“Chinese lessons in leadership”

Another part of Melissa Chan’s series on Al Jazeera Blogs, this time about the Beijing Communist Party School, where cadres receive their training:

There are 80 million members of the Communist Party and more than half of them work in the government in some way – whether directly in a ministry or in a state-owned corporation. Training them in management and administration requires what is probably the biggest human resources department in the world: the Communist Party School system, with some 2,000 satellite campuses.

We were taken to a seminar on Marx’s Das Kapital. I wondered how the professor would fit the current Chinese market economy with Chairman Mao’s vision. The Party has changed from its 1949 revolutionary roots. Karl Marx would not have recognized modern China as any proletarian state.

Five minutes in, and Professor Liu Changlong was up there flatly dismissing the old textbooks and saying there was nothing wrong with capitalism to a room of middle-aged cadres.

Liu didn’t exactly fawn over the new economic model, either. He went on to mull over private ownership and the unproductive way, as he saw it, wealthy people were getting wealthier, noting the growing income gap in the country. He openly mused about the motivations of citizens willing to work as officials, and pointed out that one’s ability to govern does not necessarily translate to any accompanying sense of ethics or morality.

It was a jab right at the officials sitting before him. He moved on glibly to discuss corruption. I was somewhat stunned.

“We have to talk about and analyze sensitive issues,” Liu said. “The academic and teaching environment here is very relaxed. There are no limitations to what can and cannot be discussed.”

The Party School is an open forum, Liu went on to explain, because it has to be. Officials can’t afford to avoid problems that could directly threaten their governance. The Propaganda Department may present news to the public, selecting facts and fabrication for inclusion. But on the closed campus of the Party School, officials must consider the real issues of income inequality, protests, and what direction the country should be headed, both politically and economically.

Participants in the classroom came from all walks of the party: a professor at a university, someone from the education bureau, a doctor at the medical college, a museum curator, a judge, and the chief engineer of a state-owned construction company.

Some of them were staying on campus. They had a schedule: from morning exercises in the courtyard to meals in the dining hall at night.

It is a great opportunity for cadres from different ministries and departments to network, and the development of friendships from time spent on campus probably equal the utility of studying Marx. For some party officials, attendance is a prelude to promotion, depending on the ministry or department.

Plenty of my old students would have loved to have real discussions in their political classes on these subjects- too bad the standard issue political classes in China are completely worthless.

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