who violate party rules. Explaining the reason for the updating, an authoritative comment (Xinhua, October 27, 2015) said that the old rules, “lacked a clear boundary between Party discipline and the law, with nearly half of the disciplinary regulations identical to State laws and that the new ones are in accordance with the party principle adopted in October 2014 which demanded that the CCP’s discipline and rules must be harsher than the law.”

The new regulations make the following main demands on the cadres with the proviso that those violating could either be warned or be expelled from the party, depending on the seriousness of the violation:

  • They should not support “bourgeois liberalization”, oppose the “Four Cardinal Principles” and oppose “the reform and opening up policies”.
  • They should not indulge in “extravagant eating and drinking; abuse of power; obtaining, holding or using membership cards for gyms, clubs, golf clubs, or various other types of consumer cards, or entering private clubs”. (Comments: Instances of officials misusing the Golf clubs for their corrupt activities have come to notice in China. Extravagant eating and drinking and playing golf were not described as violations in the previous rules).
  • They must separate public and private interests, put the public’s interest first, work selflessly and champion simplicity.
  • They must not make irresponsible remarks about the Central Government’s major policies.They must not assume nationalities of other countries , or permanent residencies overseas.
  • They must not participate in any unofficial associations for townsmen, alumni, and comrade-in-arms. (Comments: The term ‘unofficial associations” looks broader in scope than the one against forming “cliques” to split the Party, appeared in the previous rules.
  • They must not trade power for sex, or pay money for sex; must not have improper sexual relationships with others (Comment: The last mentioned widens the scope of ban in the old rules on “keeping paramours and conducting adultery”. As known already, certain high ranking cadres, for e.g Bo Xilai, were charged with the offences of adultery and moral degeneration and punished).
  • They must not infringe ordinary people’s rights to know about Party affairs.
  • They must allocate relief supplies impartially.
  • They must not approve projects that harm ordinary people’s interests.

The spirit of the new regulations subsequently echoed in a speech of President Xi Jinping published on October 14, 2015 which asked the writers and artists to adhere to party ideology. The speech [6] however was originally given by Xi one year back at the Beijing Forum on Literature and Art and it was comparable to Mao’s 1942 address to artists and intellectuals at the Yanan Forum on Literature and Art. Xi in his speech urged the artists and writers, including Nobel laureate for literature Mo Yan , to create artistically outstanding works which have socialist values, politically inspire and promote party ideology and patriotism, without carrying ‘’stench of money.” Mao, along with Lenin and Marx, are quoted in the speech. Mao’s calls for “revolution” are replaced by Xi’s emphasis on “rejuvenation” or “restoration.” Xi added that the arts need to serve the purpose of the restoration of Chinese culture as a global force able to hold its own with the rest of the world, particularly the United States. Xi acknowledged that the trend of globalization in the arts cannot be reversed, but asserted that, at least within China it can be managed and controlled.

It is worth noting that Mao Zedong’s talk at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art in 1942 marked the beginning of the Rectification Movement which lasted till 1944. The movement which targeted liberal and independent Chinese intellectuals resulted in the consolidation of Mao’s paramount role within the CCP, especially from 1942 to 1944, and the adoption of a party constitution that endorsed Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong thought. This move formalized Mao’s deviation from the Moscow party line and the importance of Mao’s major adaptations of communism to the conditions of China. The Rectification Campaign was successful in either convincing or coercing the other leaders of the CCP to support Mao. Is Xi following the footsteps of Mao? This appears so, as Xi is being seen as consolidating his leadership position through acting against those intellectuals affected by bourgeois liberalization ideas as the new regulations suggest and launching an anti-corruption campaign, a rectification drive of different kind, with an eye on removing his political opponents from power.

Significantly, the released version omitted[7] Xi’s praise during the 2014 speech of two Chinese young internet bloggers, Zhou Xiaoping and Hua Qianfang, for contributing essays with “positive energy.” (The former in particular is known for his anti-West blog entitled “Nine Knockout Blows in America’s Cold War against China). Why there was a delay of one year in publishing Xi’s speech is a question to which there is no clear answer yet. As far as the omission is concerned, it might be a media effort symbolizing intention, with sensitivity to China’s relations with the West, of not associating Xi openly with the anti-West bias of China’s writers like Zhou.

