Sunday, August 06, 2006

Ideological Campaigns and the Creation of a "Higher Law" in China: "Ba rong, ba chi" or the "eight honors, eight disgraces"

This past March, the President of the People’s Republic of China, Hu Jintao, announced the commencement of a new ideological campaign, "Ba rong, ba chi" or the "eight honors, eight disgraces." As reported by Liu Dan in an article published to a PRC web site (New moral yardstick: "8 honors, 8 disgraces," April 5, 2006, Xinhua), ba rong, ba chi is meant to become “the new moral yardstick to measure the work, conduct and attitude of Communist Party officials.” Id. As translated on this web site, the eight honors and eight disgraces is meant to reflect the Mandarin original that was written to read “like rhyming couplets and sounds almost poetic.” Id. Rendered in English, ba rong, ba chi provides

-- Love the country; do it no harm.
-- Serve the people; do no disservice.
-- Follow science; discard ignorance.
-- Be diligent; not indolent.
-- Be united, help each other; make no gains at other's expense.
-- Be honest and trustworthy; do not spend ethics for profits.
-- Be disciplined and law-abiding; not chaotic and lawless.
-- Live plainly, struggle hard; do not wallow in luxuries and pleasures.

Id. Beyond the poetry, of course, is a clear effort to associate ba rong ba chi with good fortune. It was not for nothing that there are eight honors. Eight has been traditionally associated with good fortune. Four, on the other hand, is a number traditionally associated with death or bad luck.

Ba rong, ba chi is aimed at corruption within the Chinese Communist Party. The web site report of ba rong, ba chi states that

“The Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee has decided to use the list of do's and don't's as an important assessment tool in order to select clean, diligent and capable officials for important posts. . . . The CPC will ask all its officials and members to reflect on the pairs of eight opposing values and hope it will refresh the atmosphere in official circles and have a positive influence on all citizens.”

Id. The basis of this anti-corruption campaign is grounded in the construction of a clerar moral system elaborated from the basic principles of Marxism Leninism on which the Chinese political system is grounded. Indeed, Hu Jintao described ba rong ba chi as socialist morality.

In this sense, ba rong, ba chi provides a further elaboration of the now constitutionalized “sange daibiao” or Three Represents campaign. Indeed, ba rong, ba chi should not be read in a vacuum; it reveals its importance only in the context of the CCP’s efforts to flesh out the sange daibiao (Three Represents) principles announced in 2000 as “the nucleus of Jiang Zemin Theory. The theory focuses on the future role of the CCP as "a faithful representative of the requirements in the development of advanced productive forces in China, the orientation of the advanced culture in China, and the fundamental interests of the broadest masses of the people in China” (Landsberger, Stephen, 2006. Jiang Zemin (Three Represents) Theory. In Stefan Landsberger's Chinese Propaganda Poster Pages. ).

Sange Daibiao provides an ideological basis, a deep constitutional foundation, for the position of the CCP at the center of the institutional apparatus of the Chinese state. But it does more than that—it also provides the basis through which the rule of law, as a framework for the proper relationship between state institutions (representing the collective) and the individual (as an instrument of that collective). As developed by the organs of the CCP, it is clear that Sange Daibiao might provide the principles through which the framework of commonly understood rule of law constitutionalism can be adopted with Chinese characteristics.

Ba rong, ba chi is important for sange daibiao as a targeted elaboration of the theory. It joins the earlier “Two Musts” campaign (the CCP must keep a humble attitude and must keep a hardworking spirit), and the Fish-Water connection between CCP cadres and the masses, as part of the current leadership’s attempt to provide a thick set of principles for the institutionalization of governing principles for the Communist Party in a rapidly changing China. Taken together, these ideological campaigns can have positive effect by providing CCP leadership with a system of principles necessary for neutral application of rules to all members of the Communist Party as the leading political force in the state. Should this actually occur, the CCP could bolster its legitimacy within a rule of law framework. I have written about this before (Larry Catá Backer, Chinese Constitutionalism, Sange Daibiao (the “Three Represents”), and the Rule of Law, Law at the End of the Day, May 16, 2006).

