Beijing summons thousands of county-level officials to learn the art of ruling

By Liang Chen Source:Global Times Published: 2015-1-26 19:53:01

County Party secretaries possess a wide range of powers in their jurisdiction. If they abuse their authority, it can do great harm. To consolidate its governing base, the CPC plans to train over 2,800 county chiefs from 27 provinces and autonomous regions within three years, each for two months, from 2015 to 2017. The first batch of around 200 county chiefs already completed their study. This is not the first time for the CPC to conduct such training. However, observers said the CPC has been attaching increasing importance to grass-roots officials who make up the future talent pool of the country's leaders. The General Secretary of CPC Central Committee Xi Jinping, once a county chief himself, also hosted a three-hour seminar with the first batch of county chiefs.

Xi Jinping, General Secretary of CPC Central Committee, hosts a seminar with county Party chiefs at the Central Party School in Beijing on January 12. Photo: Xinhua

Fang Zhiyong is still thrilled about his meeting with General Secretary of CPC Central Committee Xi Jinping during a seminar with 200-odd county Party chiefs held in Beijing.

Fang, Party secretary of Shuangqiao district, Chengde, North China's Hebei Province, participated in a two-month training class for county Party secretaries in the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (Central Party School), from November 14 last year to January 15.

He was notified someone big would hold a seminar with the county chiefs.

On January 12, Xi Jinping attended the seminar and made a one-hour long keynote speech after taking a group picture with the county Party chiefs. In the picture, Fang stood near to Xi.

Fang was excited. "In the seminar, General Secretary Xi talked a lot about the importance of county Party chiefs, and required us to be self-disciplined and serve the people wholeheartedly," Fang told the Global Times.

"It was a great encouragement."

At the seminar, Xi, who used to be a county chief in Zhengding county, Hebei Province, also stressed the anti-corruption campaign.

The seminar had a warm atmosphere, and Xi prolonged it from two to three hours, Fang recalled.

This was the first time the General Secretary of the Party has hosted a seminar to inspire the county-level officials. Previously, the General Secretary merely addressed at the opening ceremony or the graduation ceremony.

China has more than 2,800 counties or county-level administrative regions. Counties play an important role in connecting ordinary people to the upper reaches of the Party and the government.

The CPC says that counties are fundamental to the stability of the country. County chiefs' capability and loyalty to the CPC matters greatly.

Because of this, the CPC plans to train over 2,800 county chiefs within three years, from 2015 to 2017.

Fang, along with about 200 county chiefs, was among the first-batch of officials to be trained in Beijing.

Observers said Xi's attendance showed the central government attaches increasing  importance to the counties, the nations's governing foundation and represents the central government's resolution to consolidate its governing base.

"The CPC has attached increasing importance to the development of the rural areas and the small- and medium-sized cities. Counties have become a major economic growth engine, so the role of the county-level governance is rising," Mao Shoulong, a professor at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times.

Local upheaval

Previously, the county-level officials seldom had opportunities to contact with the central government officials, but now the CPC requires the county Party chiefs to unify their thinking with the central government through launching a nationwide training.

Before 2008, county-level chiefs were trained in provincial Party schools instead of the Central Party School.

In 2009, the central government issued a regulation requiring the Central Party School to take charge of the training on county Party chiefs, for the first time.

The plan to train over 2,000 county chiefs was devised after the 18th CPC National Congress held in November 2012.

As planned, the first batch of the county chiefs came from 27 provinces and autonomous regions, including Yunnan, Anhui, Jiangsu and other regions.

Fang Zhiyong was notified he would attend the training in early October in 2014. The opening ceremony of the training class kicked off on November 14.

Each training class lasts two months, compared with the previous one-or-two week training in 2008 and 2010, Xinhua reported.

County chiefs take courses on topics, such as theory,  the Party's  spirit education, innovation and development and leadership.

Innovation and development occupied the biggest portion of the lessons, including 10 courses such as governing the nation according to the "rule of law", and the failure of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, according to Southern Weekly.

How to handle emergency situations was also included in the leadership courses.

