Party school

Training for the next generation

Party school

82 year-old Wu Renbao knows a thing or two about commercial success, even if he is careful not to crow about it.

The retired party secretary of a middling-sized village in Jiangsu province is in demand as a tutor to local businessmen, reports the 21 CN Business Herald in a recent interview.

Wu professes to be unsure quite why that might be. His experience does not extend much beyond time spent in “arduous pioneering and thriftily running enterprises,” he says.

What Wu neglects to mention is that he ran Huaxi – and it is commonly regarded as the richest village in China (see WiC27).

Wu is a guest lecturer at Jiangsu province’s “party school”.

What, you may well ask, is a party school? Such institutions date back to the founding of modern China in 1949. Their role was to make sure the bureaucratic elite – i.e. Communist Party cadres – ticked all the right boxes in ideological terms.

Time spent studying at the schools would make sure that few were ever tempted to become rightists, splittists, running dogs or inadvertent exponents of petty bourgeois individualism.

Times have changed, and so has the party. Likewise the party’s network of schools, which are no longer just for cadres. Businessmen can go too, and in Jiangsu they are being actively encouraged to do so, in order to learn from the experiences of party members.

The courses have been updated, mind you. The Jiangsu campus is now focusing on management and entrepreneurship training for its businessmen students. Wu is the star lecturer.

The party school’s move into MBA-land has its critics. Wu’s success in business is hardly the norm. What can the average bureacrat teach business people about entrepreneurship?

Not much, says the Yangtze Daily. It thinks time spent at the party school is more a networking opportunity – where officials and businessmen can get to better know each other (and perhaps better scratch backs at a later date). This is especially so where so-called “second generation” entrepreneurs are concerned. Many of this group are the sons and daughters of party secretaries and have studied overseas. They have since entered the business world.

But Xinhua worries that this “second generation” may not turn out quite like their fathers, who were much more rooted in their responsibilities to their communities and the party. “Persistence and a sense of social responsibility are exactly what our younger generation lacks,” confirms a spokesman from the party’s Provincial Organisation Department.

It points out that time at the party school is intended to rectify such shortcomings, with a curriculum that highlights the Communist Party’s pioneering spirit, its vision and sense of moral purpose.

Not the most electrifying course material. But the businessmen still seem keen enough to attend. 85% of those offered the opportunity in Jiangsu jumped at the chance, reports Xinhua.

Indeed, the spokesman from the Organisation Department is even forecasting that some of the attendees could end up as deputies in the National Peoples Congress as “the backbone of society”.

Clearly, capitalist-roaders are no longer on the black list. In fact, businessmen have been allowed to join the Communist Party since 2001. A year later Jiang Zemin made the cultivation of “advanced social productive forces” (for which, read capitalists) a key party objective.

This has been a disciplined moving with the times, says Minxin Pei at the Carnegie Endowment. In 1978, workers and peasants made up 66% of party membership. But by 2005 this was down to 29%, with 23% of party ranks now classed as “professional”.

Mao once wrote that ‘revolution is not a dinner party’. But perhaps it is becoming a rather middle-class experience, after all.

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