Known far and wide, the Party School of the CPC Central Committee sits in western suburban Beijing. Students here are often senior officials in the Chinese government. There was once a joke circulating around the heavily guarded school: Where can you find the most careful driver in China? Answer: In the central Party School. Why? Because who knows which passer-by might become the future General Secretary of the CPC.
A joke is only a joke. But the tight security system in the school is perfectly obvious to all. Every visitor has to go through a string of security checks before finally seeing the person he or she wants to visit. The visitor should first present his or her identity papers to staff at reception. He then confirms the information with the person to be visited via telephone. When the information is validated the staff member in reception will produce an entrance card for the visitor, which should be presented to security at the school's main gate for another examination. If the visitor wants to enter any particular building inside the school, he or she must go through additional checks conducted by security guards at each building.
Every year, the school accepts a great number of officials at the prefecture or provincial level to further their studies on political theories. Comparatively, security checks are stricter in the dormitory buildings for provincial officials. In addition to the entrance card examination visitors are also required to give the name and the room number of the official they want to visit. The guardian will then contact the official for final confirmation.
While the officials' safety is guaranteed by these measures, they are also cut off from the outside world. Their secretaries and drivers are prohibited from entering in the school. Class absences aren't permitted without valid reasons. School administrators are in charge of all leaves. Anyone returning after 11 pm must sign in at the reception desk.
"Even if someone has important business, no one wants to see his or her name frequently appearing on the tardy list," said a student. At the beginning of each semester, helping the officials to develop a sense of being students constitutes the major part of the school's everyday work.
Zhang Hulin, former director of the Administration Office of the school, recalled that in 1990, when he was in charge of a teaching and research group in the school, all the students were required to participate in physical labor after classes. Some of the students were later elected members of the CPC Political Bureau.
Today, all alarm clocks in the dormitories for provincial governors and ministers are set for 7:30 am, for this is when dorm staff members will also ring doorbells punctually to supply room service. "You can't go back to sleep in such an environment," a student complained. At first, everyone feels disoriented by this new routine but later these overburdened government leaders will find their life at school an enjoyable experience.
During the first week all students must participate in placement exams to ascertain their theoretical level. The examination subjects include all the basic theories of Marxism. Lectures are arranged in the morning from Monday to Thursday. Divided into seven teaching and research groups, the faculties in the school take turns giving lectures. For example, in a class of prefecture-level officials, the teachers of the Party Construction Group will take the first few weeks to give lectures about major meetings of the CPC, History of Party Construction and Deng Xiaoping Theory. The Social Study Group will then give lessons on ethnic and religious theory, sociology and the leadership arts. Afternoons are usually left for students to study by themselves or to hold free discussions.
In the school, there is a special class composed of young and middle-aged officials. Mainly aged between 45 and 50 years old, these students are the future backbone of the Chinese government. At the beginning of the first term, each student gets a list of the classical works on Marxism and Leninism, such as the Capital and the Anti-Dühring. In most cases, they are required to complete these books in three months. Lectures for this class usually last one year and the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee will frequently send staff members to sit in on their discussions, with the aim being to find the best students in the class to recommend for future promotion.
A professor at the school revealed that once a student was suspended from lectures for misbehaving in class. "His political future virtually came to an end after the event," said the professor. According to statistics, around one third of the students in the classes for young and middle-aged officials have been promoted as leaders at the provincial or ministerial level in their later life.
At the school, students are required to watch anti-corruption documentary films, participate in performances and sing songs with revolutionary themes. "Of all lectures I received on Party theories, those in this school left me with the deepest impression," said a former student of the school.
When CPC's newly elected General Secretary Hu Jintao was in charge of the school, he stressed that all government leaders, no matter what official titles they held, should follow the rules and regulations of the school, because their primary identity here was as a student.
China's future largely depends on these students.
"China's future largely depends on these students," said Xie Chuntao, vice director at the teaching and research group of the history of the CPC. Like all his colleagues, Xie is highly aware that his students are quite different from ordinary school students. In past years, Xie Chuntao has seen many students promoted to higher positions or even to the Central Committee of the CPC, while at the same time, he is also sorry for a few that have been put into prison for discipline violations.
