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CCP Training School

Inside the CCP Training School

By Fraser Cameron, Director

10 May 2013

Think of a Chinese Communist Party re-education training school and the mind conjures a Mao-suited party official haranguing Party members sitting with blank faces. Wrong. On a recent lecture tour of China, I was invited to observe the closing session of a week-long training course for Party members who had been living and working overseas.

I had thought the meeting might be in an austere location in keeping with socialist traditions. To my surprise, it was held in a five star hotel in downtown Shanghai. The cuisine was worthy of a Michelin star.

The next surprise was the delegates. All in their 30s or 40s, they were smartly dressed in the latest fashions and would have slotted into a top New York or Paris restaurant without anyone batting an eyelid.

There was a doctor who had specialised in cancer research for over a decade in Boston; an IT specialist with her own companies in Melbourne and Shanghai; a human resource manager who had studied in the UK and now worked for a major German company; a fashion designer who had learned her trade in Milan; a physicist who had studied at the Max Planck Institute in Germany; and more in a similar vein.

What united them, apart from their Party membership, was that they were all successful in their chosen professions. It was this success that interested the Party. What had they learned from their time abroad that could be applied in China?

The animated discussions showed that they believed there was much room for change in China. Democracy and the limitations of the one party state were tackled head on. One suggested that there needed to be more political parties to combat corruption. Another asserted that a free media was even more important in exposing corruption. The media in China was banal and news programmes followed a set formula – one third on how much the Party elite were doing for the people, one third on how much the people appreciated the Party, and one third about how terrible things were in other countries. This approach was simply not credible. One complained that Facebook and YouTube were unobtainable in China. How could sharing holiday photos between friends be a threat to the state? Others argued for an extension of elections for local Party officials to cover regional and city Party officials.

Another lively topic was health care and social security. Many were following the debates in the United States and Europe with interest. How should the burden fall between the state and the citizen? Why should there be underhand payments to doctors? The environment was also a hot topic. The Party was criticised for recognising too late the damage to the environment in China. Delegates spoke in support of a green revolution and a green economy. Growth had to be sustainable otherwise China would choke to death. There was relief that the new leadership had grasped the importance of these issues and was starting to do something about them.

What was interesting, apart from the ideas put forward, was the clear desire of the Party officials leading the discussions to learn from experience in third countries. They asked probing question such as whether a social security system in a rich country such as France could work in China without bankrupting the country. They acknowledged the Party had been slow to comprehend the potential damage of climate change but now the government was taking decisive action. Green technology was a top priority. They also seemed to accept the inevitability of introducing more democracy in China but warned that it would have to be done in a controlled manner, otherwise the country might break apart. This would not be in anyone’s interest except ‘foreign powers.’

But there was also a defensive tone to their replies. They were working ‘solely for the good of the people’ and not ‘careerists out for personal gain.’ This had a hollow ring, especially when China Daily has been reporting the dismissal and even arrest of many Party officials for corruption.  

I asked one delegate whether this might have been a put-on display for a visiting Westerner. No, she replied, ‘I have been at two such re-training events and they were quite similar to this one.’

Emboldened by China’s remarkable economic growth and the recognition that China’s future is inextricably linked to the rest of the world, the Party seems to be making a genuine effort to understand how they might harness best practices in third countries. Capitalism may be on the retreat elsewhere but today’s China would certainly please Adam Smith. Mao, however, must be turning in his grave.