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China’s ruling party gears up to purge ‘black sheep,’ ‘two-faced people’ from ranks

Chinese President Xi Jinping. (Lan Hongguang/Xinhua/Sipa USA/TNS)
March 28, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

China’s ruling Communist Party has launched a nationwide disciplinary campaign that will inspect its 96 million members for loyalty to supreme leader Xi Jinping and weed out officials from positions of power who were put there by rival political factions.

The party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, charged with ensuring party members toe the line, has set up a “working group” to monitor the “education and rectification” of party officials at every level of government, according to a report on the agency’s website.

“Supervision and inspection are an inevitable requirement if we are to implement the spirit of general secretary Xi Jinping’s key speeches and instructions,” according to a communique from a March 22 video conference on the campaign, which will focus on “building political loyalty [and] eliminating black sheep.”

Chinese scholar Ren Chenbin said the move marks a fundamental shift in the purpose of the party’s disciplinary arm, from seeking out corruption to ensuring political loyalty.

“Dissenting political opinions have always been a serious problem for [the Chinese Communist Party],” Ren said. “Anyone with dissenting opinions or political opinions will be eliminated.”

“They constantly feel as if they are sitting atop a volcano, that there are guns pointing at their backs, and that there are people working to overthrow them,” he said. “They fear the loss of their political power more than anything.”

Fine-tooth comb

A current affairs commentator who gave only the surname Zhong for fear of reprisals said the working group will go through the ranks of party members and officials at provincial and city level with a fine-tooth comb.

“They still have more work to do, so they have repurposed the discipline inspection system to eliminate those people who are a legacy left by [past leaders],” Zhong said.

“There are still many cadres above the deputy ministerial level in a number of provinces and cities who have been left over from the previous dynasty,” he said, in a reference to Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao and his Youth League faction.

“They are going to carry out a total purge, so as to avoid future problems,” Zhong said.

The setting up of the working group comes amid a far-reaching institutional shake-up as Xi Jinping begins a third and indefinite term in office, concentrating executive power in the hands of Communist Party working groups rather than in the hands of ministers and other administrative officials.

Past ‘rectification’ campaigns

The Central Committee’s general office, which runs the party on a day-to-day basis, has also called on party members in all regions and departments to mobilize as part of a nationwide drive to “rectify” the party’s work, a phrase also used by late supreme leader Mao Zedong in the 1940s and 1950s to launch a series of purges within party ranks.

Mao used “rectification” campaigns starting when the Communist Party was still fighting a civil war against the Kuomintang government of Chiang Kai-shek from its base in Yanan to correct “deviations” in party ideology.

Under Xi, the move will likely herald a mass intelligence-gathering drive followed by purges of members unwise enough to voice discontent with the current political line, according to political commentators.

Party officials have been setting the tone for the purges in speeches since the beginning of the year, with Politburo standing committee member Li Xi announcing on Feb. 24 that “rectification and education” of party members would be a key political task for the party’s disciplinary agency.

Li also called for “two-faced people” and “black sheep” to be eliminated from party ranks, saying that the “sword that punishes evil and promotes good should never sleep.”