Engaged in teaching for nearly two decades, Xie Chuntao admitted that he now felt more pressures in class, because plenty of his students are very well read regarding the CPC's development. Several other veteran teachers at the school echoed Xie's words; they were astonished by their students' fast progress. In the late 1970s and the early 1980s they recalled that most students were merely middle school graduates but today, however, students hold a bachelor's degree at least and over 30 percent hold a master's degree.
"Years ago, students seemed quite content with my historically accurate lectures but nowadays they want profound insights into historical events," Xie Chuntao said. "They all expect me to teach something helpful in addressing daily problems."
With the country's fast economic and social development, officials now face more challenges than ever before. They have to make every effort to introduce investment, boost local economic development, and sort out social problems that have cropped up in the course of over 20 years of reform and opening up. In 2007, local officials in several places have experienced an unprecedented crisis of confidence. A case in point is the "nail house" issue in southwest China's Chongqing. A couple refused to move elsewhere when their house was targeted for demolition by the local government. The issue aroused heated discussion nationwide.
After the SARS outbreak in 2003, Jin Wei, a professor at the teaching and research group of scientific socialism, hosted a lecture on public health and social crisis. Initially, the course was an optional elective. One year later, it was designated a compulsory subject for prefecture-level officials because of the great interest displayed by the students.
Great changes have taken place regarding the school's curriculum. A decade ago, given the educational background of students, the school prepared classes on history and geography in addition to classics of Marxism and Leninism. Nowadays, such courses are replaced by opera appreciation and diplomatic etiquette.
Case analysis is most popular subject in class because students at this school are always rich in practical experiences. Xie Chuntao once held a discussion on the famous Party meeting convened in Lushan in 1959. "Everyone participated in the discussion enthusiastically and they showed a profound understanding of inner-Party democracy and inner-Party surveillance."
According to Xie, students today share common views on reform, opening-up, market economy, and the improvement of democracy and the legal system, while two decades ago, officials tended to hold different opinions and debated heatedly on such issues.
"Students are god of school."
"Students are gods at school." According to Jin Wei, teachers in the Party school are under extremely high pressure because their students -- often the current or future major leaders of the State, appraise all of their class performances.
Compared with provincial governors and ministers, students at a younger age and those from publicity departments are more active in class. They are also more critical about a teacher's performance. In the past a teacher, unable to keep his class going on because he failed to convince students of his opinions, lost his post. After the semester ended the teacher received 37 points in a 100-point appraisal.
According to the current appraisal system, the full mark for a lecture is 10 points. Any lecture scored under nine is deemed a major malfunction of the teacher. If such an event occurs, proper administrative departments in the school will hold a meeting with all the teachers to resolve the problem.
The appraisal system was introduced into the school not long ago. Currently the school publishes each teacher's score at the end of each term. Xie Chuantao said in his department, if a teacher has a score lower than department's average, he or she would be suspended from teaching for a while. "Competition here is very tough. No one will feel good if his score is lower than others," said Xie.
In the school, teachers must have a sense of propriety about what they may say in class. All lectures should be given in the framework of the rules and policies of the Party. For Xu Xianglin, a professor engaged in the study of agriculture, farmers and the countryside, this requirement is not difficult to meet because "all teachers here support the policies". For Xu, the difficulty is how to properly convey his opinions to students.
On the other hand, some students still fear expressing their thoughts in class. A student currently studying in the class for young and middle-aged officials said that he was always careful about his words because staff from the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee often sat in the corner of the classroom. However, he admitted, "The outspoken ones have more chances of being promoted".
In this school, students in different classes have the rare opportunity to communicate with each other. Officials at the prefecture level and those at the provincial level eat in different canteens and live in different dormitory buildings. "I rarely saw my leaders on campus unless they asked me to attend meetings," recalled a middle-level official in the education system. When she attended classes at the school, Chen Zhili, the then minister of education, was also studying in the school. At that time, the minister grasped the chance and held several meetings with students from various education fields.
Since students in the school come from every part of the large country, an ideological gap is obvious between those from developed regions and underdeveloped regions. They tend to have different opinions for one issue. Professor Jin Wei recalled in one of her classes how she told the students that having extramarital sex would pose great risks to spreading AIDS. A student immediately retorted that if there were no direct touch, the AIDS virus would not be transmitted. However, another student later told Jin Wei that he was totally confused during class, because initially, he thought that the teacher had intended to educate them on self discipline. Fortunately, he finally realized that the teacher simply wanted to convey public health information.
"Sometimes, discussions among county-level officials sound like quarrels."
