JINGGANGSHAN, China – Three dozen Communist Party members in straight backs, heads high, red neckties who hope to hold leadership positions belt out a poem by revolutionary leader Mao Zedong at a historic mountain battle site in central China.
“We stay upright, even when we are surrounded by countless enemy forces!” Announce the men and women who are on a two-week course at the China Executive Leadership Academy. “Together, we will defeat the enemy!”
As the party celebrates the 100th anniversary of its 1921 founding, training centers such as Jinggangshan play a key role in President Xi Jinping’s government’s efforts to increase its control over a changing society.
Of its 91 million members, ambitious members of the party in state companies and government offices are schooled in an idealized version of the party’s early revolutionary fervor before Mao’s guerrillas came to power in 1949.
Zhou Xiaojing, who works at a political training center for the Chinese central bank in the central city of Zhengzhou, described Jinggangshan as “a spiritual blow and a kind of baptism”.
“When I came here, I felt that my faith as a member of the Communist Party had become stronger,” said Zhou, 49, and a member of the party since 2009. “His education of party spirit, principles and ability is thirst quenching.”
The trainees say they want to serve the public, but those who are elected to high party positions also get benefits including greater influence and quick promotions in state companies, universities and government ministries.
Willie Lam, a political expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said party schools are there to “promote loyalists” and ensure they “don’t ask any questions about the top leadership” and the party’s ideology.
Xi, who took power as General Secretary of the Communist Party in 2012, launched a campaign to increase the teaching of party history in February.
This official history exceeds the famines caused by Mao’s policies in 1959–61, in which 50 million people died, millions in the ultra-radical violence of the 1966–76 Cultural Revolution launched by Mao, and in 1989 Lethal action was taken against the supporter. Opposition to democracy led by the then Supreme Leader Deng Xiaoping.
It is silent on complaints of power struggle and rampant corruption and other abuses among party leaders.
Xi hopes that “the party can perpetuate the myth that it has always been right and brilliant in promoting China’s position in the world,” Lam said.
The campus in Jinggangshan, an early site where Mao’s army developed, is one of three nationwide for the Leadership Academy, which caters to high-ranking professionals and party officials. The China Daily newspaper said in 2016 that the party had a total of 2,900 training centers across the country at various levels of government, ranging from county to provincial.
The 44-acre (18 ha) campus in the mountains of Jiangxi Province has hostels and an auditorium, library and cafeteria.
Participants of the two-week “Jinggangshan Spirit” course spend 6 1/2 hours daily in class beginning at 8:30 a.m., with occasional evening programs.
The students took a field trip to Huangyangzi, where Mao’s guerrillas fought enemy forces on August 30, 1928. According to party history, the Communists outnumbered but repulsed the attack.
Mao heard of the victory on his way to Jinggangshan and celebrated by writing a poem recited by the students.
“This spirit of sacrifice and dedication to the party and the people is very remarkable and profound,” said another trainee, Wei Yanju, vice president of the women’s union in the eastern province of Shandong.
“I hope everyone can understand China and see how superior and great China is,” she said.
Party members are required to take at least 32 sessions of training per year. Some leadership positions require 56 sessions.
“Party officials are aware that being sent to a select few classes at a party school may indicate a bright future for them in the party,” said Charlotte Lee, in “Training the Party: Party Adaptation and Elite Training in Reform- The author of the book “Era China”. “
“They have to demonstrate loyalty and some skill in return,” said Lee, who teaches at Berkeley City College.
Yao Yuzhen, a school instructor whose grandfather was a Red Army soldier, admitted that promotion was not guaranteed, but that students would “progress better” following the course.
“It certainly is,” she said with a laugh.
Foreign journalists were invited to visit the Jinggangshan complex ahead of the party’s anniversary celebrations.
Pictures of Xi were shown in front of a lecture hall as an instructor introduced Xi’s speeches and highlighted the importance of party spirit and history.
Head of the Academy’s Party History Education Research Center, Prof. Chen Shenghua said, “Secretary-general Xi Jinping clearly stated in his speech that 100 years of our party is 100 years since we were committed to fulfilling the original mission.”
Studying the history of the party “is the responsibility of every member, cadre, mass and youth of the party,” he said.
According to the training plan for party members, the “primary political task” for party members is to study and implement Xi Jinping’s ideas on socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.
A plan for high-level members requires that Xi Jinping Thought be the main focus of teachings, and that doctrinal and party spirit account for at least 70% of class hours.
The Jinggangshan curriculum focuses on the party’s early days and Mao’s fight with the Nationalist government in 1927–35.
The lectures jump over the following decades to modern successes in fighting poverty and the coronavirus.
“With Com. Xi Jinping under the leadership of the Party’s Central Committee, we mobilized the whole country,” said the instructor, Liu Qifu, “and we won the war against the epidemic.”