As disgraced rail minister Liu Zhijun awaits his verdict—after having been found in a recent trial to have accepted bribes of at least $10.5 million, accumulated at least 374 houses, and pursued improper sexual relationships with dozens of young women over the course of his career—state mouthpieces in China are attempting to brighten the public mood about the Communist Party’s cadres corps. A series of cheery news columns and television programs have been rolled out, extolling the “beauty” of salt-of-the-earth communist cadres.
A “legendary” female official Li Han, 49, for example, was recently highlighted in the state-run paper Worker’s Daily. Li reportedly went door to door to lend money to villagers and give them farming advice.
Xinhua, the official mouthpiece of the central government, embellished its series of four columns with accounts of other cadres worthy of emulation, with titles including, “Model Cadres in Every City,” and “the Loveliest Village Cadres.”
Joining the mass propaganda undertaking, China’s Central Television Station (CCTV) premiered a reality show on June 13 called “Search for the Most Beautiful Village Cadre” where the ten best grassroots communist workers will be selected from 320 others and judged by a committee in the final round.
The flurry of propaganda comes some months after Party leader Xi Jinping launched what he calls a campaign to crack down on corruption among Party officials. Despite the fact that there have been notable closures of high-end restaurants that regularly served these officials, and a range of other measures against ostentatious consumption, scandals have continued to roil the Party, and the reputation of officials has never been worse.
Li Xuehui, a Beijing netizen, attacked the recent laudatory reports. “The officials are always saying good words in public while committing evil deeds behind the scenes. How can they expect citizens to praise them?”
The former rail minister Liu for example, is thought to have used his influence to help associates win promotions, and had underlings arrange for him to engage in trysts with twenty of the actresses that featured a soap-opera adaptation of “Dream of the Red Chamber,” a famous Chinese novel from the Qing dynasty.
“Whether people say you are good or not isn’t important,” Li, the netizen, said. “More importantly, you should know to how to behave.”
The program “Search for the Most Beautiful Village Cadre” was created to “fulfill the spirit of the 18th Party Congress and demonstrate the virtues of Party officials”, according to the station’s website.
Contestants will be judged on five criteria: meeting the common standard of morality, not being corrupt, improving the environment, being innovative, and finally, following the current communist social-economic ideology.
The People’s Daily, a state-run mouthpiece, published three articles in a row in late February, praising village cadres for being “the foundation that supports the entire regime and determines civilian prosperity.”
Village cadres, the lowest level in the party system, have historically been used as role models for Chinese citizens. One of their many functions during the Mao Zedong era was to hold newspaper readings for the large illiterate masses of villagers, to ensure they were properly inculcated with communist ideology and the Communist Party’s latest policies. The Party would then praise these cadres in propaganda.
Local level officials, however, often have among the worst reputations for corruption and abuse of power. The 2006 non-fiction work “An Investigation of Chinese Peasants,” which was banned in China, gives the vivid examples of two village chiefs who send thugs to kill peasants who attempted to audit the village finance books. In both cases the murders went unpunished.
Corruption also pervades officials in the provinces, between the center and the localities. Huang Kangsheng, an official from Guangdong Province, was discovered to have led 50 delegates from the National People’s Congress on a state-funded trip to Thailand involving gambling and sex shows in June of last year.
The constant drumbeat of cases of that nature have caused broad swathes of the Chinese public to view the Party with mistrust and contempt. Given that many events are covered up and information is heavily monitored and censored, many instinctively assume the worst—and officials as a class are widely assumed to be corrupt.
Zhu Jianguo, an independent writer in China, argued that despite the Party’s efforts to improve the image of the officials through propaganda, corruption for the CCP is “an incurable disease.”