According to Jin Wei, most students are forthright during classes. She once gave students a theoretical test question, asking them that of five HIV-affected people: a sex worker, a housewife, a homosexual lawyer, a truck driver and a drug-addicted youth, who deserved the only dose of anti-AIDS medicine. This question generated heated debate. A student from the public security department in central China's Hunan Province said that none of them deserved the medicine, because all their miseries resulted from their own misdeeds. The student also became extremely angry with the lawyer mentioned in the test because he was outraged at that a lawyer could even commit homosexual acts.
Xie Zhiqiang is a sociology professor at the school. He is also deeply impressed by the frankness of the students. For him, county-level officials are extremely outspoken because they fear no pressure from higher leaders in the school. "Sometimes, discussions among county-level officials sound like quarrels," laughed Xie Zhiqiang. "They come from grass-roots government and they have a deep understanding of the troubles faced by common people." Some county-level officials once told Xie Zhiqiang that the school offered them a good environment to discuss problems. They could learn from each other and find better solutions. "I take every opportunity to discuss my problems in class. When I leave school, I hope that I'll be more ready for practical work," said one of the county leaders.
Openness and frankness are long-cherished traditions in the school. In the late 1970s, students at the school held a discussion covering the criterion for testing truth, which subsequently led to a nationwide liberation of thoughts. Hu Yaobang, the then vice president of the school, set up four rules to encourage free discussion among students. Here, no one would be discriminated against or punished for speaking out his real mind. When former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited the school the liberal classroom environment surprised him greatly.
A more opening-up Central Party School
Jin Wei came to work at the Central Party School in 1985. At that time, the school was classified as a confidential unit and could neither be found on a map nor through an information directory desk.
However, its door has been gradually opened along with the changing times. Officials studying here can now have the opportunities to learn more about other countries.
At the end of the 1990s, the Central Party School entered into cooperation with many foreign research institutes and universities. Overseas study tours have become an important part of the school curriculum.
He Qinhua, President of East China University of Political Science and Law, attended the school's Young and Middle-aged Cadres Class in 2001. He was sent to Singapore in the latter part of his study and was received by the then Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew. During the tour, they also visited the city-state's parliament and watched the activities on the weekly reception day hosted by members of the parliament.
The school also began to invite foreign scholars to give lectures when Hu Jintao served as its president (from 1992 to 2002).
In June, 2005, Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS (the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS) and Under Secretary-General of the United Nations, gave a speech on AIDS prevention in the school. Vice President of the Party School Li Junru and former Vice Minister of Health Wang Longde were present at Piot's speech.
Before he came to China, Piot contacted Professor Jin Wei through the UNAIDS China Office, expressing his hope to give a speech in the Central Party School. The request got final approval after being reported to superior Party levels.
However, even now it is still not an easy thing for political figures and scholars to give lectures at the school.
In foreigners' eyes, the school seems endowed with some special power; and even in the eyes of officials from central ministries and commissions, a lecture in the Central Party School works better than several national telephone conferences in fulfilling a mandate.
Every Friday morning, a lecture attended by all registered students is held. Using this venue, State leaders and officials from central ministries and commissions brief the attendees on domestic and international situations and at the same time garner understanding and support from them.
Apart from government officials, entrepreneurs have also shown enthusiasm in attending this prestigious school. Since the 2002 Sixteenth National Congress of the CPC, the school's education and training center has been open to private entrepreneurs.
A private entrepreneur told Nanfang Weekend that it makes a great difference between getting an MBA degree at Peking or Tsinghua universities versus studying at the Central Party School, with the latter being apparently preferred.
'China's most special school'
After the Central Party School was restarted in 1977 after a ten-year hiatus due to the Cultural Revolution, almost all cadres above the precinct/ provincial-department level were sent to study at the school, with the terms ranging from two and three months to one year. Within the CPC's cadre hierarchy, cadres above this level are ranked as middle and top-level officials.
When the then US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited the school in 2005, he called the students the "future leaders of China".
Top CPC leaders have always headed the school. Mao Zedong and Hua Guofeng have both served as president. Afterwards, the post was assumed by a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee in charge of organization work, such as Qiao Shi, Hu Jintao and the current president Zeng Qinghong. The convention is expected to continue after the 17th CPC National Congress.