But Chinese ideological campaigns have a very bad reputation among sinologists outside of China. Fairly typically, Marie Holzman reminded her readers as early as 2001, of the historical context in which ideological campaigns were used and perhaps misused by generations of leadership in China (Marie Holzman, Vicious Patterns: The Chinese Regime’s Use of Repression and the Evolution of its Tagets, January 22, 2001). Within China, and among the overseas Chinese community, the attitude is more one of derision. The successive waves of ideological campaigns are mocked (the fate of ba rong ba chi, it seems) and criticized as incomprehensible (the consensus about sange daibiao). For some, ba rong, ba chi is better understood in the context of the run up to the 2008 Olympics and the CCP’s drive to control political expression (Rowan Callick, Great Firewall of China, “The Australian”).

Despite the criticisms, ba rong ba chi, within the complex of foundational principles announced by the CCP leadership since the institutionalization of the sange daibiao in the constitutions of the PRC and the CCP, presents China with substantial constitutional opportunity, along with great risk.

1. Sange Diabiao provides that the CCP is the “faithful representative of the requirements in the development of advanced productive forces in China, the orientation of the advanced culture in China, and the fundamental interests of the broadest masses of the people in China.” These foundational relationships can remain legitimated only as long as CCP cadres advance the interests of the Chinese people rather than those of more narrow classes of people—themselves, their families, their cronies, etc. Anti-corruption thus lies at the heart of sange daibiao.

2. Ba rong ba chi provides a basis for fleshing out the meaning of avoidance of corruption in a way that might have meaning for CCP cadres. Its principles can serve as a basis for predictable, consistent and fair application to the behavior of CCP cadres and in that way begin to establish a pattern of consistent discipline. That pattern can then serve as a basis for behavior norm expectations beyond the power of any individual to bend without at least the threat of consequence. In a sense, then, ba rong ba chi can contribute to the rise of a rule of law society in China by helping to institutionalize rule based discipline within the CCP itself. If the CCP can govern itself by rules rather than through individual will, then the CCP can stand as a legitimate institution for the rule based governance of the state.

3. If ba rong ba chi remains an individual effort among CCP cadres, if the CCP fails to institutionalize the principles of ba rong, ba chi, and provide a fair and consistently applied system for its implementation throughout the CCP apparatus, then it will have failed. It will remain a tool of individual will and effort. It will provide the people with no assurance that it will mean something other than an indivudual cadre with power says it means. In this sense ba rong ba chi can augment rather than diminish corruption.

4. If ba rong, ba chi is treated as an isolated set of individual behavior governing principles, it will fail. Ba rong ba chi must govern the behavior of institutions as well as individuals. The bad behavior of provincial party cadres targeted in part by this campaign cannot be successfully overcome unless the institutional bad behavior of local party institutions is also overcome. But this requires both a recognition that corruption can be institutional as well as individual, and a commitment to create the sort of institutional response capable of modifying bad institutional behavior. The CCP has the capability, and it now appears to have the principles, to increase its success. But it needs to ensure that any such success can outlive the individuals whose efforts have driven the campaign to date. That is the essence of the difference between rule by individual and rule by law.

5. If ba rong ba chi stands alone as a principle of governance, it will also fail. Interpreting ba rong ba chi is impossible outside the context of sange daibiao. And that context requires consideration of a number of other principles already mentions (the Two Musts, etc.). Each modifies the other.

6. The price of failure is great. The CCP has now committed itself publicly, before its own people and to the international community, that it has embraced certain governance principles. These principles are meant to provide a certainty, predictability and fairness to the relationships between the state and its citizens, and among those with a responsibility for political governance and others. Ba rong ba chi as empty vessels will do little to enhance the legitimacy of the CCP and its control of the state apparatus in China. Having committed to sange daibiao and its supporting principles, the CCP has committed itself to a course of action that can substantially weaken its position as the leading progressive force in the state if it fails to make good on the promises implied by systems of moral principles, like those of ba rong ba chi, and now constitutional principles like sange daibiao.

7. The price of failure is even greater in China than in systems where the state apparatus embraces merely political principles. Ba rong ba chi evidences an intention to cloth governance legitimacy not in political but in moral principles. Where political systems stake their legitimacy on moral principles the stakes can be great indeed. The Americans learned this at the cost a great civil war in the context of ideological campaigns revolving around the issue of slavery. Theocratic states like Iran face the same risks if a moral basis of political legitimacy is perceived as corrupted. If the CCP is to be a source of moral as well as political legitimacy, the institutional basis for implementing those systems must eventually be in place.

8. Ba rong ba chi, in any case, evidences the deep commitment of the CCP to the course charted by sange daibiao. It will be interesting to see if the promise of these principles can be realized and the nature of the CCP state relationship that will emerge from the proper application of these principles.

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