Communist party leader Xi Jinping's softer look
Communist party leader Xi Jinping's softer look
Yan Yong

-Essay-

BEIJING - Lately there seems to be a refreshing breeze blowing through China, which might even change the very essence of our “national conditions.”

What are these Chinese “national conditions” anyway? They are many things – each uniquely Chinese. For instance, our tradition of “official-orientated consciousness.”

We are accustomed to seeing large crowds at officials’ outings. The officials are always under umbrellas and sunshades, which are held for them in the rain or in the sun. They enjoy such status of power and responsibility that they have to be meticulously taken care of.

It is according to this precept that the Ningbo airport had to change its schedule recently, so that a plane carrying a “heavyweight” official could be the first in line for takeoff. And for the funeral procession of a Communist Party secretary in the eastern province of Anhui, there were road traffic restrictions to make sure that there was absolute order.

However, there are certain signs that the newly elected Politburo Standing Committee (the top leadership of China’s Communist Party) wants to change this. Taking a much more informal approach at a press conference, newly anointed party leader Xi Jinping started off by saying, “Sorry to have kept you waiting, friends of the press.”

Meanwhile, Li Keqiang, the First Vice-Premier, has decided that from now on during meeting, speakers would not be allowed to read from a script – a move to stem endless speeches. Wang Qishan, another Vice-Premier, prevented participants at a meeting from calling him “Respectable Secretary Wang.”

Elected only just over half a month ago, the new members of the Politburo Standing Committee have been repeatedly advocating a refreshing wind of change for officials.

On Dec. 4, the Central Bureau (a group of 25 people who administer the Communist Party of China) adopted eight measures to improve official work by reducing bureaucracy and extravagance. Among the measures, for instance: less traffic restrictions, shorter meetings and briefings, and simpler official receptions.

Though these seem like unimportant changes, they are a huge step for Chinese officials. All these new provisions are challenging the standing ideology of “official-oriented consciousness.”

That the traffic has to be controlled out of the necessity of courtesy and security on special occasions such as visits of heads of state is understandable. But to do it when officials are making trips stems from the idea that officials are more important than ordinary people and that their time is more precious than the public’s.

Less ostentation, less extravagance

However, the rights of an elected official are conferred by the people who elected them to fulfill specific duties. They shouldn’t have privileges. This is common sense. The fact that the new Central Bureau has had to implement provisions to tell officials how to behave should have been done a lot earlier.

In any case, the Chinese government’s will to put an end to official privileges nevertheless merits praise. This reform will certainly benefit the population. No traffic restrictions and no elaborate welcoming ceremonies will reduce the meaningless waste of labor. Less lavish receptions and more efficient meetings and conferences will save money. Not having a script to read from will force our officials to think harder. Less flattery and praise will give them more time to devote to useful endeavors.

What’s more important is that we need to build on this foundation to change our attitude – so that officials and people are treated equally, and that we put an end to feudal rule. This would be a good thing for the ruling party and the people, but also our country.

We sincerely hope that these provisions are going to last and that that they can be extended to the whole country – not just as a well meaning code of conduct but actually implemented and supervised.

Even though local officials have more contact with ordinary people – because they are far away from the power center and the spotlight – they actually need even more regulation and supervision.

A politician’s charisma is not derived from pomp and ostentation. Officials who feel the need to show their status by using privilege are in reality the weaker ones. It’s by making a real contribution to the public and the country that the government and elected officials earn the admiration and recognition of the public. People love hard-working and sincere officials with temperament and charisma. They can tolerate an official’s mistakes, but won’t forgive vain conceit. As Xi Jinping put it, "Empty talk harms the country, hard work prospers the nation."

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