The Discourse of Formalism and Bureaucratism: The Contest of Order Within the Party

  • Shaoying Zhang
  • Derek McGhee
Part of the Politics and Development of Contemporary China book series (PDCC)


This chapter will examine various tensions within the Party that in combination forms the discursive field of formalism and bureaucratism. In this process, we will critically examine how “desirable working styles” and “undesirable working styles” are being articulated. As we explore below, all of these problems are closely associated with the current Party structure, which we suggest is a virtuecratic-like political system. Unlike the problem of corruption as explored in Chaps.  4 and  5, with which the authority of the Party is taken as a referent object, the problem of the “four undesirable working styles” refers to the dysfunctions within the hierarchical order of the Party (which is perceived as another symptom of the Party’s moral ecology). These problems although not punishable by law are being tackled by the Party’s disciplinary mechanisms through the introduction of a series of prohibitions.

In this process, the politics of fear and uncertainty that is generated by the anti-corruption campaign (as we show in Chaps.  4 and  5) is becoming combined with the problematization of the hierarchical order that is seen as problems inherent in the processes of policy making (bureaucratism) and policy implementation (formalism) within the Party. It is believed that when the authority of the Party is legitimized through anti-corruption, the hierarchical order within the Party can thus be stabilized. All of this is done in the name of improving the Party’s moral ecology. In this discursive field, normative power works on the communist officials by representing them as both the agents of the Party (that produces the problems of formalism and bureaucratism through their work) and as individual subjects (who live hedonistically and extravagantly in their private life as we will explore in Chap.  7). As a result, the problem of collective morality is fundamentally linked to the problem of individual ethics, that is, the construction of the integrity of the subject in the name of eradiating corruption and also “undesirable working styles.” It is this complex system of power that enables different modes of power (sovereign, disciplinary and biopolitical) to operate across the Party and among subjects (at various levels from the macro to the micro). Thus, the relationship between sovereignty, morality and ethics is being simultaneously articulated by the Party through interdependent processes.


Provincial Government Party Member Hierarchical Order County Government General Office 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Agamben, Giorgio. 1993. The Coming Community. University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  2. ———. 2013a. The Highest Poverty: Monastic Rules and Form-of-Life. Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  3. ———. 2013b. Opus Dei: An Archaeology of Duty. Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. ———. 2015. Stasis: Civil War as a Political Paradigm (Homo Sacer II, 2), trans. Nicholas Heron. Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Beyer, Peter. 2013. Religions in Global Society. Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Bernstein, Thomas P. 1970. Keeping the Revolution Going: Problems of Village Leadership After Land Reform. In Party Leadership and Revolutionary Power, ed. John Wilson Lewis. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Brassett, James, and Nick Vaughan-Williams. 2012. Crisis Is Governance: Sub-Prime, the Traumatic Event, and Bare Life. Global Society 26(1): 19–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bregnbaek, Susanne. 2012. Between Party, Parents and Peers: The Quandaries of Two Young Chinese Party Members in Beijing. Third World Quarterly 33(4): 735–750.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chang, Peter. 2011. Confucian China and Jeffersonian America: Beyond Liberal Democracy. Asian Studies Review 35(1): 43–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chien, S. 2007. Institutional Innovations, Asymmetric Decentralization, and Local Economic Development: A Case Study of Kunshan, in Post-Mao China. Environment and Planning C 25(2): 269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. De La Durantaye, Leland. 2009. Giorgio Agamben: A Critical Introduction. Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. De, Soumick. 2013. Law, Reason, Truth: Three Paradigmatic Problems Concerning Faith. KRITIKE: An Online Journal of Philosophy 7(2): 19–32.Google Scholar
  13. Dillon, Michael. 2015. Biopolitics of Security A Political Analytic of Finitude. Routledge.Google Scholar
  14. Foucault, Michel. 1997. The Essential Works, 1954±1984, Vol. 1: Ethics, Subjectivity and Truth. The New Press.Google Scholar
  15. ———. 2005. The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the Collège De France 1981–1982. Macmillan.Google Scholar
  16. Foucault, Michel, A.I. Davidson, and G. Burchell. 2014. On the Government of the Living: Lectures at the Collège De France, 1979–1980. Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  17. Gong, Ting. 2008. The Party Discipline Inspection in China: Its Evolving Trajectory and Embedded Dilemmas. Crime, Law and Social Change 49(2): 139–152.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hu, Shaohua. 2000. Explaining Chinese Democratization. Greenwood Publishing Group.Google Scholar
  19. Hualing, Fu. 2013. Stability and Anticorruption Initiatives: Is There a Chinese Model? University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law Research Paper (2013/032).Google Scholar
  20. Jianming, Ren, and Du Zhizhou. 2008. Institutionalized Corruption: Power Overconcentration of the First-in-Command in China. Crime, Law and Social Change 49(1): 45–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Nivison, David S. 1956. Communist Ethics and Chinese Tradition. The Journal of Asian Studies 16(1): 51–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. O’Brien, K.J., and L. Li. 1999. Selective Policy Implementation in Rural China. Comparative Politics 31(2): 167–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Oksenberg, Michel. 1970. Getting Ahead and Along in Communist China: The Ladder of Success on the Eve of the Cultural Revolution. In Party Leadership and Revolutionary Power in China, ed. John Wilson Lewis. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Osburg, John. 2013. Anxious Wealth: Money and Morality among China’s New Rich. Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Pye, Lucian W. 1968. The Spirit of Chinese Politics: A Psycho-Cultural Study of the Authority Crisis in Political Development. MIT Press.Google Scholar
  26. Rothstein, Bo. 2014. The Chinese Paradox of High Growth and Low Quality of Government: The Cadre Organization Meets Max Weber. Governance 28: 533–548.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Smith, Graeme. 2009. Political Machinations in a Rural County. The China Journal 62(July): 29–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. ———. 2015. Getting Ahead in Rural China: The Elite-Cadre Divide and Its Implications for Rural Governance. Journal of Contemporary China, 24(94): 594–612. Google Scholar
  29. Sun, Yan. 2008. Cadre Recruitment and Corruption: What Goes Wrong? Crime, Law and Social Change 49(1): 61–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Tong, Yanqi. 2011. Morality, Benevolence, and Responsibility: Regime Legitimacy in China from Past to the Present. Journal of Chinese Political Science 16(2): 141–159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Van Der Sprenkel, Otto B. 1964. Max Weber on China. History and Theory 3(3): 348–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Yang, Mayfair Mei-Hui. 1988. The Modernity of Power in the Chinese Socialist Order. Cultural Anthropology 3(4): 408–427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Yao, Shuntian. 2002. Privilege and Corruption: The Problems of China’s Socialist Market Economy. American Journal of Economics and Sociology 61(1): 279–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Yu, Olivia. 2008. Corruption In China’s Economic Reform: A Review of Recent Observations and Explanations. Crime, Law and Social Change 50(3): 161–176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Zhang, S., and D. McGhee. 2014. Social Policies and Ethnic Conflict in China: Lessons from Xinjiang. Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shaoying Zhang
    • 1
  • Derek McGhee
    • 2
  1. 1.Shanghai University of Political Science and LawShanghaiChina
  2. 2.Department of Sociology, Social Policy, CriminologyUniversity of SouthamptonSouthamptonUK

Personalised recommendations