Fang Zhiyong said he was particularly impressed by the lessons on "informatization." The lesson, given by the bureau chief of the leading group on national informatization, roughly introduced the strategies and techniques to cleverly use the Internet in government affairs, as well as instruction on new media.

Teachers were Party school professors, high-level officials, foreign leaders, and scholars. One minister-level official would give one lesson every Friday. Students were not allowed to record the talk or take notes due to the confidentiality of the content, according to Fang.

Participants said the CPC aims at helping the county-level chiefs shape the overall thinking on the governance.

"We work at the grass-roots level, and are familiar with the grass-roots issues. However, we have weak points when it comes to the understanding of the nation's guidelines and policies on a macro level. Taking the courses can make up for the imperfections," Xu Mingze, Party secretary of Gongshu district, Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province, said at the seminar.

Strict control discipline

The Party school adopted a closed management. County chiefs were required to live in the dormitories of the Party school.

They usually took half-day classes, from 8:30 to 11:30 am. Diversified seminars and lectures were held irregularly in the afternoon.

The Party school has a reputation for high standards of discipline. Students were required to sign in at each class.

As part of the anti-corruption endeavor, the Organization Department of the CPC emphasized the discipline of the officials and issued regulations in March 2013. County chiefs are not allowed to offer gifts or invite each other for meals during study.

The Organization Department dispatched a liaison officer to record the performances of the students. The Central Party School also arranged staff to supervise on the activities of the students. One of the tasks is to monitor compulsory usage of the canteen, since inviting officials to dine out is a common way for people to woo them. If county chiefs dine out, they have to report to the Organization Department or the Party branches for approval.

The chiefs were not allowed to ask for time off if was not an emergency. Anyone who took more than four days off cannot graduate from the Party school, according to Southern Weekly.

The process of getting time off was tedious. They were not allowed to leave without approval from the Party school. Despite so, some county chiefs had to ask for a leave for the sake of the public affairs. In some cases, they took days off to negotiate cooperation with district government official in Beijing.

Sometimes, they would take field trips to the economic zones and artistic zones as well as district government for on-spot lessons.

At night, students can take some optional classes, mostly history, music and traditional classics, according to their interests.

There were no tests or essay writing. But officials were asked to write 3,000-word summary and hand over for group discussion before the completion of the study.

Although the training classes had a very tight schedule, it was a good opportunity to learn about the nation's policies and improve capabilities by two-month closed-end study, Li Xiuzhen, Party secretary of Ouhai district, Wenzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province, said.

Talent pool

The main target was to unify their thinking with the CPC. "By training county-level officials, the CPC can establish a smooth communication channel between the central and local governments, to make sure the guidelines and policies of the central government can be fully implemented," Zhang Xixian, a professor with the Central Party School, told the Global Times.

"By explaining policies and giving them an overall picture of the development of the country, local county chiefs could better understand and implement the policies within their region."

The county chiefs, mostly around 40-50 years old, are the talent pool of the  nation's  leaders within the next decade, Zhang stressed.

Over 90 percent are educated with a Bachelor's degree. They also have familiarity of the grass-roots governing and rich experience at different posts, Zhang said.

"This makes it more important to broaden their vision and unify their thoughts with the central government," Zhang said.

The training class, as Zhang says, also served as a good platform for the central government to get hold of the real situation in the local government.

Suggestions the county chiefs contributed at the classes would be collected as "internal reference reports" and submitted to the central government, according to the Beijing Youth Daily.

Participates said, it is also a good opportunity for the county chiefs to communicate and share useful opinions and resources. Diversified seminars, discussions and activities were held after class.

They hotly discussed issues including the social stability, the decentralization of state power, the economic development and the social conflicts, Fang said.

"I am concerned whether or not the central government can study on the reform with the devolution of central power, especially regional decentralization," said Fang Zhiyong. Anti-corruption was also a major issue. County Party secretaries possess a wide range of powers in their jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, the supervision on the counties from the central government is comparatively weak. If the power is abused, it can do great harm.

"We cannot solve the grass-roots problems merely with two months training, but the training definitely helped us to have a clear understanding of the overall picture," Fang said. 

Newspaper headline: Crash course for cadres

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