Life of the Party; with a Glitzy New Cadre School and a 'Rejuvenation' Campaign, the Chinese Communist Party Is Scrambling to Remain Relevant in a Fast-Changing Society
Byline: Melinda Liu and Jonathan Ansfield (With Craig Simons in Beijing and Duncan Hewitt in Shanghai)
At first, the place looks like an American business school. The new China Executive Leadership Academy dominates a manicured campus covering 40 hectares of Shanghai's Pudong district. The massive chrome-and-mirrored-glass buildings are accented by architectural features in bright red. The color is appropriate: CELAP is actually a training center for the best and brightest cadres of the Chinese Communist Party. In a country where party elders traditionally run the show, the average age of CELAP's 128 instructors is a mere 34 years. "The central government wants us to be creative, to get away from routine. So we choose young teachers instead of famous names who might have fixed ideas that are hard to change," says Prof. Xi Jieren, executive vice president of the academy. And here--especially here--what the party says, goes. "Our first graduates were easy to control," says Xi, beaming. "When teachers told them to line up, they lined up."
The Chinese Communist Party is scrambling to remain relevant--and dominant--in a society that's liberalizing and commercializing at warp speed. Forget about Mao Zedong's "Little Red Book." Today, cadres study everything from B-school case studies to speeches by former British "new left" imagemeister and current EU Trade czar Peter Mandelson to policy books from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. In February, the party launched an 18-month rectification campaign to "stay advanced" in a fast-changing world--and to retain tight control over its 68 million members. In addition to Shanghai, the CCP recently opened national-party schools in Jinggangshan and Yanan--the cities where Mao's historic Long March began and ended, respectively. What's more, the party is actively wooing many "society" (nonparty) individuals--especially promising private-sector executives--with, among other things, refresher courses for M.B.A. s. "No matter whether you're in government or business, you need leadership qualities," says Xi.
That should be a statement of the obvious. But in the topsy-turvy world of contemporary Chinese politics, governance has too often taken a back seat to ideology, connections, factionalism and class background--often with tragic results, such as the chaotic 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution. It wasn't until Deng Xiaoping started reforming China's moribund, centrally planned economy in 1979 that comrades who were "expert," meaning professionally competent, were considered on par with those who were "Red," or ideologically correct. The mainland's unique--and uniquely successful--hybrid Leninist-market system is still euphemistically called "socialism with Chinese characteristics." Only in 2001 did the CCP publicly endorse the induction of private entrepreneurs into its ranks.
Now the party seems determined not simply to control China Inc., but to become it. That means the party--which used to execute landlords and persecute former capitalists--is now training private-sector business executives who are contributing significantly to China's economic boom. (In Shanghai, privately run firms comprise 70 percent of all businesses and in 2004 accounted for nearly 40 percent of the city's $90 billion GDP.) The party is concentrating on corporate leadership in part to combat corruption. At the Jiangsu Far East Group, one of China's top electrical-cable manufacturers, 42-year-old CEO Jiang Xipei says the current drive is crucial if the party is to thin its ranks of crooked, profligate and selfish apparatchiks. "They've hurt our party's image and made ordinary people very angry," says Jiang, who was among the first group of private entrepreneurs invited to attend the 2002 Party Congress.
The past two decades of sizzling economic growth should not obscure the fact that the Communist Party remains an opaque, hidebound, Leninist-style hierarchy. Party always trumps government. …