In the huge hall, the teacher begins class. Behind him, from a movie-sized screen, an image of Chinese President Xi Jinping looks benevolently at the students. Along with him, one of his quotes urges you to study hard the history of the Communist Party of China (CCP) and to apply its lessons for the future. Protected by masks, 40 students, almost all middle-aged males, listen in silence, mostly dressed in the zip-up jackets and dark colors common among party officials.
The Chinese Academy of Executive Leadership in Jinggangshan, in southeastern China, is not just any school. Established in the mountains where the CCP founded its first revolutionary base a century ago, it is one of about 3,000 training centers for the Communist Party. Spread throughout the Chinese territory, in them the leaders and members of the party receive ideological updates and training on how to exercise their positions. For officials who aspire to a promotion, passing through one of these institutions for a period of three to six months is mandatory. Others attend refresher courses lasting a week or ten days.
Through the classrooms of Jinggangshan, in idyllic terrain surrounded by forests and wild azaleas, up to 12,000 students pass each year: civil servants, military personnel, businessmen or university students. An engraving as high as the wall, at the entrance, lists the beginnings of the game in large characters. "Seeking the truth from the facts" is the first. Through the corridors of one of its three blocks, a digital screen marks the time while it shows sayings of Xi Jinping. Teachers and managers of the center also quote the leader profusely.
This year when the CCP – China's most powerful and ubiquitous institution – celebrates its centenary, the role of the party's schools as a greasing machine for the ideological correctness of its militants has taken on special importance. It is essential that the 92 million official communists are perfectly aligned with the theses of the formation. No "historical nihilism," as the CCP characterizes the tendency to focus on the more negative aspects of its past. Xi has launched a campaign for party members to study the history of the formation to "better cope with all kinds of foreseeable or unpredictable risks and challenges on the road ahead."
On a press visit organized by the Chinese authorities, Professor Cheng Shengma's lesson in Jinggangshan today while his students diligently take notes is – of course – history. The academic does not stop mentioning the words of Xi when explaining the battles of the first years of that first revolutionary base, "where it all began, the cradle of the revolution, the foundation of the Chinese nation."
Zhou Shaoxin, a 49-year-old official at the Central Bank of China and a member of the party for 12 years, is one of those students and says that this type of course is very useful for her. “I feel purified. Here we can better capture the true revolutionary spirit, and apply it in our daily lives, ”he says with an enthusiastic gesture. The "spirit of Jinggangshan", a phrase that academy officials repeat over and over again, implies "being firm in your convictions, sticking to them" in the face of difficulties.
In addition to party history, his specialty, the Jinggangshan Academy also teaches other subjects, including Marxism and Xi Jinping's thought, along with more management-related issues such as emergency response. This year the teachings of the Fifth Plenary Session of the Central Committee of the party and the 14th Five-Year Plan, approved last month, have been incorporated into the agenda.
The goal, says its director, Mei Liming, is "to increase the competence and quality of leadership" of the members of the formation. A good communist, an ideal leader, must demonstrate "loyalty," he emphasizes, "honesty, clean behavior, and responsibility."
There is no shortage of volunteers for the CCP, which describes itself as "the largest communist formation in the world." Although the number of applications has fallen, in December 2019 – the latest data available – the number of members was 91.91 million, an increase of 1.32 million compared to the previous year and that means that 6.5% of the population of China is militant training. 19 million membership applications were submitted, of which approximately nine million were approved.
In part, the drop in the number of applications is due to an attempt, since Xi's rise to power in 2012, to increase that "competence and quality of leadership" through stricter admission requirements. The entrance of university students is favored, while the representation of peasants and workers falls, which originally formed its backbone: they represent 34.8% of militants, compared to 50.7% of members with a higher degree . Women are under-represented: they barely make up 27%, and there is only one woman, Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chunlan, among the 25 members of the Politburo, the second level of command of the CCP. There are none on the Standing Committee, the first level.
A long process of years
Joining the party is a process that goes on for years. It begins with a written request to the local branch of the party. To it will be added later a Curriculum vitae and data on the applicant's family and contacts, as well as on the political background of his parents. If the request is accepted, the candidate will have to undergo a year of training, supervised by two full members, in which he will have to write every three months essays on the principles of the CCP and the latest political events. Eight colleagues, acquaintances or neighbors will have to attest to the suitability of their character.
If all goes well, then the official acceptance arrives. Two party members, usually supervisors, must endorse it. A member of a higher hierarchical level will examine the application, within a period ranging from three to six months, and will submit the applicant for an interview. If you pass it, you will become a provisional member. Only one year later he will be appointed a definitive member.
Success may require several attempts. Yao, a student at the Jinggangshan Academy, was admitted at age 37 and admits that "it is not easy to get there." The best example? Xi himself. He himself, according to legend, needed to repeat his request 10 times.