Fully backing the two new regulations on party discipline, has been Wang Qishan’s article[8] in the People’s Daily (October 23, 2015). It asked all party organizations and members to follow the regulations which “embody the spirit of” key Party meetings and comments of the CCP General Secretary and are crucial in ensuring Party strength. Stressing that the source of the party’s regulations against corruption were the morals and virtues passed down through history, it highlighted the citings by Xi in his important speeches of a great number of ancient texts and words from the classics; it pointed out that “Xi has stressed and lauded the fine traditional culture of the Chinese people in which morality and law are joined at the hip with a meaning for the new era. In traditional Chinese culture, rules are observed like rituals and everyone follows them. The article further said “that the party’s rules on fighting corruption problem and the ancient traditions have the same origin and that in setting and adjusting these rules, we must learn from the essence of traditional Chinese culture and move with the times in managing the party in accordance with new situations and new missions. The party is determined to enforce these rules to ensure they don’t just end up as something that hangs off the walls or it merely chatters about that the graft fight would never end. The CCP must be under no illusions about how serious the corruption problem is. The trials the party faces in being in power, reforming and opening up, the market economy and foreign environment are long term, complex and serious. Dangers of laziness, inability to properly act, remoteness from the people and passive corruption hang even more acutely in front of the party. If allowed to continue then it will weaken the party’s ability to govern and shake the party’s basis for governing”.

What Wang Qishan said about party discipline, were discussed in the last week of October 2015 by a senior anti-corruption official specifically in the context of State Owned Undertakings (SOEs) In a closed door speech[9], circulated on social media before censors deleted it, Xu Aisheng, Director of the CDIC revealed at a meeting of China Ocean Shipping (Cosco), the ideological fault lines beneath Mr Xi’s efforts to overhaul the state sector. He alleged that two executives Ma Zehua, Chairman of Cosco, and Xu Lirong, Chief of China Shipping, had lax political rectitude. Xu’s criticism illuminated the divide within China’s policymaking elite over embrace of state-sector reforms. A conservative faction sees strengthened party control over SOEs as the primary objective; market-orientated reformers, meanwhile, favour privatization and other measures to make state groups more profit-orientated and less subject to political meddling. Xu draws an explicit connection between corruption and mismanagement at China’s SOEs and the weakened influence of the CCP. He said that “the fundamental reason that such serious corruption problems appear at central enterprises is that their management and governance by party committees and party organizations has drifted towards laxity, drifted towards looseness, drifted towards softness.”
The Liberation Army Daily (October 27, 2015) alleged that “enemy forces in the West are trying to falsify the CCP’s history and China’s military and force a “colour revolution” on troops who are too susceptible to outside influences.

[1] Xi Jinping’s book (in Chinese ) on “ building the party and government and carrying out struggle against corruption”, published by the Central Discipline Inspection Commission Publicity Department in January 2015.

[2] People’s Daily (Chinese language edition), the CCP mouthpiece , carried a signed commentary on August 10, 2015, which alleged that “some retired leading cadres” , while they were in office, put their “cronies” in key positions, so that they can interfere in the work of their original organizations and wield influence in the future. A commentary entitled “Ferociousness of Forces Opposing Reforms can Exceed Imagination” which appeared in the Chinese language website ( ) made a point – “the reforms in China are at a critical stage and they are encountering great difficulties, affecting the interests of various groups. The scale of the resistance to reforms is unimaginable”.
[3] Cao Siqi, “CPC speaks on Party legitimacy for 1st time”, Global Times, September 14,2015,

[4] Original Chinese language text , 中国共产党廉洁自律准则,, 14 October 2015
[5] Original Chinese language text, 中国共产党纪律处分条例 ,
[6] Xinhua (Chinese), 习近平:在文艺工作座谈会上的讲话 , October 14,2015,

[7] Josh Rudolph, “Xi’s Arts Speech: Context and Cultural Implications”, China Digital Times , October 27, 2015 and “All websites find and delete the October 16,2014 Xinhua article on What Kind of People are the Internet Writers Xi Jinping Questioned?” and related content”,…

[9] 27, 2015 Gabriel wildau am


SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

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