"The highest rank for officials studying here is provincial and ministerial. Therefore, the president has to be one of the top CPC leaders," said Xie Chuntao, deputy director of the Central Party School's Party History Division.
The education and cultivation of cadres is always of great importance for the CPC. Every year, the Organization Department of the CPC Central Committee and provincial and municipal organization departments jointly formulate the list of officials to be sent to study at the Central Party School.
The school has an advanced studies department and a training department. The former is in charge of regular rotation training for cadres at the provincial and ministerial levels and cadres at the precinct/ provincial-department level; the latter is in charge of three classes: one for young and middle-aged cadres, one for minority cadres from Xinjiang and Tibet and one for theoretical dissemination cadres.
Education of outstanding young cadres, minority cadres and cadres for theoretical dissemination are given more emphasis.
Most students can successfully graduate from the school. Group appraisal is the most important part of the assessment, which is unique to the CPC's internal cadre evaluation. When the term comes to a close, students will be assigned to different groups, each with more than ten people. Everyone will give a concluding presentation and his peers will conduct an appraisal. The final results are included in the student's personal files.
'Three Basics', 'Five Contemporaries'
In the 30 years since 1977, over 50,000 middle- and top-ranking officials have graduated from the Central Party School.
According to an official who has visited party schools in other countries, in terms of scale, those in other countries can hardly compare with China's Central Party School and provincial and municipal party schools.
The CPC has always underscored the importance of theoretical studies. After the national working conference of party schools in 2000, it was reiterated in crucial documents that the party school is an important frontrunner for the study, research and dissemination of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory, and it also serves as a furnace to foster the spirit of party members.
At the end of 1990s, the Central Party School mobilized its faculty members to separately compile three basic books on Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory (referred to as "Three Basics"). All the editors were senior experts of historical Party research.
In parallel with the "three basics", there are "five contemporaries", referring to five separate books on the contemporary global economy, legal systems, military, science and technology and major thought trends. The book on the contemporary military was compiled by former Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission Zhang Wannian, the book on science and technology was compiled by former Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of National People's Congress and academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Zhou Guangzhao and the book on legal systems was compiled by Xiao Yang, President of the Supreme People's Court.
The "three basics" and "five contemporaries" were compiled when Hu Jintao served as the school's president. He also wrote a preface for this series of books. In 2001, the CPC Central Committee decided to mandate the books as basic readings for all party cadres across the nation.
As for the teaching of Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought, He Qinhua evaluated teachers inside the Central Party School as the best after he attended similar classes in Peking University, Shanghai Municipal Party School and Pudong Cadre College.
The Central Party School also has a unique advantage in its vast collection of literature on Party history and construction.
"You can find some materials in the school's library that could not be found elsewhere," said He.
A place for theoretical studies
On the eve of every major policy shift, there will be brainstorming in the Central Party School. The CPC top leaders can hear a medley of voices here and they try to consolidate and unify these diversified thoughts.
Since the Mao Zedong era, the Central Party School has been an important place for theoretical studies. During the Yan'an Rectification Movement in the 1940s, cadres from different liberation areas gathered together in Yan'an, the war time CPC headquarters, to study in the school. The famous works Improve Our Study and Rectify the Party's Style of Work by Mao Zedong were written and published at that time.
Soon after the Central Party School restarted in 1977 after the Cultural Revolution ended, the CPC Central Committee set up a regular rotating training mechanism for cadres above the precinct/ provincial-department level. This mechanism was institutionalized in a document issued in 2006.
CPC top leaders will give speeches here before every CPC national congress or before any significant policy change is announced.
According to a professor at the school, the practice was started in 1992 by Jiang Zemin and continued hereafter. On June 25 of this year, Hu Jintao gave a speech at the school, which is regarded to have set the tune for the 17th National Congress of CPC, held in October.
"The Central Party School is the most suitable place," said the professor.
Before every annual NPC and CPPCC session, provincial and ministerial officials will also convene here to conduct monographic studies. "Provincial party secretaries bring their own problems here and some of their opinions are very razor sharp," noted an official in a bulletin.
The Central Party School is also a place for officials from across the country to make exchanges. According to an official who once studied in the school, students at the school have an unusual sense of identification with their schoolmates. "We seldom meet each other. But we are very warmhearted toward each other when we happen to meet on some occasions," said the official. "After all, we lived communally at the school."
(China.org.cn by Chen Xia and Yuan Fang November 18, 2007)