Chinese Communist Officials Rewarded for Loyalty, Not for Competence or Boldness

(p. A1) The Chinese people are getting a rare glimpse of how China’s giant, opaque bureaucratic system works — or, rather, how it fails to work. Too many of its officials have become political apparatchiks, fearful of making decisions that anger their superiors and too removed and haughty when dealing with the public to admit mistakes and learn from them.

“The most important issue this outbreak exposed is the local government’s lack of action and fear of action,” said Xu Kaizhen, a best-selling author who is famous for his novels that explore the intricate workings of China’s bureaucratic politics.

“Under the high-pressure environment of an anticorruption campaign, most people, including senior government officials, only care about self-preservation,” Mr. Xu said. “They don’t want to be the first to speak up. They wait for their superiors to make decisions and are only accountable to their superiors instead of the people.”

The Chinese government appears to be aware of the problem. The Communist Party’s top leadership acknowledged in a meeting on Monday [February 3, 2020] that the (p. A9) epidemic was “a major test of China’s system and capacity for governance.”

. . .

Chinese officials are spending as much as one-third of their time on political studying sessions, a lot of which are about Mr. Xi’s speeches. Political loyalty weighs much more in performance evaluations than before. Now the rule of thumb in Chinese officialdom seems to be demonstrating loyalty as explicitly as possible, keeping everything else vague and evading responsibility at all costs when things go wrong.

. . .

On social media, low-level cadres are complaining that they are receiving so many instructions from the higher-ups that they spend most of their time filling out spreadsheets instead of getting real work done. In a social media post headlined “The Formalism Under the Mask,” the author wrote, “Most people in the system don’t do things to solve problems. They do things to solve responsibilities.”

For the full story, see:

Li Yuan. “In China, Virus Spurred Rush of Blame Shifting.” The New York Times (Wednesday, February 5, 2020): A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Feb. 14 [sic], 2020, and has the title “Coronavirus Crisis Shows China’s Governance Failure.”)

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